Growing numbers of homeowners want to network devices in their home to share information and broadband Internet access. In fact, fifty-eight percent of broadband households have multiple PCs and 67 percent are interested in home networking, according to the Interactive Consumer Survey 2001 from Boston-based research firm Yankee Group. By 2003, this same industry research firm estimates there will be 10 million internally networked homes in the United States.

With multiple outlets in almost every room, residential powerlines are already the most pervasive network of wires in the world. Powerline networking uses a home’s existing electrical wiring as a vehicle to safely send signals from one device to another. The power outlet connection also is a power source that leverages existing outlets to enable both power and connectivity. As Internet use explodes, broadband access expands, and consumers plug a new generation of electronic devices into the Web, powerlines represent a cost-effective, easy-to-adopt networking solution for the home.

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Just how does powerline networking work? It’s simple. Powerline networks send data through the electrical wiring of a house and turn any AC power outlet into a network jack.

Powerline networking has been used for years for sending small batches of data to control appliances such as lights, but has not been viable for bigger batches of data, until now. In 2000, the HomePlug Powerline Alliance was formed to facilitate and promote rapid availability, adoption and implementation of cost-effective, interoperable home power outlet connectivity products and services that enable the connected home. An industry-led initiative that unites technology leaders, including Cogency Semiconductor, Conexant, Enikia, Intellon Corporation, NETGEAR, RadioShack, Sharp, and Texas Instruments, HomePlug is leveraging the ubiquity of the power outlet to enable home networking.

HomePlug has eliminated problems that have plagued powerline networking in the past. No longer do common household electrical appliances like hairdryers that generate electronic noise capsize a powerline network.

Some market analysts have hailed HomePlug and the alliance member’s products as the boost that home networking has been seeking. In fact, Cahners In-Stat/MDR recently said the arrival of HomePlug is set to breathe new life into the powerline home networking market, helping to propel it from under $18 million in 2001 to nearly $190 million in 2002. Cahners analysts even predicted that the home powerline networking equipment market would be worth $706 million (U.S.) by 2006.

Those analysts also believe that HomePlug has an advantage over other home networking mediums, such as phone lines, because of the higher ratio and availability of power outlets over phone jacks, the increased reliability of power line home networking over wireless standards, the cost effectiveness of deploying power line technology, and the ease with which it may be installed.

Additionally, while HomePlug does not provide the mobility of wireless solutions, wireless performance often falls off with distance, making it difficult for wireless networks to provide whole house coverage. During field tests, the HomePlug specification provided coverage to more than 99% of the outlets tested in 500 homes.

HomePlug technology is:

* The most pervasive medium – with multiple outlets in every room
* Cost effective
* Secure – with built in, shipped on, 56 bit DES encryption
* Easy to adopt by consumers
* Easy to install – no software to add with Ethernet adapters
* Utilizes existing wiring for communications

Setting up a home network with HomePlug is easy. It’s a matter of plugging in the devices you want to connect to HomePlug compliant adapters and then plugging those adapters directly into the power outlet. In a couple easy steps, you’re connected!

And an intruder would have to be physically connected to the home to be able to tap into a powerline network. HomePlug products also protect data by utilizing powerful DES encryption, which makes intercepting data in a HomePlug network extremely difficult. The user-selected passwords ensure that any other HomePlug user on the same utility company transformer cannot access your network.

In addition to ease-of-setup and security, HomePlug is also faster than competing technologies at 14 megabits per second (Mbps) versus the 11 Mbps speed associated with 802.11b wireless solutions and the 10 Mbps speed associated with phone line solutions.

The main drawback to wireless solutions in the home, is the lack of range and mysterious dead zones. HomePlug certified products can help by allowing the user to place their wireless router at the most convenient spot in the home, instead of being handcuffed to the spot where the broadband signal enters the home.

Since its inception, the HomePlug Powerline Alliance has completed home trials, published a technical specification and developed a product compliance program. At the Consumer Electronics Show, in January 2002, HomePlug member companies, such as Asoka, Linksys, Phonex Broadband and NETGEAR, unveiled the first HomePlug-compliant home networking products, Ethernet and USB to HomePlug adapters. HomePlug-compliant products have been available in the United States since May 2002.

As more and more companies embrace the HomePlug specification, powerline networking will emerge as the easiest way to network the home. Just plug it in.

About the Author
Tom Reed is president of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. Tom is focused on supporting member company initiatives, creating demand and educating consumers about these new products, and solving regulatory issues in Europe and Japan.

Tom has more than 10 years of experience in the emerging technology industry, working with such industry leaders as RadioShack, CompUSA and Computer City, in consumer marketing, buying and management roles.

About HomePlug Powerline Alliance
HomePlug Powerline Alliance, Inc. is an industry led initiative established to provide a forum for the creation of specifications for home powerline networking products and services; and, to accelerate the demand for these products and services through the sponsorship of market and user education programs. Currently, HomePlug is comprised of 70 industry-leading companies.

Additional information about the Alliance, including a complete list of certified products, is available at www.homeplug.org .