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Intel's home networking kits don't play well with others

The company's new technology allows people to wirelessly connect their home computers, but network equipment makers are supporting different wireless standards, which could lead to confusion.

LOS ANGELES--Intel jumped further into the emerging home networking market today with new technology that allows consumers to wirelessly connect their home computers, but there's a hitch.

Network equipment makers are supporting different wireless standards, which could lead to confusion among consumers if they buy products that are not compatible.

Intel's latest home networking kit will let people wirelessly link their Windows-based PCs and laptops, so they can share an Internet connection, files and computer peripherals, such as printers. The product, which will allow laptop users to roam around the house and Web surf, will be available in stores within two weeks, Intel executives said today at the Internet World conference in Los Angeles.

Intel is one of many networking firms entering the fledgling home networking market that is expected to explode in the next few years as high-speed Internet access becomes widely available. An alliance between 3Com and Microsoft, Lucent Technologies and Nortel Networks' NetGear are among the many companies fighting for a piece of the action.

Wireless kits are the next wave of home networking products. Previously, Intel, 3Com and others came out with phoneline kits that let people link computers by plugging them into phone jacks.

But while Intel, Motorola, Proxim Technologies and others back a standard called HomeRF, which runs at 2 megabits per second (mbps), 3Com, Cisco Systems, Lucent, NetGear and others support a standard called 802.11B, which runs faster at 11 mbps.

To add to the confusion, Intel is supporting both standards: HomeRF for home use and 802.11B for business wireless networking needs.

"You can't have two competing wireless standards. People are going to be confused," said Yankee Group analyst Karuna Uppal.

"3Com's product, when it comes out, will be within 10 feet of Intel's. And people might want to mix and match," she added. "It's going to cost lots of money for the companies to educate the consumers. You have to look at the box and look for the right logo to make sure the products are compatible."

Intel's new AnyPoint product is one of the first wireless kits available that support the HomeRF standard, and IBM will soon bundle it as part of its consumer line of PCs.

So far, Lucent is one of the first companies to support 802.11B with new home networking products that incorporate the standard. Apple Computer is bundling Lucent's wireless kits in its computers. But other networking firms such as 3Com are not far behind in releasing their own wireless kits.

Most analysts believe HomeRF will gain an early edge, but that 802.11B will win out. Analysts say it makes too much sense to use one single standard for both home and work, allowing people to connect their laptops to a wireless network wherever they are.

"The HomeRF standard will get a boost from Intel's announcement because they spend a lot on marketing, but in the long run, it won't survive," Uppal said.

Intel's AnyPoint wireless product comes in two forms: a tiny device that can be plugged into a desktop computer; and for laptops, a PC card with a small antenna attached. If the desktop PC has a modem connection, the laptop computers can share its Internet access wirelessly, Intel executives said.