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SercoNet Brings Home A Big Network Scheme

What works for major broadband networks should also work for broadband home networks, according to SercoNet Inc. The Southborough, Mass.-based provider of home-networking service systems last week debuted its NetHome System scheme, which maps the long-haul network architecture of backbone and access segments onto a home network. The wired phone lines in the house become an Ethernet backbone that ends in either wired or wireless Ethernet access points that reach peripheral devices.

"If you look at how all of the robust networks that are being built in the world today, whether they be carrier networks or enterprise networks, they are being built in essentially layers. You have your backbone network and your access network," said Jim Gayton, SercoNet's director of marketing. "And that's what we have done in the home — we've created a backbone network in the home and an access network in the home."

Meet new jack

The CableHome-compliant SercoNet system replaces the standard telephone wall jack with its own multi-jack system. The telephone wire behind these units becomes the home network's backbone, while the wall plate becomes the link to either wired or wireless access.

Unlike other networking products, the system adds internal powering via the phone lines. That effectively boosts the throughput power for Ethernet access, so it doesn't drop off as in other networking products.

"Each outlet is a full 10 Megabits [per second], so I am reboosting and regenerating the Ethernet signal at every network hub," Gayton said.

For the wireless option, access points also are powered by the wall unit, so there is no need for an external power bridge. In the event of a failure, the unit also can draw lifeline power from the local telco. The system will cost about $299 for a standard three-computer configuration. That compares to the going rate of about $250 for wireless home-networking systems.

SercoNet has targeted the residential broadband market, but unlike most technology providers it won't go the retail route. Instead, it is going after service providers and installers, on the theory that mass-market home networking products will be more likely installed and administered by a provider, as opposed to being strung together by the consumer.

"The people you have had doing those things has really been the do-it-yourself market – the early adopters," Gayton said. "But we believe the market is ready and about to cross that chasm — we are at a major inflection point. We will be moving from the do-it-yourselfer early adopter to more of the mass-market approach, which is certainly not do-it-yourself."

Weighing options

The fact the wall units are intended to be a permanent part of the home does present the danger of stranding equipment if the house changes hands and the new resident doesn't opt for the service. But Gayton said service providers are looking at a number of equipment options, ranging from requiring the customer to pay a one-time fee or a monthly rental charge, or including the cost as part of the fee for the overall service.

The product is still in the early development phase, with no announced deployments and testing underway with six unnamed MSOs and a group of smaller independent telcos in the United States.