A network in every home?

Home is where the network is heading, judging from the explosion in home networking products on display at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show. Wired – and wireless – home products are everywhere, from hardware for setting up a network to software and peripherals to help you share data, distribute entertainment throughout the home, or even manage electrical and other systems over the Internet.

While some of the products come from veterans of the corporate networking world –3Com and Lucent, for example – others come from newer firms or larger companies not traditionally associated with networks.

Several firms were showing residential gateways, which allow several computers to share a single broadband Internet connection. New gateways from 3Com and Buffalo Technology support both 802.l1b wireless Ethernet and the conventional wired version.

A gateway from Panasonic works with a variant of 802.11 that includes Sharewave’s Whitecap technology for facilitating smooth transmissions of streaming media. The Panasonic unit also supports wired Ethernet and the HomePNA standard for networks using existing telephone wires.

These gateways all work in conjunction with a cable or DSL modem. Prices depend on features, but generally range from $200 to $400, depending on features.

Software for Home Nets

A couple of vendors showed software intended to make home networks more useful and/or more secure. You won’t buy these products; rather, they will be incorporated into home networking hardware and systems marketed by other companies.

One such product, the DoBox Home Server Gateway and Family Firewall, is designed to run on a small server appliance. Family members would be able to log in to any device on the network and access their settings online. This feature might come in useful in a home where parents want to restrict their children’s Internet access.

Ucentric has developed a Linux-based system that supports a wide range of home networking applications, including unified and instant messaging, Internet telephony, Web browsing, and audio and video distribution in the home. One distinguishing feature of Ucentric is that it works with televisions, as well as with computers and other devices.

The Well-Managed Home

Ucentric is also one of several products designed to let you manage and monitor your home from a central access point or even over the Internet. BeAtHome offers a complete turnkey system that includes hardware modules for controlling lighting and heating; a Webcam; and even a laundry moisture sensor, all of which communicate wirelessly with a base unit that in turn hooks up to the Internet. The service gives you a free personalized Web page from which you can monitor and adjust settings of these devices from any browser. The site also lets you create an online photo album, keep a family calendar, and shop for groceries. This sort of service isn’t cheap: A starter kit including a base unit, lamp module, entry sensor module, burglar alarm, chime alert, Web cam, and keychain controller goes for $1,899.

Home Automation, meanwhile, introduced the latest generation of its Web-Link home automation software. In addition to letting you manage your household appliances remotely via the Internet, Web-Link II supports wireless Web access and notification of problems via instant messaging.

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