Technology Today - August 2001
the thing that will be one of the fastest growing segments of the computer
industry this year will be home networking. With broadband access now a reality
to nearly everyone including us inner city folks, we find that more and more of
us are now getting on the internet at high speed and we also want to get
everyone else in the house connected as well. And as it seems, we are just at
the right time and place as there are a ton of alternatives out there to help us
all get connected. For many of you corporate types, the Ethernet network has
always been the way to go but in a home, it is not often that easy to string
Cat5 cabling around. If you have not done it before, let me tell you, stringing
cable is not easy and so I spent some time recently looking for alternatives and
I was quite surprised to see what is available.
why network a home? For many reasons. Did you just get a cable modem or DSL
connection in your house and do you have others that want to use that blazing
fast connection at the same time you do on their own computer? Do you have more
computers than you do printers and want to save the effort of having to copy a
file to diskette and taking it to someone elses computer to print? What about
backup? Have you read the stories about crashing hard drives or worse, stolen
computers, and want to back up your files? For those of you with multiple
computers in the home, the pressure will get to you one of these days and then
you will be with the rest of us, wondering how to do it.
will get to the alternatives shortly, but I think that when you have looked over
all the choices, you will still find that Cat5 Ethernet is still the network and
cable of choice for speed, reliability, and stability and support. So the first
thing to do when deciding that you want a network in your home is to first
determine, how many connections you will need to have and where they are in the
home. If all you have is just two computers in the same room and can easily run
a cable between them, then the simplest approach is to put network cards in each
computer, get a Cat5 Crossover cable, and connect the two computers
together. An even simpler approach is to look at a package like Laplink, which
come with software and a cable, and you dont even have to get inside the
computer. But for our purposes here, I am going to assume that you have more
than two computers located in different rooms in the house.
as we talk about networking, whether it is phone line, Ethernet, power line or
the like, remember that there will always be networking software that needs to
be installed and set up. It will always be provided to you, or in the case of
Ethernet, built into Windows, and can be a real pain to setup, but for this
article, this is as far as I will go in discussing the software. Why? Because
there are books, courses, and all sorts of literature and web sites devoted to
setting up a network and we can take all day discussing it.
short paragraph on Ethernet Networking is needed here for those of you that
dont know what it is. In short, an Ethernet network requires Ethernet
networking interface cards (NIC) installed in each computer that is on the
network. To connect the networks, you need to run Cat5, or Category 5, cabling
from each computer to a central location that has a networking hub or traffic
controller installed. As I mentioned above, Ethernet networking software is
already built into Windows so all you need to do is to acquire the hardware and
cabling and possibly the help to get it setup. And that is essentially it. I
have ignored many of the Ethernet options like Token Ring and Coax for the
reason that for a home network, you really shouldnt be considering them, they
are older technologies with limited support going forward. Ethernet networks
also come in several flavors for Linux, Novell, and Lantastic and I wont go
into them as well. Finally, Ethernet for large companies usually comes with
servers and the like and for a home network, we will just stick with peer to
peer. Again, no additional hardware is needed.
I also mentioned that Ethernet is fast with typical networks running at
either 10 megabits per second (mbps) or 100mbps. The future of Ethernet looks very good and in fact, there
will soon be a high-speed gigabit Ethernet running at 1000mbps and we havent
even talked about fiber optic networks.
if you are not building a new home, or like Rollie, gutting your existing home,
and running new cabling for Cat5 Ethernet is out of the question, then you still
have some pretty good alternatives.
first is home telephone wiring networking. Home Phone wiring networking uses the
existing telephone lines in your home for your local area network.
It is fairly straightforward to setup, just run a telephone cord from
your computer to the wall jack. You will need a way of connecting it to your
computer and that can be done with either a card installed inside your computer
or in some cases, a USB connected device. You dont have to worry about a hub
or controller and the cost is pretty reasonable at around $180 for three
computers. You may have some
problems with the physical connections as there are things to do if you have a
modem, or telephone attached to the system but usually it is pretty
straightforward. The most common problem is that there isnt a phone outlet
near the computer. It is also a slow connection at around 1 mbps, even though
the companies advertise rates much faster. And finally, reliability is an issue
with disconnects and not being able to find another computer a problem. There
are many products on the market from companies like 3Com, Netgear, and Intel and
there is an industry association at www.homepna.org.
