The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is bringing many new things to the consumer and business markets, and none is more welcome than the new choices for home and small business networking of PCs.
Though the talk from many areas is wi-fi, or something like it (newer or improved wireless connectivity) I tend to eschew that kind of networking when possible because of the problems with all radio frequency communication, range, speed variation, and interference. I firmly believe that if most people would live with wireless for a month or so before the final purchase, there would be fewer disappointed and angry people, but also a much smaller wireless networking market.
One thing that gets around the problem of wiring snaked through the walls, but doesn’t capitulate to the evils of wireless is Powerline networking, also referred to as HomePlug AV. The AV moniker denotes that the specification is hardy enough to handle audio and video movement over the network without stops and stutters, and the fact that it uses the wiring already in your home or business means that no one will be in attics, basements, or crawl spaces trying to fish wires through ever tightening spaces at odd hours of the morning before the installation is due to be completed.
The news from this year’s CES is that the HomePlug AV specification is much like the older wi-fi specifications – good but not completely without problems. There are still some reasons why, for best performance, the user must obtain all parts from one manufacturer. Mix and match will be available over time, but not right now.
Streaming multimedia requires good bandwidth and coverage, and vendors are responding in several ways. One is by offering hybrid routers that combine networking technologies, offering support for both wireless and wired devices. D-Link’s Hybrid Wireless-N Powerline Router (DHP-1320) incorporates support for 802.1n WiFi (on the 2.4GHz band), HomePlugAV, and Ethernet. Netgear, meanwhile, announced its own Wi-Fi/HomeplugAV/Ethernet hybrid, the N300 Wireless Router + Powerline AV (WNXR2000).
D-Link Mainstage, from the back Powerline, which uses electrical wiring, is gaining increased acceptance as a networking technology for multimedia since it’s generally more reliable than even fast Wi-Fi. HomePlug AV appears to have won what once was a standards war for powerline networking, but some vendors are now offering speedier HomePlug AV networks through proprietary enhancements.
Netgear’s hybrid router–as well as its new HomePlug AV adapters and switches with four Ethernet ports–promise speeds of up to 500mbps, as opposed to the 200mbps of the HomePlug AV spec. TrendNet and D-Link are also introducing 500mbps HomePlug AV gear, although neither announced a hybrid router with support for the enhanced HomePlug AV technology. The caveat here is that to get the speed, all your network gear must be from the same vendor. The HomePlug Powerline Alliance is working on a next-generation spec, but it won’t be ready for a few years.
The fact that some of the wireless connectivity is also included means that older equipment can be used at first, until all the Powerline connections are made, or, for places where that is not practical, such as a free-standing garage that is far from the house, or a business that uses several small buildings that need connectivity. This is the kind of connectivity we should have been seeing all along, but for some reason, users have been forced to one solution type or another, as they were otherwise faced with very expensive propositions to make Ethernet, wi-fi, PNA, and Powerline all work together successfully.
The really nice thing about all of the newest technology is that it will offer enough speed for just about any need in the home or small business without going to exotic parts or difficult installations.
2011 looks to be a great year for connectivity, making what we want to see, hear, and use that much more fast and easy.