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Intel, Farallon launch home networking line

Chip company plays Mac, shipping first cards to head off rival 3Com/Microsoft efforts

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Intel yesterday launched its entry into the home networking market, AnyPoint, a system that will go head to head with rival technology from 3Com and Microsoft. AnyPoint connects multiple PCs through a building's telephone wiring. It's based on the Home Phone Networking Alliance (HomePNA) spec., which offers a data throughput rate of 1Mbps. The PC connection is made through an AnyPoint add-in network interface card or an external box that hooks up to the parallel port. Intel will, however, have to ramp up the performance of the technology pretty smartish. It may have got to market ahead of the 3Com/Microsoft partnership, which is due to deliver product this summer, but its rivals are offering both Ethernet and HomePNA-based kits at 100Mbps and 10Mbps, respectively. The 3Com/MS products will also be followed up with radio frequency networking kits and units that connect PCs via domestic mains power cabling. Neither company has confirmed when these two products will become available, however. Both sets of products -- AnyPoint and 3Com's kits -- offer file and printer sharing, and communal Internet access through shared modems. Ironically, given Microsoft's backing of 3Com's kits, it's Microsoft software technology, to be built into the next upgrade to Windows 98, that also brings this functionality to the Intel product. Intel's pitch also contains, perhaps surprisingly, planned support for the Mac platform. Actually, it's not all that surprising since Intel appears to have had some help from phone-based networking specialist Farallon, a company that has a long history of offering cheap Mac-to-Mac and Mac-to-PC networking products. Farallon will be handling the Mac side of things, basing its offerings on the Intel chips that power AnyPoint. It will also offer the modem sharing software -- the MacOS already provides file and printer sharing. Both Intel and Farallon cited the floppy disk-less iMac as a major platform in the home. However, since each iMac already ships with 10/100Mbps Ethernet, adding a 1Mbps AnyPoint module will be something of a downgrade, even if the cabling is cheaper. That said, it's not clear what level of Mac support the 3Com/MS line will provide, so backing the Mac could prove a smart move for Intel. Meanwhile, Apple is known to be working on wireless networking technology, possibly in co-operation with Palm (whose owner is, er, 3Com). Originally designed for Newton handhelds and notebooks, to allow users to form ad hoc networks, it's hard to see Apple not using it -- or licensing it -- as the basis for home networking products. ®

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