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HP, Thompson Plan Co-Branded Computer Accessories Line

NEW YORK — Hewlett-Packard and Thomson Consumer Electronics said that starting in June the companies will start marketing a line of HP/RCA-branded PC accessories that will include a powerline-based home networking kit.

The partnership will launch HP as a full-fledged accessories supplier, it now sells a few printer cable SKUs, and give Thomson a chance to enter the PC side of the accessories business. Thomson will continue to sell separately its RCA-branded consumer electronics accessories. The 18-SKU line features networking, USB, parallel and printer cables along with surge protectors and modem jacks.

Thomson is handling product development with some input being received from HP. The companies would not say how revenue generated by the products would be shared. The companies plan to take the line to Canada and Latin America this fall, Europe next year with Asia to follow later.

Craig Artherholt, HP’s aftermarket product manager, home products division, said the decision to partner with Thomson instead of developing the line on its own stems from HP CEO Carly Fiorina’s belief that partnerships should be used to bring products quickly and inexpensively to market.

The line is anchored by the H950 SystemLink home networking kit, said Mark Shaffner, Thomson’s product development and marketing manager. The $249 kit comes with two networking modules that connect to a PC via a USB or parallel cable and plugs into a wall outlet.

The PC that is connected to the Internet is used as the main server for the network and must remain turned on for the other network devices to be shared by the second PC. The SystemLink will be the first co-branded product to hit retail when it becomes available at CompUSA and Fry’s in June. No retailers have signed up yet to carry the other accessories.

The two companies cited several reasons for picking a powerline-based networking over those utilizing wireless or telephone line technology.

“Thomson felt strongly that A/C powerline should be chosen because it’s a practical solution. Everyone understands it; the average home has more than 50 power outlets compared to only two phone jacks. And people do not like to open their PC [to install hardware],” said Shaffner.

The SystemLink uses a proprietary technology that is not compatible with the industry specification being developed by the HomePlug PowerLine Alliance or the one being developed by the CEA. Thomson and HP wanted to get a product out on store shelves and not wait for a specification to be finalized, said Artherholt. The SystemLink can push 2MB of data through a home’s electrical lines. While there is some security software included it does not have a firewall to protect the network. In addition, the home’s data will flow along the lines outside the home and can be “seen” by the six or eight nearest homes. However, there is a security program in place to stop your neighbors from entering the network.

Other products in the HP/RCA accessories line include: The four-unit SmartPlate Surge Protector, seven printer and communications cables, three conventional surge protectors, three mice and a mouse pad.

The SmartPlate protectors are outlet faceplates with surge protection built in. The device is protected when it is plugged into the wall outlet. These range in price from $12.95 to $29.95. SmartPlates also may be sold through the home improvement retail channel.