The home-networking juggernaut continues, as extending
cable broadband connections to multiple computers throughout the home becomes more
attractive to MSOs, and vendors develop new networking products.
Not only are networking services extending the broadband
connection throughout the home, but, as Toronto-based Rogers Cablesystems Ltd. is
discovering, networking services extend the business model for data services into new
sources of revenue and ways to capture market share.
Rogers launched "Multiple Computer Access" -- a
premium residential service letting customers connect up to three computers to a
Rogers@Home Internet-access account -- May 6.
Alek Krstajic, vice president and general manager of
Rogers@Home, said basic @Home Network service is priced at $39.95 per month, with each
additional computer hookup costing $9.95 per month.
Earlier this year, Rogers@Home conducted a beta-test of
Multiple Computer Access, which went better than expected.
"We were quite surprised that there were no bugs to
work out," Krstajic said. In fact, the beta-test was so successful that it became a
Rogers assigns separate Internet-protocol addresses for
each computer, and it leaves the actual setup to the customer. Generally, the cable modem
is plugged into a hub, with each computer on the network connected to the hub via an
Rogers originally used LANcity (now part of Bay Networks
Inc.) cable modems, but it switched to Terayon Communication Systems cable modems and
Krstajic said one of the prime network issues for Rogers in
implementing its Multiple Computer Access service was to make sure that customers adhered
to the @Home "Acceptable Use Policy," which prohibits operating a server with an
@Home residential account.
One or two heavy users operating servers and hosting large
numbers of Web pages on the upstream path have the potential to tie up a node.
Consequently, Rogers has a team that monitors performance
of the network closely, Krstajic said.
Rogers has also toyed with the idea of instituting a
"bit cap" and/or metering scheme for heavy data users, according to Krstajic,
although no specific program has been hammered out.
With an aggressive competitor -- Bell Canada -- on the
landscape, Krstajic's group is focusing on capturing market share from traditional
dial-up services by offering enhanced data services, including the networking option.
"Our mandate is growth," he said.
Enhanced data services on the horizon for Rogers include a
commercial version of Multiple Computer Access.
Krstajic said Rogers is close to finalizing a plan for a
beta-test of a commercial networking service, scheduled for this summer, followed by a
launch in the fourth quarter.
Rogers plans to use an asynchronous transfer mode-based
parallel network, in conjunction with Rogers Network Services, to route commercial
Also planned for rollout at an unspecified time is a
remote-access data service, whereby a customer could access @Home e-mail via an 800 number
and telephone modem.
Rogers joins other @Home affiliates in offering so-called
home-networking services. AT&T Broadband & Internet Services (formerly
Tele-Communications Inc.) conducted a beta-test last fall, and it now counts
"thousands" of subscribers, according to Matt Emmons, @Home product manager for
Like Rogers, AT&T Broadband allows up to three
additional IP addresses, and it does not assist the customer in setting up a home network.
Carl Smith, director of advanced products at AT&T
Broadband, said he "looked long and hard at different technologies," concluding,
"It's still too early" to endorse them.
Smith explained that the policy is not meant to be
customer-unfriendly. Rather, he cited the additional truck rolls and technician training
"Our line of demarcation stops at the Ethernet
plug," Emmons said, acknowledging that the company has considered third-party
arrangements for network setup and provisioning.
AT&T Broadband lets a cable connection be split so that
a customer can get video on the TV in the living room, while receiving data on a personal
computer in the den.
However, the company requires that a cable technician
install the splitter and cable outlet at the secondary location to avoid introducing noise
or interference into a cable system.
If there is a splitter connection in place, a technician
conducts "quality-assurance" tests.
Emmons said a commercial networking service will be
introduced "relatively soon" to address the needs of small to midsized
businesses that want to give employees broadband access.
While cable operators' home-networking services remain
fairly unsophisticated when compared with elaborate networks enabled by in-home
telephone-wiring schemes and wireless networking, this could change as major cable vendors
enter home networking.
For example, Broadcom Corp. in late April announced the
acquisition of Epigram Inc., which makes home-networking chip sets for PCs, modems, cable
modems and set-top boxes.
Epigram's silicon -- which conforms to Home Phoneline
Networking Alliance (HomePNA) standards -- lets users send voice, video and data
simultaneously on existing home phone lines at speeds of 10 megabits per second and
Tim Lindenfelser, vice president of marketing for Broadcom,
sees that vendor's data chips residing next to Epigram's "iLine10"
networking chip sets inside cable modems and/or set-top boxes.
Placing the two within a set-top would allow for a DVD disc
on a PC in a home office to be viewed on a television in the den, for example.
Lindenfelser said one major engineering challenge to
overcome with this integration is the issue of powering the device.
After the integration is completed, "the next
generation of flexibility," according to Lindenfelser, will be adding Broadcom's
switching technology into the scheme to guarantee minimum bandwidth for certain users --
in particular, voice users.
Lindenfelser said Broadcom's customers are asking for
home-networking capabilities "in different degrees of urgency." While not
traditionally big Broadcom customers, PC manufacturers are eager to incorporate
home-networking interface cards, he said.
As standards develop and demand for home networks grows,
most experts see wireless home-networking solutions as most convenient and portable.
Networking heavyweight Cisco Systems Inc. announced May 11
that it would adopt ShareWave Inc.'s wireless technology for wireless home-networking
ShareWave is developing a "Wireless Ethernet
Bridge" reference design that incorporates wireless network controllers and the
"Cresta" digital radio.
The bridge is a wireless networking module that connects to
cable, ISDN (integrated services digital network) or DSL (digital subscriber line) modems
via an Ethernet port to establish a high-speed wireless connection between the modem and
other networked devices.
Bob Michelet, director of marketing for Cisco's
consumer line of business, said Cisco remains "technology-agnostic," and it is
working with Epigram and Broadcom on the phone-line aspects of home networking.
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