According to The Digital Domicile: The Exploding Market for Home Networking Technology and Services, a report by Cahner’s In-Stat Group, several factors are currently driving the home networking market in a positive direction. These include the recognition among consumers of the need for network security, the release of Windows XP, the first real user-friendly home network operating system from Microsoft, the predicted emergence of the home server and the gradual building interest in home networks among broadband service providers.

Most residential structured cabling activity is in the new construction market, with about 22 percent of new housing starts including home networking as a standard offering.

While the upgrade and retrofit segments of the home networking market may not offer electrical contractors the same level of opportunities, a few alternatives can offer existing home network performance, albeit at lower bandwidth capabilities.

Home telephone networking

The Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA) is working to develop a single, unified phoneline networking industry standard and rapidly bring to market a range of interoperable, consumer-friendly, low-cost, high-tech “no new wires” solutions. Home phoneline networking begins with the neighborhood telephone lines, two-way cable television lines and satellite dishes to provide the homeowner with dial-up or high-speed broadband Internet connections. The Internet service connects to the home modem or gateway, and then to a standard telephone, personal computer (PC) or networked appliance. The modem and its network service are easily connected to existing phonejacks and then instantly shared among different rooms. Each room’s phonejack accepts a standard phoneline connection into the PC or other networked device that contains HomePNA-certified technology.

HomePNA has adopted rigorous testing methods for interoperability. Member companies perform extensive tests of their products to verify conformance to and functionality of the HomePNA specification. Operating at 10 Mbps, the HomePNA 2.0 specification gives users the ability to transmit large, feature-rich graphic files and other high-bandwidth applications.

Wireless technology

Wireless systems are becoming increasingly desirable to consumers, according to Cahner’s In-Stat Group. Several radio technologies are currently contending for acceptance in the market. The IEEE 802.11b wireless Ethernet specification, sponsored by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), was originally designed to augment local area networks (LANs) within the corporate environment. Its primary application is high-performance data networking, such as file or Internet sharing.

Sponsored by the HomeRF Working Group, Inc., the HomeRF wireless specification defines a new common interface that supports wireless voice and data networking in the home. HomeRF provides homeowners with shared Internet access and networked PCs, data files and printers. It is also designed to support high-quality voice and data applications. The HomeRF specification also incorporates the Digital Enhanced Cordless Telephone (DECT) standard, which supports a full range of enhanced telephony features.

Bluetooth wireless technology is a worldwide specification that provides links between mobile computers, telephones and other portable handheld devices as well as Internet connectivity. Sponsored by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, is designed to eliminate the need for wired connections between electronic products and accessories. It is compatible with IEEE 802.11b technology and may be used as a cable replacement for personal digital assistants, cell phones, cameras, speakers, headsets and so on.

Last, but not least

The HomePlug Power Alliance is committed to the successful deployment of powerline communications technologies for home networking applications. Its 1.0 specification is designed to provide an industry standard for high-speed home networking via power lines. According to Steve Gardner, an engineering director at Conexant Systems, Inc., HomePlug technology includes an effective and reliable method of adjusting the bit rate to combat harsh environment of powerlines.

Powerline technology is available worldwide, cost-effective, easy for consumers to adopt and easy to install in multiple outlets in each room. It also uses an existing power source. HomePlug technology supports file transfers at 10BaseT-like rates, is interoperable with other networking technologies and co-exists with other powerline networking technologies. EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or by e-mail at dbremer@erols.com.