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HomePlug Sets Product Rollout As Major Priority

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance will concentrate this year on ramping up its certification program and supporting product launches rather than upgrading the spec’s 14Mbps data rate to keep up with 54Mbps Wi-Fi5, said alliance president Tom Reed.

“Until now, HomePlug has been very focused on the technical aspects of developing a [powerline-based home-network] specification,” he said. “Now that the specification has been released, the focus for 2002 will be to create a market and drive demand for the product ? The primary focus will be on marketing.”

As a result, although members are working on a 2.0 spec, the alliance “has no time frame” for launching the first step in a standardization effort: finishing an MRD (market requirements document), he said.

Another reason not to rush is the current lack of need in homes for the 54Mbps data rate supported by the Wi-Fi5 (IEEE 802.11a) spec, he said. In addition, Wi-Fi5 supporters, like Wi-Fi supporters, were overoptimistic in their estimates of the two technologies’ speed and range, he said.

Those limitations, found in a PC Magazine test, underscore HomePlug’s position as a wireless-technology complement that can be used to extend wireless’ range within a home. HomePlug is also positioned for fixed-location use, while wireless supports mobile use, he noted.

To promote HomePlug this year, the alliance has turned to trade shows such as RetailVision and CES, and it plans to place produce reviews and stories in the consumer press. For dealers, the alliance by the end of May will provide datapoints and digital images to incorporate in POP, sales training and Web efforts. The alliance itself doesn’t plan consumer advertising, saying product reviews will deliver more bang for the buck.

The group has already certified four companies’ products under its new certification program, which ensures interoperability of devices bearing the HomePlug logo. The products are from Asoka, GigaFast, Linksys and Samsung.

Although the first HomePlug products were to ship late last year, shipments were delayed until April because “issues cropped up” with individual vendors’ implementation of the technology, Reed said. Two suppliers began shipping in April, including Linksys, and a third vendor was to begin shipping in early May. All are PC-networking products. Linksys’ products, for example, include Ethernet and USB adapters (or bridges).

A second round of products expected to ship by year’s end will include smaller and lower priced products and the first Wi-Fi/HomePlug bridge, Reed said. “Our goal is to get prices down to $99” by year’s end compared, for example, to $149 for a USB adapter.

The alliance also expects the first “wall wart” to be available by year’s end. These are downsized adapters that plug directly into a wall outlet rather than sit on a desktop, resulting in less desktop clutter.