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Wired Vs. Wireless Sparks Debate

Should home networking users go wired or wireless? According to many home integrators, the answer is, It depends.

Key factors include how the network will be used, which devices will be connected and which applications will be running, integrators say. Despite the buzz about PCs sending multimedia content to other devices on a home network, most users today only aim to share a broadband connection and a printer or two, said Shaun Rieman, owner of Advanced Micro Technologies, Lindenwold, N.J.

"For what people are doing today, wireless works perfectly," Rieman said.

Adi Hacker, owner of Computer Concepts, a Linksys reseller in Inglewood, Calif., agreed. "If customers need a very secure environment-say they are working on sensitive data for work-or they insist on 100 percent uptime, I'll have them stick to wired," he said. "But in just about every other case, wireless will serve the needs of the home network user."

Often, customers end up with a combination of wired and wireless infrastructure, since most wireless routers come with a built-in four-port switch, Hacker said.

Most homeowners have one Web connection in a den or bedroom connected to a desktop computer, said Vivek Pathela, director of product marketing at Netgear, Santa Clara, Calif. But more and more homeowners want to bring the PC into the family room, he said.

Also, many customers' second PCs are notebooks, Hacker said. "Customers come to me and want to use the same computer in the kitchen, the living room and-no joke-the bathroom," he added. "For them, wireless is the obvious choice."

Once consumers want to move beyond shared Web access and printers, however, the answer becomes less obvious. Few integrators deny the day will come when consumers will install media servers and use their home networks to distribute content. But can wireless do the job? Not now, integrators say. Will wireless home networking products that can handle such traffic become available? Possibly, they say.

Though many new U.S. homes are wired with Category 5, most aren't, said Bradley Morse, senior vice president of marketing at D-Link Systems, Irvine, Calif. "The mass market for these technologies is existing homes," he said. "Existing homeowners are going to choose wireless rather than ripping out walls."

The film industry and wireless vendors one day envision a home with a multimedia PC that can download movies via the Web and send them over a home network to any connected TV or computer. But today's wireless home networks couldn't handle that video traffic, and Hollywood hasn't nailed down the compression technology to make it feasible, said integrator Brian Shaw, president of Sound Design Audio Visual Contractors, Salinas, Calif.

Still, the wireless industry is finalizing a new standard, 802.11e, that addresses Quality of Service for multimedia traffic. With the faster speeds of 802.11g and 802.11a plus QoS, wireless home networks will be able to handle video, said Betty Chan, product marketing manager at SMC Networks, Irvine. The 802.11e standard is due to be finalized this year, Chan said.

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