Enikia's IAN Could Revolutionize Home Networking

The race for home networking could be over before it really begins. On May 11, Enikia Inc. demonstrated a working model of a 10-megabit-per-second network using active AC powerlines as the medium. The demo took place at the Networld + Interop gathering in Las Vegas, a confab for the networking industry.

IAN (Information Appliance Network) could be a revolutionary breakthrough in communications, connecting all electrical and electronic devices in every home and building through the electrical system. Using this system as a communications network has long been theorized by engineers but dismissed as an impossibility because of the high voltages and excessive electrical noise.

Enikia claims that IAN will offer all the benefits of 1394 FireWire---universal connectivity, wide bandwidth, bi-directionality---by exploiting the potential of ordinary household wiring. If the technology proves viable, all IAN devices on the powerline will be networked, from "dumb" devices like refrigerators to "smart" devices like computers. Company executives say there won't be any need to rewire buildings with phone lines, cable, fiber-optics, or FireWire, because the network is already there in the electrical system. Any IAN-compatible device could simply be plugged in anywhere and work immediately.

Enikia isn't the first company to experiment with using powerlines as a communication network. Last year, Britain's Northern Telecom began using the powerlines in some North Umbria towns for telephone traffic---a system that took a lone engineer more than 10 years to perfect. But until now, no one had found a way to put high-speed data on electrical lines. IAN's 10Mbps speed is fast enough for Internet hookups and high-definition video. "Once you have high speed on the powerline, the phoneline option doesn't make sense any more," according to Enikia's co-founder and vice president, Bob Dillon. "Just count the number of plugs you have in your house vs. the number of phone jacks. Case closed."