June 24, 2003 4:28 PM PDT

Tech companies push home networking

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Major consumer electronics, personal computer and mobile devices manufacturers are looking for ways to link their networking efforts.

As previously reported, the Digital Home Working Group, a group of major companies including Microsoft, Intel, Sony and Hewlett-Packard, announced Tuesday at a press conference in San Francisco that they are working together to draft guidelines they hope will help promote home networking products.

The guidelines will outline how the companies should use networking standards such as Wi-Fi and Universal Plug and Play in products. The guidelines are expected to be completed by the end of the year, and products using the guidelines should be available by the second half of next year.

The aim of the guidelines is to create a common foundation manufacturers can use in products ranging from cell phones to televisions so that consumers have similar experiences with a technology no matter which manufacturer's device they buy.

"We share a common goal, to make the home network invisible so consumers are just working with their digital content," said Scott Smyers, vice president of network and systems architecture at Sony and chairman of the DHWG.

A major hurdle has been the gaggle of standards in the technology industry, some of which overlap. A number of standards perform similar functions, defeating the point of having a standard and making it more confusing for consumers to determine which products work with each other.

Smyers noted that consumers can already access content over multiple networking technologies, but "it's very, very painful."

The alliance also intends to push the mainstream adoption of new products that can be networked together. To help in that effort, the group is developing a logo companies can use to indicate which products are compatible with each other.

Many of the companies in the DHWG have a vision of connecting these products so that consumers can share resources at home in much the same way they share a printer or broadband connection at work. For example, people would be able to play digital audio on their living-room stereo even though the music files themselves are stored on a computer in the den.

Danielle Levitas, an analyst with the research firm IDC, said that if the group can truly get member companies to support the guidelines and standards it is "most of the way there" to encouraging mass-market adoption of networking products. However, the remaining hurdle may be the toughest for the alliance because it involves content companies, which don't currently have a strong presence in the alliance.

"Personal content (such as digital images and home videos) can help to push home networking, but the really compelling part for the mainstream market is content protected by digital rights management, and this is something (the group) hasn't fully addressed yet," Levitas said.

Smyers said the group was open to new members.

The group was expected to announce 18 members as part of the Tuesday announcement, but in a sign of how difficult it is to coordinate the efforts of major companies, the group announced 17.

Representatives declined to comment on the 18th company. The others include Fujitsu, Gateway, IBM, Kenwood, Lenovo, Matsushita Electric, NEC CustomTechnica, Nokia, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, STMicroelectronics and Thomson.

 

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