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Big Players Show Their Interest in the Future of the Connected Home

Today’s buzz in the technology world surrounds high-speed Internet access. What external networks will be in place? What types of gateways will receive data? What types of devices will use high-speed Internet data, and how will that data travel around the home from device to device? These questions, as well as issues of in-home networks supporting other applications were the foundation for CABA and Parks Associates’ second annual conference, CONNECTIONS ‘98. About 200 industry players attended the conference from diverse company types and from all over the world.

In her welcome, Tricia Parks, President of Parks Associates, issued a challenge. Her challenge was to use this conference to determine how to increase the number of new homes being wired for our information-heavy future — drastically and quickly. Parks noted that in 1997, only about 55,000 new starts in North America included structured wiring out of a potential 1.6 million new homes. "Every new start without broadband wiring capabilities is a lost opportunity," Parks said, "What can the industry do to ensure a dramatic increase in the next two years?"

Throughout the two-day conference, presentations rang with the need for in-home networks capable of handling video transmission and for effective, speedy, reliable radio frequency and power line-based networks. Some view wireless networks as the only way to penetrate the more than 100 million existing North American homes based on the cost and inconvenience of adding new wire in existing homes. Parks Associates agrees that wireless in-home networks are important but does not expect to see a broadband wireless solution for in-home networks in the foreseeable future.

CONNECTIONS ‘98 demonstrated that key technology players agree it is time to reach inside the home with broadband capabilities. Leading off in Session I were Intel, IBM, and Microsoft. They were followed by other giants including Southern Development Company, Ontario Hydro, and Bellcore. While Ed Arrington of Intel focused on radio frequency development efforts being supported by his company, he challenged the audience to help Intel ensure that EVERY new home has structured wiring in the next three years.

Highlights from the conference include Intel’s concepts for in-home network devices; Intel is developing prototypes to encourage the appliance, consumer electronics, and computer industries to rev up their efforts for the home. Mark Schmidt displayed IBM’s view of upcoming residential environments — complete networks with lots of smart devices — and spoke of its Professional Home Director™ which will be introduced to installing dealers in August. Joseph Mouhanna of Microsoft explained Microsoft’s cooperative initiatives to develop wireless home networks and more powerful gateways. Aziz Khadbai of Nortel predicted that "what is happening now outside the home will dramatically impact what happens (to product) within the home."

The conclusion from this is that home networks have hit businesses’ radar screens, and activity will continuously accelerate over the next two years

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