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Comdex charged about long-awaited electric networking

A pipe dream is about to turn into reality: connecting PCs and other electronic devices to the Net by plugging them into existing power outlets in your home.

LAS VEGAS--A pipe dream is about to turn into reality: connecting PCs and other electronic devices to the Net by plugging them into existing power outlets in your home.

Comdex 2000:
Back to the future Motorola, Phonex Broadband and Sonicblue--the maker of the popular Rio MP3 music player--showed off new technology at Comdex this week that lets people use their homes' internal electrical networks as the medium to share Net access, play video games, and enjoy movies and music throughout the house.

Companies have long envisioned a future in which all appliances with power cords can be networked in the home--PCs, telephones, stereos, even refrigerators. It was once thought of as stalled technology after several years of fruitless development efforts by companies such as Intel. But now companies are proving the technology works.

Demonstrations at Comdex showed how to plug a computer filled with MP3 music downloaded from the Net into a regular electrical outlet in the den and then listen to the music by plugging the Sonicblue Rio music player into a power outlet in the bedroom.

"It's becoming reality," said analyst Kurt Scherf of Parks Associates.

A consortium of about 60 companies that includes Cisco Systems, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic and Sharp have been working together to create a common way for electronic devices to communicate through the home electrical line. The group, called the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, recently chose a technology by little-known company Intellon as the basis of its standard.

The group expects to make final a "power line" standard by next March, and the first products using the technology are expected by next summer, said Rich Lockwood, a HomePlug board member.

Analysts expect the emerging home networking market to take off in the coming years as more consumers get high-speed Net access and want to link their computers and electronic devices, such as Web pads, together. This linking allows people to share a single Net connection, swap files, and share printers and other peripherals.

Analysts expect consumers will use a mix of home networking technologies: power line, wireless and phone line technology, which allows people to network PCs together using regular phone jacks.

So far, companies have sold individual networking kits for each of the three technologies to allow people to connect their PCs together. But Cisco Systems, 3Com and others are building new home appliances, called "residential gateways," that will eventually bundle all the networking technologies together.

The new product will serve as an all-in-one appliance that allows consumers to securely connect their PCs, appliances, electronic devices and security systems with their phone service and high-speed Net access.

HomePlug members say the initial power line products will include home networking kits that connect PCs together; Internet appliances such as Web tablets, and regular home appliances such as Internet radios.

At Comdex, Motorola showed off a new cable modem, and Phonex demonstrated new electrical adapters that will allow people to quickly network their electronic devices using the new technology. For example, when consumers plug in Motorola's new cable modem in the future, they will be able to share the Net connection with their PCs and other electronic devices by simply plugging those devices into any power outlet throughout the house.

Phonex's forthcoming electrical adapters include a universal serial bus (USB) port that allows people with PCs and laptops to easily link to the electrical home network.