Companies Race to Build Home Computer Networks

Article excerpt

LAS VEGAS -- Sure, you're wired to the global Internet. But your home computer can't even share files with your son's machine in the next room. Until now.

Nearly a dozen companies -- small and large -- are vowing to make computer use less lonely and are starting to sell equipment that lets home users of personal computers easily build low-cost networks tying together several PCs. The devices let different machines share files, use the same printer, and access the Internet through one Internet account.

So far, just 3 percent of all home PCs are linked in networks, according to researcher Media Metrix. But a recent increase in homes owning more than one computer -- to nearly one-third of the 47 million U.S. households with PCs -- is expected to fuel demand as more networking products invade computer and electronics stores in coming months. The pitch was evident at the Comdex computer show here, where the estimated 220,000 attendees included many buyers for retail stores who are looking for the next hot product to stock. "It's crawling out of the woodwork," said Tim Bajarin, a high-tech consultant with Creative Strategies Research International, based in San Jose, Calif. "Companies I haven't even heard of are talking about products." Home-networking companies use different ways to tie together computers, each with benefits and drawbacks. Most common is an approach taken by Epigram, a small company in Sunnyvale, Calif., that exhibited equipment linking home computers in a network, using existing phone lines. Users can swap data, video and audio between machines and share Internet access, but the speed can be limited by the relatively narrow capacity of copper phone wires. A less-conventional means is offered by Philips Consumer Electronics. The U.S. unit of the Dutch electronics giant started selling gear that provides links between a person's PC and the TV that are virtually invisible -- using wireless technology that eliminates the need for connecting lines. …


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