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Cable wiring seen as key to the digital home

Vendors and service providers are developing standards to use old coaxial cable to create home networks.

A group of vendors and service providers have banded together to help promote technology that would enable homeowners to use existing cable to link their household appliances into a single network.

The Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) plans to formally announce its formation Wednesday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Founding members include networking giant Cisco Systems, cable provider Comcast, satellite provider EchoStar Communications, chipmaker Entropic Communications, retailer RadioShack and consumer electronics makers Panasonic, Motorola and Toshiba.

The purpose of the alliance is to develop standards and promote the use of coaxial cable to send high-quality video, voice and data between a variety of household devices, such as TVs, digital video recorders and PCs. Coax cable is already deployed in millions of U.S. households, providing customers with cable television and, in some cases, broadband Internet access.

One of the most important tasks of the alliance is to develop a set of standards so that consumers can easily link devices from several different vendors.

"To date, there are not any standards for the distribution of content over coax cable," said Mark Francisco, director of home services engineering at Comcast and vice president of MoCA. "In order for products to interoperate and work in a way that our customers expect them to work, there needs to be some standardization."

Home networking is sure to be one of the hottest topics discussed at CES. Large and small companies will be promoting products for the so-called digital home, envisioned as a place where various devices can communicate over a common high-speed data network.

For example, digital video recorders, which typically work with just a single TV, could distribute stored video to multiple TVs. That way, a user could start watching a recorded movie in one room, hit the Pause button, and finish watching the movie through a TV in another room.

Coax cable isn't the only delivery method for such networking. Ethernet cabling, which is already used to wire most corporate networks, is one alternative. Wi-Fi, which allows users to connect devices wirelessly, is another. And then there is the existing power system, which sends data through household electrical wiring.

Each of these alternatives has its own challenges. Most homes are not wired for Ethernet, wireless networks have reliability issues and power systems have limited throughput.

Even some of the founding members of MoCA say the home of the future will likely use a mixture of these technologies. For example, coax cable might be used to create the backbone of the network in three or four rooms. Wi-Fi could then be used to connect multiple devices in that room to the network.

"We're involved in several initiatives," said Vince Izzo, director of business development in the consumer division of Motorola. "We just want to make sure that customers have as many choices as possible."