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PC, A/V Network Standards Move Along At Varied Pace

Some PC and A/V network standards are further along than others.

Products that incorporate wireless standards such as Bluetooth, 802.11b HR and the Shared Wireless Access Protocol (SWAP), for example, are already on store shelves. On the other hand, the HomePlug Powerline Alliance’s powerline standard is still in development.

Here’s where things stand. (See TWICE, July 24, p. 14, for more background on the various standards.)

Bluetooth: The 1-Mbps data rate wireless technology, initially targeted as a short-range cable replacement to create a 33-foot-radius personal area network in home or mobile environments, has begun to hit the market.

On its website, Toshiba’s computer division offers a $199 PC Card. Hewlett-Packard plans November shipments of a PC Card retailing at $149, and Motorola’s PC Card will ship in December.

Motorola also plans limited shipments in December of a Bluetooth attachment for its CDMA trimode Timeport 270 at around $199. Two more Bluetooth-capable phones and a USB add-on are due from Motorola in the first half.

Bluetooth 2.0 is scheduled for ratification sometime in 2001. It will boost the data rate to a minimum 2 Mbps, possibly as much as 10 Mbps, and will add a quality-of-service enhancement to prevent streaming audio and video dropouts.

Home Audio Video interoperability (HAVi): Audio and video suppliers are expected to demonstrate products incorporating the IEEE-1394A databus standard at January’s CES and ship selected models in 2001, suppliers said. The standard is designed to replace multiple audio, video and control cables in a component cluster with a single four- or six-conductor digital cable with up to 400-Mbps bandwidth to 15 feet.

Some 1394 products on display will use the AVC (Audio Video Control) command set, which runs over the 1394 electrical standard. AVC delivers plug-and-play interoperability among different-brand components, allowing limited control of one AVC device by another AVC device.

Some 1394A products at CES will incorporate one of four levels of HAVi, which enhance AVC’s capabilities. HAVi will automate and simplify system use and present a uniform way of displaying all connected products and their functions on a visual user interface.

Products featuring the highest HAVi level, called Full Audio Video (FAV), will recognize any future HAVi device of a type not currently envisioned. They will also run Java applications and control non-1394A legacy devices whose IR or RS-232 codes are loaded into the product, said Mitsubishi marketing director Bob Perry. These 1394A devices could incorporate IR and RS-232 ports for a direct connection.

The step-down HAVi version, Intermediate Audio Video (IAV), deletes Java capability. Basic Audio Video (BAV) will be incorporated in devices that aren’t intended to control other devices.

AVC and HAVi will eventually ride over the 150-foot IEEE-1394B standard, which will connect component clusters in different rooms to create a homewide network. The IEEE has pushed back a timetable for a second ballot until early 2001. It could take seven or eight months after that to publish the spec, an IEEE member said.

HomePNA (Home PhoneLine Networking Alliance): About 100 products incorporating the 1.0 and 2.0 versions of HomePNA are on the market, said alliance marketing director Adam Stein.

HomePNA is built into PCs from Compaq, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and IBM; in broadband gateways from companies such as AT&T Wireless, SOHOware and 2Wire; and in broadband modems from companies that include Cisco, Motorola and Panasonic.

Prices range from $200 to $250 for 2.0 DSL modems, about $80 for a pair of 2.0 internal PCI cards for PCs, and $75 for USB adapters

The technology has already begun to cross over into the home entertainment realm with the launch of Internet radios from AudioRamp, Dell, S3 and iReady. S3’s product sits in an A/V system and plays back music stored on a HomePNA-equipped PC in another room.

In the first quarter, Stein expects introductions of set-top boxes or cable modems that use HPNA to distribute video. He also expects a first-quarter introduction of a DVD player.

The 1.0 data rate is about 1.3 Mbps; 2.0 supports 10- and 20-Mbps data rates and prioritizes audio and video streams to prevent dropouts. The first 20-Mbps products are due in Q4, Stein said.

Home Plug Powerline Alliance: The alliance pushed back plans for a final spec from late this year to late Q2 or early Q3 of 2001. The original target was predicated on an early-fall start of field trials of the proposed spec in 500 homes worldwide. Testing, however, proved more time-consuming than thought and won’t begin in earnest until early Q1 2001, a spokeswoman said. The tests will take two to three months, and a final spec could be ratified two to three months later.

As a result, production-level chips won’t be available from alliance member Intellon until mid-2001, with compliant products potentially available in the second half, the company said.

HomePlug specifies a minimum 10-Mbps data rate. Within two years, Intellon said it expects to deliver 100-Mbps chips.

OSGi, UPnP, Jini: The Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi) expects the first residential gateways incorporating its middleware platform to be available to utilities in Q1 2001. The gateway will connect a wide area network, such as the Internet, to a home’s local area network, allowing telcos, cable companies and electric utilities to offer value-added services such as Internet access, security monitoring, and energy-use monitoring and control.

Because OSGi doesn’t specify a physical-media network standard or a control protocol, said OSGi president John Barr, an OSGi gateway could incorporate one or more physical-media network standards, such as HomePNA or Home Plug. It could also use one or more control protocols, such as Microsoft’s UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) and Sun’s Java-based Jini. Those standards would create a peer-to-peer home network allowing automatic recognition of a device and its capabilities.

“In a home,” Barr said, “if you have UPnP and Jini devices, both might be connected via HomePNA, and they could talk to an OSGi gateway that gets UPnP devices to talk to Jini devices.”

Besides delivering value-added services by utilities, the gateway could enable appliances to send diagnostic information to their manufacturers. In fact, a technical subcommittee of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) began work in August to select a control protocol to deliver that capability as well as enable portable and major appliances to talk to each other within a home.

Shared Wireless Access Protocol (SWAP): Championed by the HomeRF Working Group, the 1.6-Mbps-data-rate version of this wireless standard already appears in multiple products.

SWAP 2.0, which boosts the data rate to 10 Mbps, is targeted for ratification by the group’s steering committee by the end of the year, although that might slip into the beginning of 2001. Products would follow in Q1 or Q2.

Both versions prioritize audio and video streams to prevent interruption.

Products incorporating 1.6-Mbps SWAP include a $998 Cayman ADSL modem and Intel’s $119-suggested USB add-on and $129 PC Card. Motorola plans a cable modem.

The first 2.0 products are likely to include integrated voice/data gateways.

Wi-Fi (802.11b HR): The number of IEEE 802.11b HR products certified with the Wi-Fi logo by

the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) has grown to more than 50. These products create a wireless PC network in a home or enterprise or deliver wireless Internet access to people in public venues such as airports.

Recently, Siemens, Sony and Toshiba announced wireless LAN cards, and IBM and Toshiba plan mini PCI cards for laptops, the alliance said. Available products include an Alcatel DSL modem and PC Cards from $99 to $179.

The standard delivers 11-Mbps data rates, but IEEE is developing a 22-Mbps version called 802.11b HRb. Ratification is taking longer than expected and probably won’t occur until mid-2001, said Stuart Kerry, chairman of the subcommittee developing the backward-compatible spec. The spec’s modulation scheme must then get an OK from the FCC.

IEEE is developing an optional enhancement to prevent interruptions to video and audio streams, but products with it probably won’t be out until Q3 or Q4 of 2001, a Wi-Fi member said. Meanwhile, suppliers such as Panasonic are using a proprietary technology from Sharewave to prevent dropouts.