Multimedia hardware maker Diamond Multimedia Systems started shipping its HomeFree wireless networking home-network solution on Monday.
Diamond's product has hit the near-magical price in home networking of $200 (£118) or $100 (£60) per computer. When Intel announced their entry into the home networking market, the PC giant also said it would aim for the $100-per-computer price.
The product has broken a price barrier that had kept wireless from being a legitimate thing for consumers.
"The big knock against wireless is always cost," said Bruce Kasrel, an analyst at market watcher Forrester Research. "At $200 (£118) it's priced like everyone else's home network product -- so how can you knock it?"
Home networking technology typically is based on either phone lines or power lines, both of which have disadvantages. For instance, while networks that use phone-lines require that every computer be near a phone jack, Wireless networks allow a PC to be placed anywhere within range. Diamond's wireless network can also ignore walls and doors, communicating at up to 1Mbps between multiple PCs that are less than 150 feet apart.
With more than 17 million households boasting multiple computers, Forrester's Kasrel thinks the market is ready for inexpensive networking. The analyst thinks users that need to share a single Internet account will cause households to snap up home networking products. "Everyone in the family can benefit from Internet access -- every one wants that," he said.
While Kasrel thinks shared printing, another Diamond feature, won't be important to consumers. Diamond's CTO and vice president of R&D, Michael Hudson, disagrees. "We are getting colour printers today that are really cool, but users can't afford one for every computer," he said.
Instead, the product will live and die by its ease of use, said Hudson. "If the home user has to learn even a tenth of what your IT department has to, then the product has failed," he said.
Hudson knows the difficulties of wiring the home. He has turned his own house into an automated home of the future: Lights turn on when people enter a room with the brightness varying with the time of day; the temperature is computer regulated; and he programmed it all himself in C++. "I know, I know. It's sick," he said, rather proudly. "I'm the ultimate geek."
Diamond has tried to make its own product plug-and-play. Yet in the end, Hudson admits, home networking is not going to be a single solution, with data flying through phone lines, power lines, and through the air.
Diamond is selling cards for both Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) and Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI), both priced at $199 (£118), and a PCI and PC Card solution to connect a portable computer and a desktop computer for $229 (£136).