Networking Group Aims for 10 Mbps Data Rate

Move over, fiber optics; good-bye, T1 lines. The unexploited potential of ordinary copper telephone wires will soon be mined by a consortium of computer and communications companies. Known as the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (or HomePNA), the recently formed group intends to deliver affordable, high-speed networking over existing phone lines.

Some theorists have long believed that the existing network of copper wires---billions of miles of which are already installed throughout the world---is under-utilized and capable of much higher performance than engineers usually assume. Telephone companies have been scrambling to hire and train technicians to install new lines as the use of computers and other communication devices proliferates. Customers are experiencing unprecedented delays in getting new lines installed. The number of people using the Internet doubles every 100 days, and the number of personal-computer users is expected to double in the next 24 months.

Ziff-Davis reports that half the home PCs already in use access the Internet frequently. In addition, Jupiter Communications predicts that more than 15 million other phone-line-dependent communication devices will be purchased in the next five years. This all adds up to a tremendous burden on existing networks as they are presently utilized.

Enter HomePNA, which wants to "extend the PC network revolution into the home," according to Rod Schrock, VP of Compaq Computer Corp.'s Consumer Products Group. One of HomePNA's goals is to enable the simultaneous use of telephone lines for voice and data communications and improve the interoperability of peripherals like scanners and digital cameras, which is also an aim of the IEEE 1394 FireWire standard. Another immediate goal is a networking speed of 1 megabit/second, with a target of 10 Mbps for summer 1999.

A transmission rate of 10 Mbps would be sufficient not only for almost all types of text- and graphics-based communications, but also for real-time, high-resolution audio and video. Music and movies on demand are only two varieties of many possible developments; low-cost video conferencing is another.

"This Alliance has really done its homework," says Dataquest's director, John Coons. "Consumers can implement solutions quickly and with confidence that these solutions will still be around tomorrow."

Founded by AT&T Wireless, 3Com, AMD, Compaq, Epigram, IBM, Intel, Lucent Technologies, Hewlett-Packard Corporation, Rockwell Semiconductor Company, and Tut Systems, HomePNA wants to accelerate the development of "open reference specifications" and compatible products by year's end.