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Group to speed in-home networks

A group of high-profile companies plans to develop standards to facilitate high-speed in-home networks using existing phone lines.

A group of leading technology companies announced plans to develop standards to facilitate high-speed in-home networks using existing phone lines.

The new group, which calls itself the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance, differs from other home-focused networking efforts in that it intends to create products to connect devices already within a home, rather than finding ways to bring high-speed lines from outside.

Founding members of the group span all corners of the industry, such as Intel, 3Com, AT&T Wireless Services, and Compaq Computer.

How would a home network based on phone lines be used? The group expects consumers to connect peripheral devices, such as printers and scanners, share Net access and data, and play multiplayer video games. A study by market researcher Dataquest found that more than 15 million homes in the United States have two or more PCs.

The move follows other high-profile consumer-focused efforts, such as the new DSL-focused group that was announced in January. That effort hopes to bring high-speed connections from service providers to the home.

Consumers are faced with a confusing array of existing and promised technologies to facilitate high-speed connections to the home, known in the industry as the "last mile." This focus on fat pipes to the home is based on the explosion of the Net and the desire by high-tech firms to make it as easy as possible for consumers to surf their favorite sites, therefore facilitating opportunities such as electronic commerce.

The group is expected to finalize an initial standard in the third quarter of this year, with products supporting the specification due by year's end. Initial work will focus on speeds of 1 megabit per second, with a second rollout intended to offer 10-megabit speeds over current copper phone wires.

Those speeds dwarf current standard modem rates but do not approach typical speeds found in office networks.

Other founding members include Advanced Micro Devices, Epigram, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lucent Technologies, Rockwell's semiconductor systems division, and Tut Systems, a start-up with financial backing from Microsoft.

Technology from Tut and Epigram will be adopted for use as part of the specifications.