Packard Bell has managed to persuade Dixons Store Group (PC World, Currys and Dixons) to stock its £129 net2plug networking package, which piggybacks onto your home's electrical wiring offering a hubless, no-wiring setup.
Comprising two USB connectors that plug directly into the back of each PC or notebook that you want to attach to your home network, p2plug is based on the international HomePlug standard offering a theoretical maximum speed of 14Mpbs (megabits per second). The product will hit the shelves in the final week of January 04.
Like the popular 'b' Wi-Fi standard, which tops out at around 11Mpbs, net2plug's 14Mbps isn't suitable for high-speed, high-volume tasks. If you and fellow network users routinely transfer files and print while playing media files stored on another network PC, Packard Bell's latest package will prove too slow. Such users are better off looking at the latest 'g' Wi-Fi standard or traditional cat5 cable.
Security, however, is a plus. While vendors of wireless networks continue to struggle with some thorny security issues — such as whether to enable WEP by default on Wi-Fi 'b' networking equipment — HomePlug adapters use more robust 56-bit DES encryption, where the encryption key password is stored within the devices. Additionally, net2plug is not subject to other wireless traffic or to interference from walls and doors, all of which can significantly slow down 802.11b signals, especially if larger distances are involved.
What's more, net2plug customers should see faster, more multimedia-friendly speeds over 2004 using the same existing wiring. The next version will top out at a theoretical maximum of more than 50Mbps - again matching Wi-Fi's current flavour of the month: 'g'. Such speeds should facilitate video streaming, which requires at least 20 Mbps.