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Home Networking

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Note: Many topics at this site are reduced versions of the text in "The Encyclopedia of Networking and Telecommunications." Search results will not be as extensive as a search of the book's CD-ROM.

As computer prices drop and more homes obtain multiple computers and/or Web appliances, there is a need to network those computers. A home network can give all users access to the same Internet access line, which is practical if the line is high-speed DSL or cable. A home network also lets family members share peripherals such as printers and quickly transfer files between computers. For example, family members may want to exchange photos. Since these files are usually large, it makes sense to do it over a network rather than copying to a disk. Disk devices can also be shared. If one system has a CD writer, other family members can access it as if it is a local drive and create their own CDs. Finally, computer gaming over networks allows multiple members to join in the same game.

There are a number of home networking technologies, including traditional Ethernet, phone line networks, power line networks, and wireless, but many people may prefer to use standard Ethernet. It's cheap, easy to install, and well supported. Some companies give older Ethernet adapters and cable to employees for home use. Chances are a family friend knows how to get things going in a jiffy. If you choose to do it yourself, go out and buy a cheap Ethernet switch and some preconfigured cables (the connectors are already installed), and then run the cables through the ceiling or walls by placing a few drill holes. If you want a "cleaner" installation, you'll need to buy faceplates, connectors, and a roll of cable, and then run the cable and install the connectors. Some people might prefer to call a professional, or maybe extend a dinner invitation to the cabling guy at work. Install Category 5 or better cable just to make sure you can support future standards. See "Cable and Wiring" for more information.

Some alternative home networking technologies are listed next. All of these technologies require network adapters in each PC, so the choice of which to use is often related to the cost of hardware rather than the wiring options. Another thing is that all computers share the line, so an access method, such as CSMA/CD or token passing, is necessary. See "MAC (Media Access Control)."

  • Telephone line networks    Many homes have phone jacks in nearly every room, so it makes sense to use the cable to network home computers. Products that use phone lines transmit signals in frequency ranges that are above the range used by voice. DSL works over the phone lines using the same technique. There is no interference between voice calls and data transmissions because the transmission ranges are widely separated. The Home Phoneline Networking Alliance has specified standards for transmission over home telephone lines. Depending on the version and hardware, transfer rates can go as high as 10 Mbits/sec.

  • Power line networks    Copper cable power lines are usually available in every part of the house, so using those power lines to build home networks is a flexible option. However, power lines are usually noisy, so transfer rates are lower to compensate. The top rate is usually less than 1 Mbits/sec. Encryption techniques are required to provide privacy because signals on the power line propagate out of the home to other homes in the vicinity.

  • Wireless home networking    Wireless technologies are perhaps the best choice for many home users, especially because it is well understood since cordless phones, which use similar technology, are common in the home. Wireless networks also support mobility, so the home portable computer can be used in front of the TV for entertainment or taken to a study area. The range is usually about 250 feet. Wireless home networking uses either infrared (IR) or radio frequency (RF) technology. IR requires a line of sight with a transmitter/receiver, which limits its flexibility. RF is the preferred choice because users can roam anywhere in the home and remain connected. Like AM or FM radio, RF penetrates walls. Frequency ranges are in the 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz ranges. The last two ranges are part of the unlicensed band, which means that many types of devices transmit in these frequencies, including cordless phones. The 2.4 GHz range is the busiest. Choose products in the 5.8 GHz range. See "Wireless LANs" for more information about these technologies. Also see "Bluetooth" and "Wireless PANs (Personal Area Networks)" for related technology.

Several home networking standards have been developed, including those developed by the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance, mentioned in the preceding list. Another is CEBus, an open standard for home automation, which was officially released as EIA IS-60. The HomeRF Working Group is promoted by Motorola, Proxim, Compaq, Intel, National Semiconductor, Siemens, and others.

Copyright (c) 2001 Tom Sheldon and Big Sur Multimedia.
All rights reserved under Pan American and International copyright conventions.