BT to build common standards into home-network kit

BT announced Monday it will offer a new wireless networking technology for households. Dave Wilby takes the lid off the tech...

British Telecom has turned to US startup Home Wireless Networks (HWN) to supply it with the necessary technology to turn its vision of "Interactive Homes" into a reality, in the hope that UK homes are ready to move into the digital era.

Using kit developed in conjunction with HWN, BT wants to install wireless base stations in the centre of our homes that will enable our computers, phones, TVs, stereos, security devices -- and any other wireless devices we may own in the future -- to communicate at high-speed, without the need for cabling.

The products BT plans to deliver combine the features of increasingly prevalent digital phone systems with the functionality of wireless LANs. It will launch systems -- each capable of supporting several wireless devices -- using wireless smart handsets, wireless phone sockets and wireless data sockets.

A BT spokesman explained: "Entry level systems comprising a controller, a smart handset and a data socket peripheral interface could cost around £400. A single controller can support up to 16 devices, 12 of which can operate simultaneously." These systems will be DECT and 802.11 compliant and are intended to complement BT's wide area services, including ISDN and ADSL offerings.

This is by no means the first or only wireless communication system in development, but it is the first venture of its kind in the UK with an immediately available customer base the size of BT's. Not to mention the clout of BT's marketing machine.

  • DECT is the radio technology underlying most digital cordless phones, offering support for interference-free roaming and multiple handsets per base station. It operates on the 1880-1900MHz frequency range. It has a data rate of 1.152Mbit/s and offers encryption and authentication.

  • IEEE 802.11 is the global wireless radio Ethernet standard and is most commonly supported by wireless networking systems for modern offices, field workers or manufacturing floors. It initially supported 2Mbit/s communications, but can now achieve 11Mbit/s data rates. 802.11 offers the levels of encryption and authentication usually associated with data networking.

  • Both DECT and 802.11 have a range of around 300m line-of-sight, or 50-75m between floors and walls within the home. The systems will work perfectly in multiple-occupancy buildings such as blocks of flats.

  • DECT radio eliminates problems of interference between competing devices by using dynamic channel selection to pick from 120 available radio channels. Devices constantly transparently seek the best available radio signal. The 802.11 element achieves the same result using spread spectrum techniques.

According to BT, emerging wireless standards, such as Bluetooth will be incorporated once they are widely adopted.

The products, under co-development for the past two years, come in response to the recent rapid growth of Internet use in Europe. BT expects over five million home users to adopt the technology over the next five years, as well as up to 10 million small business and teleworkers.