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New Retail, Custom Products Deliver Network Functions

Mainstream and niche suppliers have unveiled plans for a host of new home-network devices intended for sale through over-the-counter and custom-install channels.

The over-the-counter products incorporate such network standards as Bluetooth, HomeRF, HomePlug Power-line Alliance and IEEE 802.11b HR, and are planned by such companies as Kenwood, Motorola, Phonex, Siemens, Sony, 3Com and 2Wire.

Also in this market segment, Thomson is throwing its weight behind a power-line standard developed by Draper, Utah-based Inari, which developed the technology and provides power-line chipsets to finished-goods makers. Inari is participating in a CEA-led power-line standardization effort, and its technology competes with the power-line technology under development by the HomePlug Powerline Alliance.

Companies such as Home Director and US Tec, meanwhile, have added new features to their home-network systems, which are available with structured-wiring solutions that require the expertise of custom installers.

The first products to incorporate HomePlug Powerline Alliance technology will include Phonex Ethernet-to-power-line and USB-to-power-line adapters, a Motorola cable modem, and an updated Rio home Internet receiver from Sonic-blue, chipmaker Intellon said at CES.

Intellon will supply the HomePlug-compliant 14MBps chips for the devices, expected to be available in the second half even though field-testing of HomePlug’s final draft specification begins in February and will take two to three months to complete.

Intellon said that in two years, it will deliver 100MBps HomePlug chipsets.

Phonex said it’s planning July or August shipments of the Ethernet-to-power-line adapters at a targeted $90 to $100 each. A USB version will ship 90 days later, and sometime next year, an adapter supporting both Ethernet and USB connections is planned.

For its part, RCA will turn to Inari’s competing 2MBps technology to deliver power-line adapters for PCs and peripherals at a targeted suggested retail of $199/pair and $99 each.

A spokesman said the devices would probably ship by the end of March but didn’t say whether USB or parallel adapters would be available or both. At some point, the technology will be integrated into RCA audio products, he said.

An Inari spokeswoman said her company plans 12MBps chips by the end of the year and that the technology is scalable upward and downward.

In the coming weeks, DSL gateway maker Globespan will offer an Inari-enabled DSL gateway, the spokeswoman added. DSL service provider Telocity will offer power-line adapters with its gateway, and manufacturer Interactive Objects will market an Inari-enabled sisterboard intended for Internet audio appliances for the home.

In wireless-network developments, new products equipped with the HomeRF wireless technology were displayed.

They included the Siemens wireless web pad, called the SIMpad, incorporating the Windows CE OS. It ships with HomeRF PC Card to communicate with HomeRF gateways or HomeRF-equipped PCs, but PC Cards incorporating other wireless-network technologies can also be used, said special projects director Richard Gonglach.

The suggested retail is $1,299, and the SIMpad will be available in May to broadband service providers and to computer retailers.

HomeRF-equipped gateways or broadband modems are already available from Cayman, Compaq and Motorola, organization spokesmen said.

From 3Com, dealers will be able to buy the Wireless Bluetooth Access Point 1000 and Bluetooth USB adapter. The Access Point, pricing not available, allows seven Bluetooth devices to be connected and has a 100-meter range. The adapter card plugs into a USB port, giving that device Bluetooth wireless capability.

3Com has also added two residential gateways to its product line. The Home Ethernet Gateway, at a suggested $159, was scheduled to ship in January. A wireless version at a suggested $399 is also scheduled for January shipment.

As part of its wireless-network plans, Sony unveiled the AV/IT “gateway,” which consists of a battery-powered LCD touch screen with built-in stereo speakers.

The monitor communicates with a base station/recharger via wireless IEEE 802.11b HR technology. The base station, which incorporates TV tuner, accesses the Internet via internal 56K modem or connected broadband modem, but it also connects to DVD players and audio components.

With the Windows OS system, consumers will be able to surf the’Net and send e-mail from the monitor, as well as use the monitor to watch TV and DVD movies and listen to music streams from the ‘Net or from audio components.

It’s available in Japan at $1,300 and is due in the United States at an undetermined price late this year. Battery life is one hour. An optional battery delivers three hours.

For its part, 2Wire launched a gateway that includes five networking standards: HomeRF, 802.11b HR, wired Ethernet, phone-line networking and USB.

Kenwood, on the other hand, will stick with one-the HomePNA 2.0 phone-line standard-for a planned hard-drive-based audio server that will stream audio content to multiple rooms in the house.

The DAS-1 server, due in July or August at an unspecified price, will incorporate CD ripper, MP3 encoder, CD-R/RW recorder to create MP3 CDs, and Kerbango Tuning Service technology.

For custom installers, Home Director has announced plans to bundle distributed-A/V, communications and home security solutions with its Network Connection Center-a structured wiring solution that also delivers home-system control through a menu on a TV or through any web-browser-equipped device, including PCs, wireless phones, and wireless web pads.

US Tec added broadband capability to its structured wiring solution, incorporating a holster to add a broadband modem to its distribution panel. The panel also accepts modules for distributing video, phone service, speaker-level audio and Ethernet PC connections, as well as lighting and HVAC control.