The emerging digital home market will play a significant role in driving uptake and improvements to wireless local area networks (WLANs), according to Atheros CEO and president, Craig Barratt.
As far as wireless networking is concerned, the consumer market will be the big noise of 2005, Barratt told his audience at Computex.
To back up his claims, he cited research from US-based market research firm, Parks Associates, which looked at how a sample of broadband users would like to extend the network to include new services.
Of those surveyed, 74 per cent said they would like to stream content from a video recorder to different televisions located around the house.
Moving photos from a PC to a TV and music or video applications from PC to TV were also desirable features, according to the research.
The challenge, Barratt said, would be to provide coverage throughout the home, penetrating walls and floors to a distance of up to 30 metres with a robust signal.
The 1Mbps broadband rates currently standard in the US were adequate for basic Internet connectivity functions, he said, but the industry still had a long way to go in achieving the 100Mbps required to reach the home networking nirvana of multiple high-definition television (HDTV) streaming around the home from a single set-top box.
But a number of new technological developments — including bursting, compression, channel bonding and ‘standards plus’ features — were already being used to improve speeds and extend reach, he said.
During the next two years, Barratt said, 802.11 working groups would continue to develop standards to improve Wi-Fi in terms of encryption and quality of service. 802.11n, due for completion in 2006, would provide improvements in capacity, throughput and range, with speeds passing 100Mbps and robustness finally reaching acceptable levels for content streaming to multiple locations around the home.
Prioritising traffic would also become increasingly important as home network use expanded — with voice traffic considered critical, video next in the hierarchy and Internet traffic taking up whatever bandwidth capacity was left.
The working group for 802.11e was currently looking at ways of prioritising network traffic.
But establishing priority within a network would not be enough because of the many external devices competed for the same 2.4GHz spectrum, Barratt said. These included Bluetooth and Zigbee-enabled devices as well as domestic appliances like microwave ovens.
“Most people in the US like to eat popcorn while they are watching television. Having the microwave competing with the TV for a signal could be a big problem,” he joked.
Competition with other users in the same apartment block was also an increasingly important issue, Barratt said.
While addressing quality of service alone would not solve the problems of providing reliable multimedia services around the home, spectral diversity [freeing up more of the 24 channels available in the 5GHz spectrum] would help.
Another major stumbling block that needs to be removed is the highly technical nature of currently available Wi-Fi, which Barratt said was not easy enough for adoption in the consumer electronics market.
“We want to make sure when somebody buys a multimedia product that they can install it anywhere in their home with confidence that it is going to work,” he said.
“Consumer electronics products are expensive and it will be very costly to the industry if they are being returned because coverage in the end users house wasn’t good enough, or the products were too difficult to set up or use.”
Despite the challenges the networking industry faced in the digital home, Barratt said it was also a market of massive opportunity, estimating consumer products would account for a third of the total wireless network market within three years.
“The market is primed for significant growth but most wireless products sales continue to be point-to-point products that replace cable,” he said.
“The progression to plug-and-play is essential if these systems are to turn into real networks.”