Networks '98: Home networking via phone line cabling

Home networking over ordinary telephone extension cabling is the promise of a recently formed industry alliance called the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA).

The group, made up of AMD, 3Com, AT&T, Compaq, Intel, IBM, Lucent, Rockwell and Tut Systems, are nearing completion on a system that will provide a 1Mb/s network between home computers using existing telephone cable and an add-in card "that looks a bit like an ethernet card" according to Wolfgang Meryk, European marketing manager at consortium member AMD. Meryk says networking for ordinary consumers is vital and the infrastructure within the home already exists. "The telephone line is the obvious choice for cabling and by next year it will be delivering 10Mb/s." That ready-made infrastructure will give AMD, and other consortium members, access to a huge potential market. Industry analyst Inteco says there are currently 4.5m PCs in Western Europe and predicts the number will double by 2000. "Every one of those houses that has more than 1 PC will benefit from this," says Meryk. ZDNet News saw the technology in action at the Networks-telecom '98 show in Birmingham today. Two PCs connected over telephone cabling and playing Sega Rally were used to show off the technology. "We are using the same layering as ethernet to connect PCs" says Meryk "there's virtually no difference. Even the drivers are the same and will work within minutes using Windows 95 or 98." AMD reckons it will ship its first add-in cards before year end. Meryk concedes that an add-in card isn't an ideal proposition for Joe Bloggs but points to other consortium members, like IBM and Compaq, who are working on an integrated solution for the PC's motherboard. "Once that is ready - sometime next year [but possibly this year] - PCs will come with a socket for a telephone plug. Just plug your machines in and you have a network." All the PCs on the network will also be able to access the Internet if one is equipped with DSL or a modem, and has some additional gateway software. "I suppose this is something of a revolution" says Graham Taylor, senior VP at industry analyst Inteco, "it's certainly a very positive first step and using telephone cabling is a major achievement." Taylor sees the technology being used in a wide variety of roles including games, file sharing and, for the more adventurous, sending a document from the lounge to be printed in the kitchen. Breakdown of features:

  • AMD says the first add-in cards should cost less than £100, which could be regarded as expensive compared to an ordinary ethernet card which are around £20-£25.
  • Apart from installing the card, no changes need to be made to either the computer or the existing telephone cabling.
  • Home phoneline networking will work alongside existing Internet access technologies such as V.90, ADSL or cable modems.
  • Peripherals can be shared such as printers, scanners, modems etc. Multiplayer gaming is also possible.