Networking vendors are lusting after the lucrative consumer electronics market, and at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, they’ll highlight the latest enticements they’ve concocted in order to draw home users into an ever-more networked world.
Key to that strategy for many vendors is the emerging home media and entertainment market – what PC vendors used to call “convergence” devices. In this new world, the PC is being reborn as a media server, hosting high definition video, photos, music, and games that you’ll view and enjoy on a home theater system or large-screen HDTV.
But what if your data is in one room and the screen you want to watch it on is in another? At CES, many companies will be showing home networking products – both wired and wireless – designed to solve that problem and related issues.
Leading the pack wll be a host of routers and adapters designed to capitalize on (and improve upon) the draft 802.11n standard. Although the IEEE (the standards body responsible for the family of wireless standards known as Wi-Fi) has said that it won’t finalize 802.11n until July 2007, many vendors have been shipping routers based on the draft standard for more than a year. That’s because 802.11n delivers data rates as high as 540 Mbits/s at peak (and 200 Mbits/s sustained), which is ten times that of the current high-speed standard, 802.11g. With that much speed, vendors are betting that consumers are willing to take a flyer on the technology, even if the standard isn’t fully cooked yet.
What’s more, the multiple-antenna configurations of most 802.11n routers will help increase the range of these networks, up to about 150 feet indoors. At CES, look for vendors such as ZyXEL and Ruckus Wireless to bring out new pre-N and draft-N gear with improved speed, range, and reliability. Ruckus, for instance, has a “smart Wi-Fi subsystem” that promises to increase the reliability of wireless transmissions enough to support multiple streams of compressed HD video data.
Many companies will also be touting the emerging Wireless USB standard, based on Ultra-wideband (UWB) wireless. (UWB will also be used by the next generation of Bluetooth transceivers as well as a planned wireless version of IEEE 1394, or FireWire.) UWB is capable of delivering 480 Mbits/s at short ranges – up to about 10 feet – although interference and the protocol overhead involved with carrying USB data over UWB reduces the effective throughput to 100 or 200 Mbits/s.
Look for a wave of Wireless USB hubs and dongles (adapters for wirelessly connecting USB devices to the USB ports of your computer) at CES, along with promises of Wireless USB integrated into notebooks and other devices to come later in 2007.
A third area of networking activity at CES will center on home powerline networking products. Long the neglected stepchild of other, more mainstream technologies, powerline networking has finally come into its own with the rise of Homeplug AV, a standard that enables 100Mbps data transmission rates over ordinary powerlines. At that speed, powerline networking is comparable to Ethernet and has plenty of capacity for streaming media applications.
Finally, many networking and storage vendors at CES will be pinning their hopes on the relatively new Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) technology. DLNA-compatible devices are able to share media with one another over a home network without lots of configuration hassles. The promise is that you’ll be able to plug a DLNA storage device into your network and instantly be able to access the MP3 files on it through your home stereo’s DLNA-compatible media player, for instance.
With such a standard in place, vendors are hoping that network attached storage (NAS) devices will become much more attractive to consumer’s as central repositories for a family’s burgeoning collection of digital media files. Accordingly, look for plenty of DLNA-compatible NAS devices to be announced at CES.
PCMag.com will have the lowdown on specific announcements in these and other networking topics starting the first week of January, so stay tuned. Got CES networking news we should know about? Write to Dylan Tweney at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know what’s new!
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