Home Area Network Technologies
The author suggests that home networks exist in a primitive state, but then only for niche purposes: head-to-head computer gaming and sharing a common connection to the Internet. We can presently envision the value of a wider array of device-to-device connections within a home network, but are facing a significant hurdle: the ease with which a home network can be installed.
The author defines three categories of network: a network of new wires, a network of old wires, and a wireless network.
The author goes into painstaking technical detail about various technologies, including a handful that are currently unsuitable for use as a home networking technology due to their limitations (though if these limitations could be overcome, they might become viable).
For many users, a "new wires" network is a horrific prospect, as it requires running physical cables through existing structures, which is invasive, complicated and expensive.
Ethernet is currently the leading method of creating wired networks. Ethernet is a "close proximity" system, requiring network nodes to be within 100 meters of one another. It was created by the Xerox Corporation in 1974, though the standards have changed over time, and it is considerably cheaper as well. Its advantages are: that it is reliable, offers high bandwidth, is very secure, is widely adopted, and has a low cost.
Firewire is another technology, developed by Apple, to connect peripheral devices to a single computer, particularly video devices, whose need for bandwidth far surpassed that of typical peripherals, though its standards would also support peer-to-peer connections. Compared to Ethernet, it has higher transfer speeds, devices are plug-and-play and hot-swappable, and it is well-suited for video content; but it has a very short reach between nodes (4.5 meters), and is therefore considered unsuitable for home networking.
USB (Universal Serial Bus) was created by Microsoft (a consortium of computer manufacturers, but MS was extremely coercive). USB is similar to Firewire, in that it has a very short reach between nodes, but it has a much lower data transfer rate and requires a computer to act as host on a USB network.
Reusing existing networks within the home is a more attractive option to running a new set of cables. Currently, there are competing technologies, each in their infancy, that seek to exploit the telephone and electric wires as cables for a home network.
HomePNA is the leading alliance among companies that are seeking to use phone lines as a network. The alliance began in 1998, and has attracted a significant number of industry-leading device and networking companies. IT is considered to be a low-cost and secure technology that is easy for consumers to utilize, though the chief problems are incompatibility with legacy phone equipment (the phone lines could not be used for telephones anymore) as well as poor reverse-compatibility with prior versions (if one device is upgraded, all must be)
HomePlug is another consortium, younger and smaller, that is pioneering the transmission of data over electrical power cables. The primary benefit of this system is that power outlets are ubiquitous in most homes, any device that would be networked is already plugged into a power outlet, it has moderate bandwidth (14 MBPS); however, it is perceived as being expensive, security (data leakage through the power lines) may e a significant issue, and there is still much competition among various proprietary solutions.
The ability to network without cabling of any kind has a tremendous appeal: it removes the necessity of managing they physical aspects of a network at all (plugs and wires) and makes the network "automatically" accessible to any device within range. The author describes four competing solutions:
"Wireless Ethernet" or Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11) is a radio-frequency based networking technology. It has a long range (up to 500 meters), a reasonable amount of bandwidth (11 MBPS), and is one of the more reliable wireless protocols. However, it is not user-friendly, subject to RF interference and obstruction ("thick walls"), and its security features are very easily compromised. Even so, the author asserts that it will "most definitely become one of the most popular home networking technologies" as it rapidly evolving to become cheaper and more powerful, and is already enjoying widespread adoption.
HomeRF is another technology being pushed by a consortium. It is more user-friendly than Wi-Fi and has better security and noise immunity, but suffers from a number of inherent disadvantages (shorter node distance, lower bandwidth) as well as competitive ones (it has not been widely adopted), the latter of which may be more damning in the long run.
Bluetooth began as a method of connection for cell phone accessories (wireless headsets) and has been adopted to a limited degree by the computing industry to connect peripherals (wireless keyboard and mouse, primarily). The technology is excellent for the job it presently does - communicating small amounts of data across short distances between small devices, the same qualities make it unsuitable as a networking technology for the home, though it is theoretically capable of such.
DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) was originally used to enable cordless phones (connecting the handset to the base station without a physical cable). It has a good range (50m indoors, 300m outdoors), good security, and low cost, but its low data transmission rate (1152 kb/s) make it unsuitable for home networking.
The Residential Gateway
The author speaks of the residential gateway (RG), which was discussed in greater detail in the previous chapter. He doesn't provide much in the way of additional information:
- The RG is a single point of connection between a home network and the outside world
- The RG can be a solution to the limitations of IP addressing, which is currently insufficient to supply dozens or hundreds of addresses to each home (The RG would have an IP address and provide DHCP addressing to devices within the home)
- Opinions vary on whether the RG would be on-site or at a provider's data center
- A few companies are producing RGs, though these are presently specialized, designed to enable multiple computers to access the Internet
- Other than computers, there are few devices that would require an RG (such as set-top boxes for video on demand) and these are not yet in widespread use, so there is little demand to evolve the RG
Devices, Appliances, Services and Applications
More than anything else, it is presently the lack of network-capable devices that is holding back the development and adoption of home networking. It's a catch-22: consumers will not adopt home networks because they do not own devices that would use them, and manufacturers will not produce devices because there are not significant consumers to make that lien of business profitable.
Home entertainment is one arena in which the vicious circle might be broken: various companies are developing digital home entertainment systems, either as an extension of the media player (DVD), cable box, home computer, or gaming system, which enable content to be delivered (or data communicated among multiple users) via the Internet, requiring an Ethernet cable to be run from the home office to the family room.
Home automation may be another function that will drive home networking. Various vendors are now offering systems that enable to homeowner to manage systems such as their air conditioner, lawn sprinklers, intercom, and security systems via the Internet.
There are also a variety of niche products, such as digital picture frames that draw pictures from a central server, digital clocks that provide enhanced information displays, and home appliances that can send a message through the Internet to tell someone that that the wash is done or the oven is preheated.
Not really a summary, as the author translates some of his thinking into more practical terms.
Many of the factors that are prerequisite to home networking have been addressed, or are evolving toward a solutions:
- High-bandwidth connection between the home an the Internet is becoming ubiquitous
- Analog equipment has largely been replaced with digital equipment
- An increasing number of devices benefit (or could benefit) from access to the network
- A significant amount of digital content (particularly entertainment) and services are available via the Internet
- Multiple options exist to establish a network within the home, at a reasonable cost and level of user commitment required
- The cost to manufacturers of making a device network-capable is relatively low (hence the cost to consumers for networked devices can be reasonable)
From a technology perspective, there are three key elements that will affect end-user adoption of home networking: what the network can deliver, what devices can be placed on the network, and the services that the devices will enable.
From a user perspective, there are four areas to be addressed: the network and associated devices must deliver a worthwhile benefit, the benefit should justify the cost, it should require minimal effort to install and operate, and it must be perceived as an enhancement rather than intrusion into the home.
EN: Again, this is a good survey of the technologies available at the time the book was written - but I expect we will se evolution.