Residential gateways market will grow

When you send workers home to work, you probably supply a notebook PC, a DSL connection and a phone line or PBX extension. But once they’ve settled in, do you give much thought to the home network gear they might also buy?

Now that broadband is taking hold, residential gateways are poised to turn the heads of home office workers and general consumers as an easy way to share the connection among multiple household PCs. They also promise to serve as a platform for a variety of cutting-edge applications, such as phone networking, video distribution and home automation.

A market forecast by the Cahners In-Stat Group predicts the residential gateway will grow to US$5 billion by 2005. A slew of companies are banking on gateways, including 2Wire Inc. and Cayman Systems Inc., and at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, heavy hitters 3Com Corp. and Panasonic introduced products.

The residential gateway is a “digital front door to the wide-area network,” says Peter Vicars, CEO of Cayman. There are stark differences among products coming to market, but at the core they all do the same thing. Gateways connect to your DSL or cable modem or replace it, then make that bandwidth available to your networked PCs and peripherals via home network technology – whether traditional wired Ethernet, home-phone-line networking, wireless (802.11b or HomeRF) or some combination. To bring PCs and peripherals onto the network requires an adapter of some sort, whether it is a Universal Serial Bus device, PC card or PCI card.

New products offer a range of features, such as built-in print servers and phone networking, but security features are paramount for remote workers. Most gateways include some sort of firewall technology and network address translation, which hides the home network behind a single IP address. Most include VPN passthrough, which means the gateway should work with VPN-enabled PCs, critical for home workers accessing corporate systems. But not all gateways that support VPN passthrough allow for IP Security (IPSec), Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol and Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol encryption.

Ease of use is crucial because most gateways will be set up and maintained by end users with limited technical knowledge. That’s also important to network managers, who may find themselves supporting that remote network gear in addition to the teleworker’s PC.

It is important to consider the types of home network technology a gateway offers. While all offer wired Ethernet, some, such as those from Cayman and 3Com, offer wireless gateways that work with 802.11b technology. Others, such as Panasonic’s Concourse Broadband Networking Gateway and 2Wire’s HomePortal products, offer Ethernet, 802.11b wireless and home-phone-line support, which means you can use a mix of technologies on your net.

While the predicted growth of the market is compelling, Mike Wolf, Cahner’s director of enterprise residential communications and author of a forecast entitled “Residential Gateways: Unleashing the Broadband Services Tsunami,” expects much of the growth to be spurred not by swelling ranks of remote and mobile workers, but by consumer demand for voice over IP, video and audio entertainment and home monitoring applications.

Even so, with a residential gateway, soon you’ll be able to extend your firm’s converged voice and data net to the home, and benefit from the same telephony features, such as call forwarding and routing. 2Wire is ahead of the pack by announcing a gateway with telephony capability, expected by March.