Boom market ahead for copper-based, wireless home networks

New research on opportunities in the wired home market reinforces the optimism painted in previous studies, and the best news is that there appears to be no one road to success

New research on opportunities in the wired home market reinforces the optimism painted in previous studies, and the best news is that there appears to be no one road to success. Both wired and wireless technologies, recent reports indicate, will play key roles in the expected explosive growth of home networking.

Allied Business Intelligence Inc. (ABI-Oyster Bay, NY) projects that by year-end, revenues in the home-networking marketplace could grow to $495 million, compared to $134 million a year ago. In its study, "The Broadband Home: Home Networking Gets Ready To Go Mainstream," ABI predicts global revenues could reach $2.4 billion by 2005.

With an expected growth rate of 60% over the next four years, the home-wiring market "represents a new frontier for structured cable manufacturers," says Robert Rosenberg, president of Insight Research Corp. (Parsippany, NJ), in the company's recent report, "Customer Premises Fiber: The Business & Residential Inside Wiring Revolution."

And the medium of choice for the typical single-family home, according to Insight, is still unshielded-twisted pair (UTP) copper-not fiber.

Basing its assessment on research conducted in the commercial market, Insight says "the promise of fiber-to-the-desk is still years away since every improvement in UTP copper cable makes the economics of fiber-to-the-desk harder to prove." The report notes the Telecommunications Indus-try Association's (TIA-Arlington, VA) recently released standard for home cabling recommends a hybrid Category 5 and RG-6 coaxial cable-the former to carry voice and digital-subscriber-line data signals, and the latter to distribute video signals and cable-modem services. "As an option," the report adds, "fiber cable could be pulled for futureproofing," but Insight believes fiber will play only a very minor role in the home market.

Even in multidwelling units, Insight's research concludes that while fiber will be deployed for riser cabling that runs from the service terminal entrance in the basement up to each floor, "increased cost associated with fiber transceivers on each floor will preclude widespread deployment." By 2004, Insight says the residential cabling market will account for 37.7% of the total premises-wiring market, compared to less than 3% two years ago.

While commercial premises-wiring installations remain the biggest customers for structured cabling and apparatus, Insight says "the communications wiring in our homes is about to undergo its first major overhaul in decades; it is the emergence of a new home market that has vendors excited."

There's good news for wireless solutions, too. While phone line solutions accounted for the vast majority of home-networking solutions shipped last year, ABI expects wireless and powerline alternatives to soon become worthy alternatives. "To drive volume, home-networking solutions have to be embedded in a variety of devices, and that requires the ubiquity provided by wireless or powerline," says ABI senior analyst Navin Sabharwal. "This is particularly true outside of the United States, where phone jacks aren't as pervasive and where there may be more limitations on what can be run over home telephone wiring."

Uniform standards have hindered development of wireless solutions for the home market, and while many in the industry believe that IEEE 802.11b will prevail over HomeRF as the de facto wireless standard, Sabharwal suggests "the heralded demise of HomeRF is premature. It still retains a cost advantage of 802.11b and has a time-to-market advantage in the Windows platform world."

Experts say real growth, however, won't come until home networking sheds its computer-centric mantel. "Only then," says ABI's Sabharwal, "will home networking have demonstrated the hallmarks of a mainstream technology-cheap, easy-to-use, and pervasive."
-Steve Smith

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