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Phonex Intros HomePlug Unit, Enters Broadband Arena

One of the industry’s first HomePlug-based Ethernet-to-powerline bridges is also the industry’s first HomePlug device requiring no PC software to configure the device, or diagnose problems.

The Phonex Broadband’s NeverWire 14 bridge is available at an expected everyday $129 per node to Internet resellers, VARs targeting SoHo users, and national and regional CE chains. It’s also available through Phonex’s Web site.

Phonex said its HomePlug implementation is targeted to the market segment most likely to buy a home network: households with multiple PCs and a broadband connection that occupants want to share. These consumers, according to a Parks Associate’s survey, rate reliability and ease of installation as the two most important considerations in buying a home network.

Phonex has been marketing powerline-based “wireless phone jacks” for dial-up modem users for 10 years, mostly on an OEM basis. The NeverWire 14 marks the company’s entry into the broadband market and the beginning of a campaign to promote the Phonex brand more aggressively, the company said.

The company plans to migrate its technology to the CE sector in 2003, when a CE supplier launches wireless speakers, said marketing director Brad Warnock.

In the meantime, Phonex is promoting simplicity of setup and use in launching its PC-network product, which joins HomePlug-based products available from Linksys and NetGear.

“It doesn’t ship with software drivers or configuration software,” Warnock said. To add 56 DES encryption, said sales and marketing VP Mark Massey, users press the “secure” button on each node to pass the encryption key between the two.

Pressing a diagnostics button on one node enables users to determine how many nodes are on their network and determines whether other nodes, or the power outlets into which they’re plugged, are faulty, he added. Up to 16 NeverWire nodes can be installed per network, each unit capable of connecting to an “unlimited” number of PCs and other devices, the company said.

Phonex’s target households, equipped with broadband and multiple PCs, number anywhere from 3.1 million to 3.3 million, according to some researchers, Phonex said. A Yankee Group study puts the number at 5.5 million to 8.8 million and contends that 58 percent of broadband households have multiple PCs.

Total households with broadband are estimated at 11 million to 16 million, and with multiple PCs are 19.1 million to 31.7 million, said the company, citing research reports.

Researchers Parks Associates and IDC agree that the top reason that consumers buy a home network is to share broadband Internet access, Phonex said. A Parks survey of homeowners with broadband and a PC network shows that 70 percent rate reliability as extremely important in buying a home network, followed by ease of installation at 54 percent and interoperability at 53 percent. Price was regarded as extremely important by only 32 percent.

Phonex thinks it has ease-of-installation concerns sewed up with its HomePlug implementation, while the HomePlug spec itself addresses most reliability concerns, the company said. In homes up to 5,000 square feet or in 1,000-foot wire runs from one outlet to another (sometimes through a circuit-breaker box), for example, HomePlug throughput hits 5Mbps or more, he said. Maximum throughput is about 8Mbps.

Plugging a bridge into an outlet that also handles halogen or fluorescent lights, light dimmers, or surge suppressors will diminish throughput, he added, but HomePlug guarantees users a minimum of 500Kbps throughput. That’s more than enough most DSL modems, whose throughput ranges from 129Kbps to 640Kbps, he said.

Cable companies, he noted, talk about throughput only in general terms, such as a couple of megabits, because households share connections.

Wi-Fi theoretically offers an 11Mbps data rate, but it delivers “spotty” throughput performance, the company contended, because of interference from 2.4GHz cordless phones and microwave ovens, as well as aluminum studs, horsehair-plaster walls, marble floors and brick fireplaces.