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Home Networking Takes The Next Step

The home-networking format war will heat up this week with the release of competing wireless and home phone-line-based systems, and vendors are readying systems that will work with consumer electronics products.

Farallon Communications and Web Gear will launch new consumer-oriented networking kits this week, and technology provider ShareWave has inked a deal with Kyushu Matsushita Electronics, a subsidiary of Matsushita Electronic Industrial, to produce a Panasonic-branded wireless networking system. Web Gear is also poised to jump into this field.

Farallon will ship the phone-line-based HomeLine home-networking system that allows Windows PCs and Apple computers to be networked, and Web Gear will roll out a low-priced wireless kit.

The two-unit Farallon HomeLine product line uses Home Phone Line Networking architecture and is primarily targeted toward the 3-4 million homes that sport both Mac and Windows computers, said marketing director Ken Haase.

The Farallon HomeLine Starter Kit, estimated street price $139, comes with two PCI cards, cables and NetPack software. The Single Pack, de-signed for network expansion, comes with a single PCI card and has a $79 estimated street price.

Farallon will follow this release by the end of the summer with a USB version for the iMac, Haase said.

As part of Farallon’s consumer education process, the company has set up a toll-free home-networking consultation line to advise consumers on the best way to network their home or small business, even if it means suggesting the purchase of another company’s product, Haase said.

Web Gear’s Aviator 2.4 is a follow-up to the original Aviator launched in January 1998 and is the second product in the company’s home-networking line.

The 2.4, shipping this week with a $199 estimated street price, can transmit data at a 2MB per second rate through walls and ceilings up to 500 feet, said David Appleman, Web Gear’s sales and marketing VP. The initial Aviator product transmits only 75 to 125 feet with a data rate of 1MB per second.

Add-on modules for the 2.4 will cost $99. A 900MHz USB model is scheduled to follow in June with an $89 estimated street price.

Future developments for the Aviator line include the ability to network electronics and appliances, Appleman said. This could take place before the end of the year, although he offered no specifics on the company’s plans.

Because the transmitted data can be received by anyone within the transmission’s range, the 2.4 uses frequency-hopping technology that splits the data among many frequencies. Anyone illegally accessing the signal will only get bits and pieces of the data, Appleman said.

The ShareWave/Kyushu Matsushita Electronic partnership will produce a low-cost, high-speed wireless home-networking product that is scheduled to ship by the end of the year.

The as yet unnamed networking system will have an 11MB per second data transfer rate, but a ShareWave spokes-man said higher rates are possible.

ShareWave’s future strategy is to license its technology to vendors that will embed it inside computer and CE products.

ShareWave does not sell its own name-brand products.