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Power outlets may feed home networking

Technology that allows consumers to connect computers and other electronic devices through existing power outlets has become a reality.

Technology that allows consumers to connect computers and other electronic devices through existing power outlets has become a reality.

A consortium of about 90 high-profile technology companies will announce Tuesday that the group has finalized a new standard that will serve as a common way for connecting electronic devices to the Net through electrical outlets.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance, which includes Cisco Systems, Intel, RadioShack, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, among others, has spent the past year working on a standard for using homes' internal electrical network to link electronic devices. The new standard is based on technology created by little-known company Intellon.

The alliance is the latest effort to create standards for home networking, an emerging market that allows people to connect their electronic devices together, so they can share Internet access, play video games, and enjoy music throughout the house. Two previous coalitions have created standards for wireless and phoneline connections in the home. A phoneline networking kit, for example, allows PCs to network with one another by plugging them into regular phone jacks.

At the PC Expo trade show in New York this week, Phonex Broadband will begin shipping new electrical adapters, based on the Intellon technology, that allow people to quickly network their PCs and laptops through the electrical home network.

HomePlug President Alberto Mantovani expects other devices that support the new "powerline" standard will ship within a few months.

Motorola and SonicBlue, maker of the popular Rio MP3 music player, have spent the past six months demonstrating new technology that supports the new standard. For example, consumers can soon plug a computer filled with MP3 music into a regular electrical outlet in the living room, then listen to the music by plugging a SonicBlue Rio music player into a power outlet in the bedroom. Motorola is building new cable modems that support the standard.

The new HomePlug standard will be marketed with data transfer rates of 14 megabits per second. But analyst Michael Wolf, of market research firm Cahners In-Stat Group, said data transfer rates will be closer to 8 megabits per second on average.

Wolf said the announcement that the standard has been finalized is a good step for powerline technology. But it faces many of the same obstacles as the phoneline home networking kits, which have not sold well. Phoneline technology "has proven very difficult to educate consumers about. Will HomePlug encounter the same difficulty?" Wolf said.

In contrast, wireless networking kits have sold well because they are easy for consumers to understand and allow laptop owners to roam around the house and still Web surf, he said.

In related news, Intellon on Tuesday announced that Nortel Networks' spinoff Netgear, Linksys and Cayman Systems will use Intellon's chips for their powerline products.