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Tech 101 | PC Focus

Phone Wires Ring Useful in Home Network

February 08, 2001|LAWRENCE J. MAGID |

For several years, it's been common for businesses and universities to tie all of their computers together in a local area network, or LAN. But now, LANs are showing up at home.

An increasing number of households have two or more PCs. And once you get multiple PCs in the household, there is something to be said for the ability to share resources and data between them. A LAN enables all PCs in the house to share the same connection to the Internet as well as a single printer. You also can use a LAN to access files on other machines.

The trouble with home LANs is that until recently they required special wiring. Several years ago, I hired a contractor to run Ethernet cables (called 10BaseT) between a couple of rooms in my house. But we didn't wire the entire house. There are no cables in my kitchen or bedrooms, and there certainly aren't any in our backyard.

But that no longer matters. Now there are LAN kits that use standard phone wires or no wires at all. In fact, I wrote part of this column from my bedroom with the laptop connected to my bedroom phone jack and I finished the column from my backyard using a wireless LAN adapter.

What I like best about the network that I constructed at my home is that I'm using different technologies from different vendors, which are, for a change, compatible with one another. That's because both the wireless and phone line networks use standard Ethernet technology.

I installed a 2Wire ( HomePortal, which enables me to connect machines via the phone lines, and a 3Com Home Wireless Gateway that sends data through the air.

2Wire makes two versions of its HomePortal. The $199 HomePortal 100 connects to any cable or DSL modem. The $399 HomePortal 1500 has a built-in DSL modem.

The 2Wire devices enable you to connect computers via phone line or via standard Ethernet technology. In my installation, I use a standard Ethernet cable to connect the HomePortal to my regular network and plug in a telephone line so that it can also pump data to PCs through my phone wiring.

For each PC that you want to connect to the phone network, you'll need a $49 adapter. One end plugs into the Universal Serial Bus port of your PC and the other into a standard phone jack. The company plans to introduce a product that supports both wireless and phone connections. It will cost $399 for the standard version and $599 for the version with a built-in DSL modem.

Installation was pretty simple. It took a few minutes to enter information about my DSL into the device and another few minutes to install software on each PC on the network.

If you're thinking about using a phone line networking solution like the 2Wire device, be sure it meets the Home Phoneline Network Alliance (HPNA) 2.0 standard.

Installing 3Com's $329 wireless gateway also was pretty easy. As with the 2Wire product, you configure through a Web browser where you enter basic information about your DSL or cable service. Mine came with a PC card for a laptop, which simply slides into the PC port. The card sells for $170.

In less than five minutes, I was "on the air" and accessing the Internet from my kitchen table and backyard. The device is supposed to work as far as 300 feet from the base station, but I didn't get nearly that range. A 3Com engineer told me that the range can go down to as low as 30 feet if there is interference from cordless phones or other devices that share the 2.4-gigahertz frequency that the wireless adapter uses.

As with phone line products, there also is an industry standard for wireless networking that enables products from different companies to work with one another. When buying a wireless networking device, look for the 802.11b specification, which operates at 11 megabits per second--fast enough for just about any home network. Don't confuse 802.11b with 802.11. If it doesn't have the "b," it operates at only 2 Mbps and it's not compatible with the faster 802.11b products.


Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays on the KNX-AM (1070) Technology Hour.

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