Easing the Pathway

For years, networking firms have been trying to figure out how to plug a computer or other peripherals into a standard electrical outlet and use the existing network of electrical wires to share data as well as to power light bulbs and hair dryers. But so far, the only such system that made it to market was plagued with problems and couldn't maintain high-speed data transmissions.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance — a group of companies including Cisco Systems, 3Com, Intel, and Panasonic — is developing new technical standards for piggybacking digital data onto electrical wiring while maintaining reliable speeds of up to 14 Mbps and complete compatibility between computers and their add-ons. It's a tall order, but according to Alberto Mantovani, the president of HomePlug, field trials of systems using the new standard demonstrate that it is possible to push data and household current through the same copper wires. Consumers won't be able to find out for themselves how well these systems work until the end of the year, at the earliest, when the first networking products based on HomePlug standards hit the stores.

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