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newRevised to add HomePlug 10/8/2002

The Emerging Broadband Home

It won't happen overnight -- but it's happening now.

First a family wants faster Net access.

  • So they get some form of broadband access. This is usually either DSL or a cable modem, with fixed wireless or satellite in a few places. In some countries, they'd get "fiber to the home".

Next they want several PCs to share the access.

  • So they buy and install some form of home networking -- wired or wireless -- to connect to the broadband modem.
  • And they might buy a cable/DSL router or a home gateway to manage the access to the Internet.

Pretty soon they want to get beyond the PC and use the broadband network for audio and video.

  • It's cool to play the audio downloaded into their PCs on the good speakers in the home entertainment center.
  • Maybe they will catalog and show the pictures from their digital camera and camcorder on the TV screen and send them to friends.
  • They might buy a home media server to manage all the audio and video files.

A bit at a time, the broadband home is becoming a reality.

In this space, we'll continue to provide material on how and where the broadband home is happening, and which companies and people are making it happen. We'll have links to descriptions of the pieces and how they connect, to the companies involved in the many aspects of its creation, and to background material to understand this complex space.

Our Broadband Home

We've created a "home movie" to show how we use broadband, networking and digital consumer electronics technologies in our own home. The 8-minute movie is available in two versions:

Home Networking

Many different types of broadband home networking are now available. Although each addresses some of the user needs and application performance requirements, none completely satisfies the needs for all applications; new technologies are being developed which better address the needs. While some hope that a single technology would satisfy all user needs, we believe it is more likely that a combination of technologies will be used in many homes.

Broadband home networks can operate over various physical media. These can be organized into three broad groups: structured wiring, existing wiring and wireless.

  • Structured wiring requires installing new cabling in the walls. Both the cabling (typically unshielded twisted pair [UTP] or fiber) and its installation are defined by standards (see Standards Overview for an index to world-wide structured cabling standards).
  • Existing wiring makes use of electrical, telephone or coax wiring already installed in the walls.
  • Wireless avoids the use of wires by transmitting through the air.

See Links and Resources: Home Networking for more information on home networking.

Existing Wiring

There is a lot of current development work on home networking over existing wiring: the electrical, telephone and coax wiring already installed in the walls.

Powerline Networking

We recently completed an extensive evaluation of HomePlug, a promising new technology for home networking over existing electrical wiring. We reported on this work in our report and in a new section of this website.

See Links and Resources: Home Networking for more information on powerline networking in the home.

Wireless Networking

Although there have been several competing approaches for home wireless networking, IEEE 802.11b (marketed as "Wi-Fi") has won for the near-term. Wi-Fi operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum at data rates up to 11 Mbps - although the actual speed is usually no more than half that. Millions of Wi-Fi access points and LAN cards have shipped over the past year. This is a good approach for connecting multiple PCs to a broadband modem, but is rather slow for PC-to-PC networking - especially for large file transfers.

See Links and Resources: Home Networking for more information on wireless networking in the home.