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Cable Industry Sets Sites On Home-Network Market

Cable operators will become a major force in the home-network market in competition with retailers if developments here at the National Cable and Telecommunications (NCTA) show are any indication.

During the event, Motorola and Digeo unveiled new home-network options that cable operators could offer to their subscribers. The options would be available through networked HD cablebox/DVRs that would operate as servers of recorded content, including video and music.

For its part, cable-system operator Comcast said it began offering PC-network gear for the first time as part of the national launch of a faster broadband service. The Linksys-made gear consists of wireless 802.11g adapters for PCs and an 802.11g broadband modem/ router. The devices are available direct from Comcast on a lease basis, but the cable operator hinted at selling and leasing the devices through retailers.

Here’s what the various companies announced at NCTA:

Comcast Networking: In its announcement, Comcast focused on PC networking and broadband data with the introduction of a wireless home-network package in conjunction with the launch of its upgraded data service. It accelerates download speeds to a maximum 4Mbps from the current 3Mbps and boosts upload speeds to 384Kbps from 256Kbps.

Comcast’s networking package consists of wireless 802.11g adapters for PCs and peripherals and an 802.11g cable-modem/router, which is the first cable modem available to consumers with CableLabs’s CableHome certification, a Comcast spokeswoman said. The CableHome spec provides an intuitive user interface, upgraded security and parental controls, and ease of installation, the Comcast spokeswoman said. It also gives cable operators the ability to remotely troubleshoot modem and home-network problems, she noted.

The high-speed service, network gear and cable modem/router/gateway are available in most Comcast markets and will be available in the remainder of the company’s footprint by the end of the year,.

Linksys is Comcast’s current network-gear supplier, but Netgear is expected to follow with its own CableHome-certified modem/gateway.

The new high-speed service is available to Comcast cable-TV subscribers for $52.95/month, compared to the slower service’s $42.95/month. The monthly cost to lease one gateway and network gear for up to five PCs or peripherals is an additional $5/month.

Digeo: The Kirkland, Wash. company announced a network upgrade to its two Moxi-platform set-top devices, which combine HD cable box, DVR and cable modem under the Moxi name. The two devices have also been upgraded to store music and digital pictures.

With the network option, the two set-top boxes will distribute recorded video, music and digital images over a home’s existing coaxial cable to other rooms for playback on TVs and stereos connected to a $79 Moxi Mate slave box. Digeo uses IP-over-coax technology.

The new Moxi applications run on both the Motorola Broadband Media Center (BMC9000) and the Moxi PowerKEY Media Center.

Digeo has begun delivering both set-tops with the enhanced functionality, and in three to four months, the company will make available software to connect the set-tops to a home’s wired Ethernet network or to wireless-network adapters. The set-tops would then deliver broadband access to a networked PC. Also through the PC connection, the set-tops will transfer music and images from the networked PC for storage on the set-tops’ hard-disc drive (HDD). As an alternative, photos could be transferred via the set-tops’ USB port for storage on the HDD, and consumers could rip CDs inserted into a Moxi Media Center equipped with an optional built-in or standalone CD/DVD drive.

One cable operator is commercially deploying the set-tops in Rochester, N.Y.

Motorola: In multi-zone DVR developments, Motorola unveiled the networked DCT6412 HD cable box/DVR/cable modem, whose recorded video content could be accessed from other rooms by Motorola interactive digital-cable boxes over a home’s existing coaxial cables. The devices use IP-over-coaxial network technology developed by Entropic for the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA). More than four recorded HD programs could be streamed simultaneously from the DVR, which acts as a home-wide video server.

In a related development, Motorola announced a downloadable software upgrade that will add the same network functionality to a similar Motorola set-top that some cable operators began deploying last September. It’s the DCT6208, which incorporates HD cable tuner, DVR and cable modem.

With either the DCT6412 or upgraded DCT6208, consumers control recording functions, not just playback functions, from remote rooms. With their Ethernet ports, they enable Internet access through remote PCs plugged into a home Ethernet network.

In addition, the DVRs could be equipped by cable operators to store and distribute compressed-music files and digital images to any TV or stereo in the house. The music and photos would be transferred from the networked PCs.

In another development, Motorola showed a cable-modem/gateway that would put cable operators in the home control and monitoring business. The MS1000 would connect homes to a hosted web service that would let consumers monitor networked home systems and security cameras from remote PCs. The gateway is already available from Shell, which offers its own HomeGenie service.