- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2000

DANA POINT, Calif.

The revolution at home is coming, and probably faster than you might expect. That's the word from participants in the third annual "Digital Living Room" conference here, which brought together dozens of CEOs and industry leaders to discuss the convergence of television, music, images and your home computer.
The event, sponsored by Upside Media (www.upside.com), featured, on its first day, several discussions of home networking and what it will mean in the not-too-distant future. To the leaders in the field, "what it will mean" is a heterogeneous assembly of wired and wireless technologies, run through a home in a form similar to the wiring cabinets found in a small office.
According to Mary Walker, president and CEO of Home Director, Inc., a residential networking firm spun off recently from IBM Corp., "The home PC will still exist, but it will explode into many pieces."
By that, Ms. Walker means that the various elements of the PC will be found in different parts of the home: If a user downloads MP3 music files, they may want to listen to them in the living room; if you're cooking, a wireless "Web pad" in the kitchen would show the recipe.
Home Director's products are designed to bring the disparate elements of home electronics/ communications together, Ms. Walker said. She envisions the final environment to be a mix of technologies: wires going into the home entertainment center (what used to be called the den or family room) and the home office, but wireless or home networking standards to other rooms.
Why? Ms. Walker said technologies such as High Definition Television require 25 Megabits per second of speed, and wire is the only way at present to carry such a high-speed transmission from one room to another.
That's why, in part, the Home Director firm is offering various wiring solutions to turn your house into a network. The firm also integrates the networking with systems to control heating, cooling and other systems in a house as well; details are at www.homedirector.com. The firm is working with developers to introduce the systems into new homes. A housing development in the Houston, area features Home Director systems that let families share an Internet connection. And it is lobbying to create a standard for evaluating the worth of networking technologies added to a home in the same way that energy efficiency can increase a home's resale value.
But simplicity needs to come before the networking nirvana can arrive in many homes, said Julie Shimer, vice president and general manager of the residential connectivity group at 3Com Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.
"Although there's a lot of technologies available, consumers are telling us they're not very happy," Ms. Shimer told the seminar audience. "[Today's] products are too difficult to install and manage. The products on the market today are difficult for them because they're . . . not integrated into solutions that deliver some value."
She added, "Our consumers are saying we want you to deliver solutions. Consumers are wanting to have solution they don't have to think about. They want to take their downloaded MP3 files to their car without having to think about the process."
Ms. Shimer said 3Com, whose marketing muscle helped propel the Palm Pilot handheld device to prominence, is launching a gateway device that can be used to create a home network; other devices are due later this year, she said.
The "HomeConnect" gateway is a networking device that connects broadband DSL or cable Internet service to a 10 Mbps Home Phoneline Network (HomePNA) or 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet network in a house. 3Com touts the $249 product as an efficient way to share a high-speed connection to the Internet, while also providing a commercial-grade firewall product.
The HomeConnect product, which will ship in July, is aimed at providing a high speed networking connection within homes, something the firm believes will be a boon to telecommuters. The firm is claiming the average user can set up the product within 15 minutes. Details are on line at www.3com.com/client/pcd/ homeconnect/.
Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit his Web page, www.markkellner.com.

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