They are moving ahead with a new standard to be out some time soon with promised
speeds up to 10mbps.
second alternative comes from the electrical wiring inside your home. Again, an
advantage is no new wiring and usually you have an electrical outlet in every
room. There is no need for a hub or controller and the speeds are quite good at
around 14mbps. The problem with home electrical wiring is that there are very
few products on the market. There is an industry group getting started at http://www.homeplug.org/and
they have just issued a new standard available just in May of this year. So
until the new standards and new products are out, reliability and interference
from other sources is an issue. Also as I mentioned, the only products I have
found are from Intellon, at www.intellon.com.
Cost at this point is around $300 for three computers.
third alternative, though quite a bit more money, is wireless. A problem here is
that there are multiple issues and standards clogging the works. The two main
ones at this point are based on Home RF (Radio frequency), and the IEEE
standard, 802.11b that is again, a new standard and I would stick with it.
Advantages of wireless are that there are no wires to worry about and it is easy
to add computers to the network. Disadvantages
to wireless in general is the expense of the equipment, the fact it is fairly
easy for hackers to tap into the network, and it can suffer interference
start with the 802.11b standard, which I think will be the choice going forward
for wireless. It is much faster than other wireless alternatives at 11mbps
versus the current standard of 1.6mbps. There are many companies supporting this
standard like Dlink, Netgear, and others. The cost of this kind of network is
expensive with three computers costing you just under $1,000. You are also
limited in range but for most homeowners I dont think that will ever be an
issue unless your garage is more than 300 feet from the house.
other wireless option today is HomeRF with an effective speed between 1.6 and
10mbps. Today it is primarily supported by Intel with their Home Anypoint
network and has just a 150 foot range. It will though integrate both voice and
data in the network as it incorporates DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless
Telephony). It is also much more
reasonably priced at around $300 for three computers.
will also hear about Bluetooth, http://www.bluetooth.com/and
it has a very vocal and large following but unfortunately doesnt have much in
the way of products. Kind of reminds me of the OS/2 days. Bluetooth is a very
short range point to point way of connecting devices to your computer and I
really dont think they are even looking at the networking business from the
traditional standpoint of file sharing, internet access, and the like. It is an
interesting technology with a lot of products promised.
last alternative to look at uses the existing cable TV cable that is in your
home and I am a bit surprised that the cable companies dont get in on this
product. Cabling can be an issue as most homes that are wired for cable just
have one or two access points for cable so it could be a problem. An advantage
here though is the speed as it is the fastest available running at cable speeds
up to 1,000mbps. Several Comdexs ago, I saw one company with products and
they are still with us at www.peracom.com.
It looked pretty interesting as they were also integrating all your
entertainment devices in the network at the same time as well. Expensive though
at around $1200 to connect three computers and in fact, at this writing, were
sold out of the devices.
lets get back to the issues determining what you want. The major question is can
you run cable to each of your computers in the house. If you can, stick with
Ethernet. Other things to consider with Ethernet is because there are so many
products on the market, it has been flooded with cheap components and cabling.
It is however, as fast as you need it to be, quite reliable, and very well
supported. If you cant run cables, then let your budget determine what you
look at next. The inexpensive alternative is home phone wiring, the better is
the 802.11b wireless.
you decide to go, you must also be sure you have a good antivirus program on
each of your computers and if you are going to connect your network to a
broadband internet connection like cable or DSL, you must have a firewall as
well. For home networking, my
recommendations are the Symantec Norton Antivirus and Zone Alarms Zone Alarm
Pro firewall software.
A means of wiring the entire house
A source of networking products
Another good source of networking products
Wireless networking from Intel
A home network using standard video cable
A home power wiring networking organization
A great discussion on home power wiring technology
A source of products for Home Power networks
Home Networking using existing phone lines
Motorola's home networking ideas
A great source of networking information
An excellent paper on wireless networks
An excellent article on Bluetooth
From How Stuff Works.com
Another good source on networking
How Fast Is The Network ??
IEEE 802.11 Wireless Lan 1.6mbps
IEEE 802.11b Wireless Lan 11 mpbs
HomePNA network 1 mbps
HomePNA 2.0 Network 10 mbps
Powerline Network 14mbps
Fast Ethernet 100mbps
Gigabit Ethernet 1000 mbps
Cable TV 1000+mbps
Sanborn is an Independent Personal Computer Consultant, and the Program Chairman
for the Indianapolis Computer Society. Reach him through the net at firstname.lastname@example.org
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