Tuesday

Tuesday 11/03/2003If putting networking on power lines is a daft idea, how about putting power on networking cables? Oddly, this may be a hotter proposition.

Tuesday 11/03/2003
If putting networking on power lines is a daft idea, how about putting power on networking cables? Oddly, this may be a hotter proposition. 3Com has been doing it for a while -- the House at Roo Corner's wireless gateway sits aloof in a cupboard on the end of a powered strand of ethernet cable -- and now it's a proper standard. The idea is simple: there are spare wires in every ethernet cable, so why not use them to send the volts to power the device at the end? This lets you have all your power supplies in one place -- easier to maintain and back up -- and makes your networking more flexible. Where it really gets exciting -- bear with me on this -- is with network telephony. Ordinary telephones have one big advantage over IP telephones, in that they don't need to be plugged into anything but the phone line. You don't need to hook up a power supply to them: this makes them cheap, easy to make and easier still to install. With an IP telephone, there is no power to be had on Ethernet and rather a lot of computing flummery to be fed with electrons -- you need a power supply. Hassle. Misery. Domestic take-up of technology low: telephone companies happy, 'cos they don't lose customers to the wonderful fixed-fee world of networking. But now that's changed. 802.3af is the standard to watch for, so people can now make little Ethernet telephones that plug into a networking socket just like their older analogue Alex G. Bell-stylee devices. Which means people with broadband connections can use those to give their house a phone system no more complex and fiddly than the one the telephone company left them. It's a small step to the sunlit uplands of remarkably cheap and efficient phone services that the Internet promises, but a significant one.