News | April 17, 2001

The Ripple Effect: How Intel's choice to support 802.11b is affecting the home networking market

By Janine Sullivan, Contributing Editor

The Defection
The Merger
What's Next?

Last month, Intel, a founding member of the HomeRF Working Group, announced that its next generation home networking product in the Anypoint line would support the 802.11b standard instead of the HomeRF 2.0 standard. Soon after Intel's announcement, the proposed merger between Proxim and Netopia fell apart. Where does all of this leave HomeRF?

The Defection
"Intel was one of the original founders of the Working Group, has always been a strong supporter of HomeRF, and has earned my utmost respect," says Wayne Caswell, HomeRF Marketing Manager. "Personally, I'm sad to see Intel's business suffer in today's difficult business climate, and their recent decision to support just one wireless LAN standard. Intel understands how HomeRF benefits consumers, equipment makers and broadband service providers, so it must have been a very difficult decision for them.

Apparently, Intel made a business decision to pursue one technology, merging two product development groups/divisions—originally their HomeRF and 802.11 b (for enterprise) development efforts were operating separately. (Intel was not available for comment.)

"The economic climate was the ultimate catalyst for Intel's defection," says Navin Sabharwal, Director of Residential Technologies, Allied Business Intelligence (Oyster Bay, NY). "In addition, the company has been promoting a single technology for 5 GHz systems, so it seems contradictory to support multiple technologies at 2.4 GHz.

Sabharwal points out that although Intel was the retail face for HomeRF, Proxim still has retail presence. "Proxim may have backed off on their aggressive pursuit of retail because of Intel. If they had known Intel would defect, they never would have given up the shelf space," suggests Sabharwal.

Although Intel remains a member of HomeRF and continues to sell AnyPoint wireless home networking products based on HomeRF 1.0, the company will not offer HomeRF 2.0 products based on wide-band frequency hopping.

HomeRF 2.0 is faster standard (10-Mb/s peak), with support for up to eight phone lines, enhanced streaming support, and the ability to roam into public places like libraries, coffee shops, and shopping malls. Intel's current AnyPoint products will continue to work with HomeRF 2.0 systems, but at the slower speeds.

The Merger
"The stock market seems to have over-reacted to news of Intel's decision, and Proxim's stock price dropped as a result," observes Caswell. "This apparently made the Proxim acquisition less attractive to Netopia stock holders, so it is understandable that the deal was called off."

While the Intel decision hurts the public image of HomeRF, the Netopia situation may help it.

"With the merger off, Netopia announced that it is a Proxim partner and will include HomeRF in its DSL products to support integrated services over broadband networks. With this announcement, Netopia becomes a model of how other partner relationships can be formed among makers of residential gateways and TV set-top boxes. That's good," sums up Caswell.

"Ultimately, the merger falling apart is a good thing for HomeRF," concurs Sabharwal. "Some residential gateway vendors were wary of the idea because the Netopia/Proxim combination always would have the option to undercut you."

What's Next?
"HomeRF needs to get 2.0 out," says Sabharwal. And, it seems, that is just what they intend to do. The first private demos of next generation HomeRF technology occurred last month at CeBit. With the final 2.0 specification set for ratification this month, we can expect to see product on the market this summer.

The first public demos are being planned for May 9 at Connections 2001 (Seattle, WA), and the HomeRF Working Group will host a free public seminar there.

Siemens plans to introduce the first HomeRF cordless phones this fall, and according to Caswell, several large service providers are considering HomeRF. Sabharwal reports that Siemens is very interested in HomeRF's voice component. "Because it is based on DECT, HomeRF can do it better than 802.11b," Sabharwal says. Apparently, HomeRF has already solved the latency issues required for integrated voice and includes quality-of-service support for prioritized streaming.

Motorola, another founding member and a set-top box and cable modem market leader, is well positioned to include HomeRF in its residential broadband products. "I can easily see HomeRF as a niche technology," says Sabharwal.

"As these events unfold, HomeRF critics and competition will be silenced," asserts Caswell. "HomeRF 2.0 will leap-frog Wi-Fi in performance, reliability, cost, simplicity, power consumption, and security." While that remains to be seen, it seems that HomeRF is mobilized and not to be underestimated.

About the author…
Janine Sullivan is a contributing writer for Wireless Design Online. She is the founder and owner of The Write Solution, a technical writing agency. Janine can be reached at The Write Solution,

Click here to subscribe to our free newsletter