Excite@Home Explores Wireless LANs

New York -- Excite@Home Corp. is preparing to offer itsaffiliates a way to expedite installation of data services in cable households through theuse of in-home wireless-networking technology.

The company is sorting through various premises-networkingoptions with the aim of picking one that it can use on a nationwide basis as a way to getbeyond the "jack-add" problem, chief technology officer Milo Medin said lastweek.

"[A total of] 75 percent to 80 percent of the roomspeople have their PCs in don't have cable outlets, which means operators have to sendout installers to make the connection," Medin said. "We would like to give themthe option of avoiding that step by using wireless technology."

An example of what Excite@Home has in mind was on displaylast week at a "home-of-the-future" demonstration in a Manhattan apartment. Thewireless-networking technology supplied by ShareWave Inc., a strategic partner of CiscoSystems Inc., linked PCs and other devices to a centrally positioned cable modem, which,in turn, was connected to the cable wire leading to outside network facilities.

Medin stressed that the use of ShareWave in the demo wasnot an indication of where his company was going in terms of its vendor selection."We're talking to three companies with the intention of making a decision by theend of the year," he said.

"We'd like to have this option in the marketplaceby the third quarter," Medin added. "We're looking at proprietary systemsand at systems that are designed to the [Institute of Electrical and ElectronicsEngineers'] 802.11 standard. Whichever way the technical selection goes, the goal isto create a volume-purchasing environment that will drive the costs of the wireless homenetwork down to cost parity with the cost of sending out a cable installer."

He noted, "If we can offer this option to the cableoperator at the price of a truck roll, we might go a long way toward speeding up the paceof service penetration."

Wireless local-area networks for the home are alreadyentering the marketplace with the shipment by Lucent Technologies of its 802.11-based"AirPort" system for use with Apple Computer Inc.'s "iBook"computer. The connection is made via a card that plugs right into the laptop.

ShareWave plans to have its product in the market by thefirst quarter, director of business development Don Apruzzese said, adding,"We're demoing at 4 megabits per second, but we expect to be at 11 mbps when wego commercial."

The 802.11 systems are currently specified to operate at 2mbps. But there will be a second version next year that will operate at 10 mbps, notedWendy Lee, a marketing executive at Cisco.

"We're working on some relationships right nowwith vendors supporting the 802.11 standard," she said, noting that a partnershipmight involve joint marketing, or it could lead to integration of the technology intodevices manufactured by Cisco.

"We believe 802.11 will be the first wave into thehome," Lee said. "It's rapidly getting to the level where it will beavailable on a mass-market basis."

Nonetheless, Medin said, Excite@Home's selection of awireless-LAN platform would not be dictated by whether the technology is a standard."We'd prefer to work with a standardized system, of course, but the moreimportant criteria are costs and ease of use," he said.

Moreover, he added, the system has to support data rates ofat least 10 mbps and, preferably, 20 mbps. Systems under study operate in unlicensedspectrum segments between 2.4 gigahertz and 5 GHz, he said.

Such systems currently cost in the range of $250 to $300for a single link involving a radio transmitter/receiver positioned at the modem and onepositioned at the PC, Medin noted, adding, "We want to get that down to $70 or $80,which we think we can do if we can generate sales of a couple of million units."

With the strides the company has made in setting up onlineordering and self-installation via the use of USB (universal serial bus) technology incurrent-generation computers, it feels that giving the cable operator an option to providethe wireless LAN as a cost-equal alternative to installing new cable wiring and outletsshould begin to eliminate the need for service calls in the installation process.

Moreover, Medin added, operators that choose thewireless-LAN option are providing customers with the added value of having home-networkingsystems in place that can be expanded over time to connect other online devices.