Home Networking over Power Lines

Last month, I went to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for the first time. CES is one of those big trade shows I’ve always wanted to attend but could never fit into my calendar, so I was quite excited to go.

The show was overwhelming. I spent eight hours a day for three days walking tradeshow floors. I only covered about half the exhibitors, never mind the talks.

Yet after scouring the show for things that excited me, I was amazed to walk away having seen only three ideas that were innovative and would have a significant effect on how we live and interact with the Internet or media. I’ll focus on one of those today.

Networking Over Power Lines

Before Wi-Fi made home networking available to everyone, most experts thought networking over power lines would be the home network of the future. Over the years, there were significant distractions to power-line networks, mainly due to noise interference, since power lines aren’t shielded. There were also concerns over security, the thinking being there might be bleed-through between neighbors. But this certainly hasn’t stopped people from using Wi-Fi, which is inherently prone to this problem.

At CES, I stumbled across a small booth without all the flash and glitter of the giant ones covering most of the floors. The company, DS2, didn’t have much in the way of exciting displays, but something made me stop and pay attention.

DS2 has revolutionized the power-line network space by putting all the necessary components for power-line networking onto one chip. Judging by the number and breadth of companies that use this chip, I expect broadband home networks over power lines to be a huge thing over the next year or two.

One reason this technology is exciting is because home sharing of media is a big deal. It’s a game-changing behavior that drives a household’s media consumption habits. Big things will happen in the next few years. We’re already seeing portable media devices, such as music and video players and mobile phones gain momentum. Media serving in the home will take off next. People with expensive home theater systems will start sharing video and audio files from one central source to other TVs and stereos in the house.

With fast home networking being very easy to adopt (all installed without any new wires), we’ll see big changes in the kinds of devices and technologies. People will suddenly be willing to download or stream a movie or TV show from the Internet through their PCs to view on their TVs.

You might ask, “But I thought Wi-Fi would solve this?” The problem with Wi-Fi is even the fastest available isn’t fast enough to serve a high-quality video file — nothing close to the 200Mb connections available now or in the near future through power lines.

The idea of the general population running wires into their homes to send video files from PCs to TVs seems a bit of a stretch. But with a bridging technology that makes setting up a high-speed media network in the home very easy, we should see a shift in the way people think about their home theaters, and media consumption in general.

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