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Wired not wireless to dominate home LAN market

Early adopters prefer security, speed of cables

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The home network market may be set to triple in size this year, driven by increased interest in wireless networking, but only a fraction of European households will have installed a LAN - wired or wireless - by the end of the year, market watcher IDC warned today.

Come 1 January 2004, and a mere 2.2 per cent of Western Europe's homes will have a wireless network in place. That's well up on the 0.7 per cent who had one in place last year.

Even so, by 2007, fewer than ten per cent of households will have a network, IDC reckons. It's clearly an early adopter market.

Many of those will be WLANs. By 2006, says IDC, over half of the continent's home networks will be based on wireless technologies.

"Wi-Fi emerged as a de facto standard for home networking in 2002," said Jason Armitage, a senior research analyst with IDC's European Consumer Devices and Technologies group. You'll note that IDC describes wireless as 'a' de facto standard, not 'the' de facto standard.

IDC expects a very high proportion of home networks to be based on wires, primarily Ethernet cabling. Given the relative ease of installing wireless - and the low cost of wireless systems - that's surprising. The fact is, Armitage told The Register, since almost all home LANs are installed by earlier adopters - folk willing to get to grips with the technology - they are, by default, being installed by people who have no problem stringing cheap cat-5 cables around the place, particularly if they're just networking a couple of PCs in one area.

Such users also appreciate the security and performance benefits cable offers over wireless, he says.

Armitage accepts that there will be rather a lot of 802.11 client devices out there, but he reckons many will remain unused. Why? They're simply too complicated for consumers to set up.

We can see his point. Physically connecting a wireless gateway device to an Ethernet-based broadband modem isn't so hard, but it's trickier with PC-hosted USB-based broadband adaptors. Then again, since we're talking about techie owners, we're talking about people who, by and large, like that kind of system wrangling and can sort out wireless' security issues.

And given the shift toward notebook computing, more home LAN users are going to want the mobility that wireless brings, whether their notebooks come with 802.11 bundled or not.

IDC counts two types of network: PC-to-PC, and those linking up consumer electronics kit. The former dominate the arena: of the 3,461,000 home networks in place in Western Europe by the end of the year, only 383,000 of the total (11 per cent) contain some sort of CE device. All these networks are used predominantly to share Internet connections, typically broadband links. Most of the networked CE systems will be games consoles, IDC said.

Such applications will driver broader acceptance of home LANs, particularly as multiple service providers - devices, network access, content, etc. - partner to provide integrated packages, says Armitage. Such unified business models will make it far easier for non-techies to adopt wireless technology because they're predicated only tightly integrated offerings.

Last year, only 1,167,000 European households had a network of some form, so there will have been a near threefold increase in the number of home LAN installations this year. Come 2007, and the number of homes networks will have increased to over 14.7 million households, 9.1 per cent of the total European homes. ®

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