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Home Networks Get New Options

The networking industry is working on new and better ways to connect, both wired and wireless

Your IPTV needs an Internet connection. But your living room is too far from your router to run an Ethernet cable, so what do you do? Or perhaps you have an office in the basement and need to transmit large files to the desktop down there, but the Wi-Fi keeps cutting out due to interference. Several companies demonstrated at CES various different answers to such dilemmas, but with a common theme: it was that no room in your house should be left unconnected.

Power Line Networks Refreshed

The Homeplug Alliance has long promoted connecting all rooms in a house using its existing power lines to transmit IP data, which user could access with a small adapter that plugged into any regular wall outlet (Homeplug is a sort of governing body of power line adapter standards, meaning it doesn't really sell adapters, but it does certify other companies to make power line networking uniform).

While using power lines for IP connection isn't new, this year at CES the Alliance announced its second iteration of the AV standard, AV2, which is intended to optimize delivery of HD and 3D video when requested.

It reduces artifacting in streaming images, so services like Netflix or cloud-based games should have clearer images. Movie streaming services take up vast chunks of the amount of bandwidth used by the average consumer (Netflix overtook porn as the number one bandwidth hog in America earlier last year), so it's no wonder that AV2 is also compliant with IPTV standards.

Or Beef Up Your Coax

A new contender arrived at CES to urge bypassing power lines altogether. A new company called Wi3 announced its line of WiPNET converters that use a home's coaxial cables to stretch Internet access to other rooms in a house (this is called MoCA in many places: Multimedia over Coax). The most robust coax cables can potentially handle more data than your average power line, and each unit has two parts: a sleeve that that converts your coax into a high-speed network, and a detachable cartridge that provides a choice of connection type. The company now offers Ethernet and Wi-Fi capable units, but later this year will sell units that maintain DirecTV services.

The move from power lines to coax certainly makes sense if you're concerned about video quality. We've long used coax cables to get cable TV, so it seems reasonable that we could route TV through the same wires, but over an Internet connection. Still, in older houses, a coax connection might not be available in every room, so this solution might not work for everyone.

Here's a video that explains how it works.

Forget Wires -- Go Wireless

Wi-Fi is a great way to get relatively long-distance connection for tiny amounts of data -- but try to stream movies or download large files, and you might struggle with artifacting of streamed images and sluggish download speeds. So for most data-heavy operations on a computer or TV, you may prefer a wired solution.

But a company called Wilocity has developed a wireless chipset for implementation in all kinds of devices that will comply with a new, not yet ratified wireless standard called WiGig, which transmits data on a 60 GHz band of spectrum.

While the high frequency of the data transmission means the wireless is shorter-range than your standard Wi-Fi, Wilocity representatives say the company focused heavily on producing beam-forming technology for its chips, which moves all 60 GHz waves into one beam.

The Wilocity chip enables devices to communicate using this beam-formed spectrum, making it ideal for streaming a movie from your laptop to your connected TV, or syncing your music from your computer's library to your phone with lightning-fast speeds and no plugging in.

I saw a demo of Wilocity's "home" and office" setups and was impressed by the speed and capabilities of the Wigig-enabled devices on display. Streaming HD videos from an external SSD to a laptop was seamless, and so was the communication between a laptop and a large wireless display. Wilocity also demonstrated the speed of its chipsets by downloading a 1GB file over WiGig and Wi-Fi, and WiGig speeds, in that particular demonstration, smoked the traditional Wi-Fi.

Still, the technology won't be available to consumers until later this year, and WiGig standards are not yet ratified by the IEEE. Some observers express doubt that this is a truly viable solution, noting that a $200 wireless solution isn't as good as simply plugging in a $2 HDMI cable. In fact, it wouldn't be the first high-data-speed, close-range wireless solution that the networking industry has seen: Back in 2009 WiMedia, a company that had promised a similar solution, folded and passed its research to Wireless USB and Bluetooth. Ultimately, more companies like Wilocity must deliver incredibly fast syncing and media transfer for the standard to become a logical upgrade for consumers.

It's a fair bet, however, that networking companies are working hard to improve Internet connections in order to keep up with the breakneck pace of consumer demands. After all, if you can't get good Internet access, you've not no reason to buy any of the shiny new Internet-connected hardware that attract hundreds of thousands of people to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. 


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