Future of HomeRF after Intel Decision
Filed 4/10/01 by Glenn Fleishman
The HomeRF wireless networking standard's new, faster 2.0 version took a body blow in March when the Intel Corporation confirmed its decision to incorporate a competing high-speed system, called IEEE 802.11b or WiFi, into future releases of its AnyPoint consumer product line. This faster version is still slated to appear in products from Proxim, Motorola, and Siemens starting this summer.
"With today's business climate, we felt we could not support two competing standards in the high-speed wireless networking space," Said Intel spokesperson Tom Potts. Potts added Intel will continue to support the earlier version of HomeRF in its existing product line.
Adding to concerns, Microsoft confirmed that it would not offer direct support for HomeRF in its next-generation consumer operating system, Windows XP, in an interview with EE Times magazine.
WiFi, by contrast, has been widely adopted by corporate, home, and mobile users since its consumer introduction in mid-1999 by Apple Computer, Inc., and subsequent drop in cost throughout 2000.
Greg Collins, who tracks wireless infrastructure for research firm Dell'Oro Group, estimates fourth quarter 2000 sales of 802.11b equipment at $200 million. Cards for computers and hubs for managing networks range from $100 to several thousand dollars each.
But HomeRF may not be down for the count, as manufacturers behind the standard are quick to point out, because of HomeRF's currently unique ability to integrate voice and data into a single home network. HomeRF equipment manufacturers describe a home network with users listening to audio, talking on wireless handsets, and transferring files without interruption or interference. They also are aiming their products at broadband providers who bundle services, rather than at individual consumers.
Both 802.11b (also known as WiFi) and HomeRF use short-range, low-power radios to send and receive data over the unlicensed 2.4 gigahertz band, often relaying through a central hub with a better antenna. WiFi operates at 11 megabits per second (Mbps), while HomeRF's revised version will send and receive at 10 Mbps. A HomeRF 3.0 specification due in 2002, will work at up to 22 Mbps.
WiFi, however, is designed as an extension of Ethernet local area network (LAN) technology found in virtually all offices and home networks, while HomeRF was designed to carry a mix of voice, streaming audio and video, and pure data, with voice data given priority to avoid audio dropouts and delays.
This interests broadband providers, such as cable and telephone carriers, who want to provide a variety of voice and multimedia to consumers through a single fat connection, while also becoming their route to the Internet.
Motorola Broadband manufactures gateways that it supplies to broadband vendors, and, according to Vince Izzo, director of home networking, "We believe HomeRF is the right technology, built from the ground up" for integrating those different data needs.
Izzo said that Motorola plans to introduce a broad range of gateways for broadband service providers starting in summer 2001 that will incorporate HomeRF networking, including set-top cable boxes, high-speed cable modems, telephone hubs, and residential gateways designed to share Internet access among a number of computers and peripherals.
The broadband providers have substantial motivation to find the right solution because of people's sensitivity to reliability and variation in voice quality, said Ken Haase, general chairman of HomeRF Working Group, Inc., the association behind the standard.
Haase cited AT&T's cable purchase as an example, noting that "the last thing they want to see happen with their $100 billion investment in TCI, is when they provide voice all the way down to the house, is to see the telephony piece of their investment minimized in the last 100 feet." Haase maintained that "HomeRF is the only solution to deliver total quality voice throughout the home."
"The question is: Can HomeRF become the preferred offering for those service providers?" asked Schelley Olhava, a senior analyst tracking emerging consumer technology at research firm IDC. She pointed out that the cost of the equipment might prove too high for the providers to subsidize. "It's one thing to subsidize the cost of a modem," she said, but HomeRF-based gateways and user devices might costs several hundred dollars per home.
Collins, referring to a method of encapsulating voice data inside of Internet traffic, said, "Over time, the 802.11b folks will solve the voice-over-IP issue because there's so much at stake." Because of this, he said, "We think ultimately 802.11b is better positioned at this point than HomeRF for home users."
Public space networking, in which users connect to wireless networks in airport terminals, hotels, and coffee shops, are primarily based on WiFi. The one national provider offering support of OpenAir, a standard compatible with the slower HomeRF specification, declined a request for comment on continued support for HomeRF through their spokesperson.