Feeds

Home radio networks: One standard to rule them all?

Could a new one swim with the big fish?

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

Radio technologies are sneaking into our homes - from wireless doorbells to Wi-Fi media streams - but as with any new market there's a plethora of standards vying for a slice of the home-automation pie.

Before we can consider the various wireless technologies on offer it's necessary to understand the problems they are setting out to solve beyond the primary motivation of making money for their inventors. Very few of the standards being pushed into the wireless home can provide everything from volume-control commands to high-definition video streams, so it's far from clear if one standard will come to dominate, though it would be equally surprising if all the proposed standards live to see out the decade.

Wireless technology has been in the home longer than any office, in the form of the humble TV remote control which morphed through various guises before settling on the infrared technology with which we are all so familiar. Infrared is great for controlling a TV, where line of sight is a given, but not so useful for music systems, light switches, motorised curtains and all the other fun stuff science fiction has been promising us for decades. For that stuff you need radio communications, though not a lot of bandwidth is needed for basic command and control.

How many TVs are in your home?

But it's not just command and control signals that are flying around the home wirelessly these days. Proprietary systems operating on 2.4GHz, and increasingly 5.8GHz, have been resending TV pictures around houses for years and generally carrying command and control signals the other way to enable users to control their Sky TV boxes from the bedroom. Such systems offer a limited quality signal - good enough for most people, but also restricted to being point-to-point connections, while punters these days want more of their kit talking to each other. Sony reckons it'll have 90 per cent of its products wirelessly networked within the next two years, and those devices will all want to be talking to each other.

For many years the industry believed that the key to convergence was putting the web onto a TV screen - something that quality and usability have always made more of an ideal than a practical reality (though the Wii/Opera experience comes close). Computers are locked away in the spare room, and few people will put up with CAT-5 cable trailing around the house, so the idea was to put the intelligence into the set-top box and leave the computer for the geeks and teenagers. But wireless connectivity has changed all that and these days ordinary users are squeezing media players under their TVs, and streaming content from their computer hard discs as well as over the internet, reinventing the computer in the spare room as a media server of sorts.

Right now the dominant technology is Wi-Fi, the name given to the 802.11b/g/n standards, all of which operate in the 2.4GHz channel. 802.11a is starting to gain traction as 2.4GHz fills up - 802.11a uses 5.8GHz, which is also unlicensed and, for the moment at least, less crowded. But the dominance of Wi-Fi is far from unassailable in such a nascent market: Ultra Wide Band (UWB) offers much greater bandwidth, though at shorter range, and 3G technologies can also stream video around the house via a femtocell in frequencies owed by the cellular network operators, thus guaranteeing bandwidth. It's also worth noting that femtocells will be pushed hard by the operators, so the deciding factor may well not be technology or usability at all.

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Sysadmin Day 2014: Quick, there's still time to get the beers in
He walked over the broken glass, killed the thugs... and er... reconnected the cables*
Auntie remains MYSTIFIED by that weekend BBC iPlayer and website outage
Still doing 'forensics' on the caching layer – Beeb digi wonk
SHOCK and AWS: The fall of Amazon's deflationary cloud
Just as Jeff Bezos did to books and CDs, Amazon's rivals are now doing to it
BlackBerry: Toss the server, mate... BES is in the CLOUD now
BlackBerry Enterprise Services takes aim at SMEs - but there's a catch
The triumph of VVOL: Everyone's jumping into bed with VMware
'Bandwagon'? Yes, we're on it and so what, say big dogs
Carbon tax repeal won't see data centre operators cut prices
Rackspace says electricity isn't a major cost, Equinix promises 'no levy'
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.