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CES: D-Link uses internet to network a home

Home networking just got easier

D-Link is showing a way to to add devices to your home data network without installing drivers or PC software, and without juggling CDs.

D-Life, a play on the vendor's name for "Digital Lifestyle", includes a D-Link website (www.D-Life.com) and four products that attach to an existing home router network either by ethernet cable or Powerline adaptors, so the devices use the electrical wiring as their network medium.

Users simply plug in the adaptors or ethernet cords to connect the devices.

D-Life is one example of a push to make networking much easier to set up, manage and secure. Vendors are driven by high return rates for network gear: customers give up trying to install and configure products and bring them back for refunds.

The spur for D-Life came two years ago when D-Link Chairman and CEO Ken Kau tried some of his company's home network products and concluded they were too complicated and confusing for easy connectivity. D-Life was the response, says Daniel Kelley, director of marketing for the company.

Kelley, who admits he's no geek, had bought and tried to attach a D-Link video camera in his home. He failed, until he used D-Life. At the company's CES booth, Kelley demonstrated how he could access the camera remotely and view the live video.

The products include: a digital photo frame, internet DET phone, video camera and what D-Link calls a 'phonecorder', which can record voice calls and act as a voice answering machine, and the MediaLounge family of media players.

D-Life users who buy the product go to the website and use a form to set up their account. You register the devices by typing in two product ID numbers printed on them. When you attach the devices to your router (D-Life devices will work with any router brand) and power them up, the devices are fully operational.

You can access the devices remotely through your D-Life web account. A web form lets you grant guest access to one or more products, for example, to grandparents so they can see the latest digital photos of the grandchildren via the digital picture frame. An email invitation includes a link to your D-Life page, where guests create their own account and then access the content or devices.

Under the covers, according to D-Link, the D-Life devices at once call out to the D-Life server via a patented protocol that acts like other network traversal protocols for two-way UDP traffic, such as STUN or ICE, opening the appropriate port on the router. To the router or gateway, this traffic appears to be something like an instant messaging stream, except it's generated by hardware instead of software. The router passes this stream through to and from the D-Life server on the internet. All network security features remain intact.

D-Link chose Powerline connectivity to keep the attachment process as simple as possible. A black palm-sized adaptor plugs into an outlet near the router, and attaches to it via ethernet cable. Each Powerline-enabled device, in this case the video camera, has a companion white adaptor that goes into a wall outlet, with an ethernet jack to connect to the camera or other device. Once plugged in, the adaptors make the connection with each other, in effect opening the path to the router for the attached device.

D-Link is using a somewhat older version of the Powerline standard, HomePlug Turbo, "because it's very cost-effective", according to a spokesman. As many as eight video cameras can be on the network, though D-Link says four active cameras are probably the optimal number for HPT. According to a 2006 online roundup of HPT products, users can expect 7 to 10Mbps in most locations.

Despite the apparent benefits of Powerline, its growth is only a fraction of the Wi-Fi market, due in part to a lack of interoperability between different vendors' Powerline-enabled equipment.

D-Life may become a platform for future D-Link services to D-Life-enabled products. For example, the D-Life servers could store video or other content, or D-Link could offer a VoIP service to D-Life internet phones.

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