HOME Technology 2004
Home networking goes wireless
Users freed from desktop dominance
Network technology is finding a new niche as increasing numbers of computer users beef up their connections from dial-up to broadband and look at ways to share music, movies, photographs and other files around the home.

Major players in the home networking space include Netgear, D-Link, Belkin and Linksys who typically provide four port digital subscriber line (DSL) routers to connect the Internet to stand alone computers or multiple devices.

Most PCs come standard with an Ethernet card, making networking relatively simple with Windows ‘plug and play’ recognising new devices and requiring only basic permissions to complete the connection.

ADSL routers come standard with four switched ports of Ethernet to connect PCs and laptops or a printer which can be shared with several computers. You can daisy chain out to extend the number of connections.

However buying a couple of hundred metres of Ethernet cable to share data with computers in different rooms can easily cost more than kitting your home out with wireless technology which can offer up to 54Mbit/sec throughput.

In the future the wireless network will be pervasive, handing off between your home, public hot spots, the office as well controlling your air conditioning or garage door, making phone calls or controlling your TV.

"The people we are targeting are power users who purchase unlimited megabytes on high speed accounts and are using rich media applications, on-line gaming and sharing music and video files. That’s where the internet is heading to," says Ingram Micro (Tech Pacific) product manager Mark Williams.

Wireless routers are currently outselling standard DSL routers two for one. A Linksys four port router will cost $260, with wireless it’s closer to $390. Wireless cards for PCs and laptops are extra.

Linksys routers have a stateful packet inspection firewall which constantly monitors all traffic coming in and out and includes an intrusion detection alarm. With users looking for centralized access to data Linksys offers separate hard drives (80 or 300Gb) that connect directly to the router as a network storage drive.

Denis Valente senior product manager Belkin says sharing broadband is a major driver for wireless but it doesn’t require an internet connection – in fact anything with an Ethernet port can be connected wirelessly into a home network.

Belkin has routers and modems which create a broadband connection between wireless cards to the PC, notebook, PDA or printer.

With an Ethernet Bridge and digital TV receiver, you can hook up wirelessly to TV or stereo as part of the home entertainment centre. You might have a PC with MP3s and videos and a DVD player and other content connected to a network sharing files to any room of the house or even the TV."

However Mr Valente says there can be coverage problems getting existing 802.11g signal into some rooms because of concrete walls and other obstacles.

He says Belkin’s new Pre-N product which requires a new generation router and cards offers up to 108Mbit/sec and with its three antennae can deliver faster over longer distances.

While the Pre-N product range is more expensive than existing wireless routers and cards he says it doesn’t need additional access points or repeaters and is backwardly compatible with existing 802.11 networks and cards.

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