In the first article in this two-part series ( http://connectedhomemag.com/networking/articles/index.cfm?articleid=39382 ), we looked at wired Ethernet networking and Wi-Fi (the 802.11b wireless standard) wireless networking, two of the most popular ways to connect two or more computers to the Internet and share resources such as files and printers. But Ethernet and Wi-Fi aren't the only games in town. This week, I look at some networking alternatives, including those that use jacks you already have in your home.

Here's why these alternatives are important: The wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi networking types we examined last time have inherent compromises. Wired Ethernet performs well, but it requires wiring, which can be expensive and disruptive if you plan to space out computers around your home. Wi-Fi, however, can suffer from often-inexplicable dead spots and much lower than advertised bandwidth because Wi-Fi is shared and distance-based: The further you are from the wireless receiver (usually a base station or router of some sort), the weaker the signal and the slower the connection speeds.

Two major alternatives seek to address these concerns. Both of them, not coincidentally, use the phone jacks or power plugs you already have in your home. And both of them are wired technologies, which typically provide more consistent networking speeds than the wireless options.

HomePNA (Phoneline) Networking
The first alternative--the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance's HomePNA--uses existing phonelines to share an Internet connection among PCs in your home. HomePNA networks run at 10Mbps, although a future version will offer 128Mbps speeds. This type of networking can be convenient if you happen to have phone jacks near your computers. Otherwise, you'll have to have an electrician wire your home, which can be expensive and begs the question, why not just install CAT-5 and get full 100Mbps Ethernet going?

For this reason, I usually think of HomePNA as an add-on technology. For example, I've used HomePNA to connect a Dell Rio Digital Audio Receiver (DAR) to a PC in a home that wasn't wired for Ethernet. The Rio supported Ethernet and phoneline networking but was in a room far away from my home network. I did, however, have a phoneline in my home office, so I added a HomePNA networking card to the PC on which my music was stored, and the DAR had no trouble downloading songs from the PC to play on the other side of the house.

HomePNA is also adequate for LAN gaming and simple file sharing, but it lacks the bandwidth needed for video streaming. For this reason and the possible lack of phone jacks, HomePNA often isn't an option. But don't count it out quite yet: You might find it useful in a pinch, as I did with the Rio DAR.

HomePlug (Powerline) Networking
Another home networking scheme called home powerline networking has more potential because we all have multiple power plugs in every room in our homes. I discussed home powerline networking with Peter Kempf, the president of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, an alliance of industry leaders dedicated to promoting the use of home powerline-based networking products. Kempf told me that the biggest difference between HomePlug and HomePNA is coverage: Although many homes--especially those with anything other than all-new wiring--have scattershot phone wiring, guaranteeing coverage within a home is often difficult with HomePNA products. But HomePlug products produce almost 99 percent coverage in a typical home. So you can plug in HomePlug networking products at the far corners of a home and be reasonably sure that the network is going to work, something that isn't true of HomePNA or wireless products.

HomePlug also has a performance advantage. Although today's HomePlug products operate at 14Mbps, the alliance is working on a new specification due this fall--HomePlug AV--that will run at 100Mbps or faster. HomePlug AV is specifically designed for streaming video and other next-generation home-networking scenarios, such as game-machine networking and home media servers. At 100Mbps, HomePlug becomes a truly exciting, no-compromises solution. But even at 14Mbps, HomePlug is faster and more available than HomePNA and Wi-Fi. Your computer or video game machine needs power, so we know there's a power plug nearby.

Naturally, HomePlug, like HomePNA, doesn't offer the roaming conveniences of Wi-Fi, but for devices that aren't going to move around much, that restriction isn't a problem. I'm intrigued with HomePlug and hope to test a few HomePlug-compatible products soon. If you're looking into home networking, you should definitely watch this technology, even if it isn't a press darling like Wi-Fi is.

Bluetooth PAN
Another emerging networking technology is Bluetooth, which is finally showing up in enough products that we have to start worrying about it. Bluetooth isn't really a home-networking technology, per se, and it won't take the place of Ethernet, HomePNA, HomePlug, or Wi-Fi. Instead, Bluetooth is designed to silently and wirelessly connect devices such as cell phones, PDAs, computers, and printers in so-called Personal Area Networks (PANs). Bluetooth devices can also automatically detect other Bluetooth devices when they're in range and transmit their capabilities to the devices they find. PANs max out at about 30 feet, so they're typically useful only in small areas.

But the biggest problem with Bluetooth is that it's often a hassle. I've used several Bluetooth devices, including my Apple Computer iMac (thanks to a USB-based D-Link fob), a Microsoft mouse, a Palm Tungsten T handheld, a Hewlett-Packard (HP)/Compaq iPAQ 5450 handheld, and--during an evaluation period--an IBM ThinkPad T40p laptop. Getting these devices to speak to each other has been painful at best. But even when they do work, they're slow. I can synch my Palm device to the iMac in seconds with a USB cable, but it takes 10 minutes to do so wirelessly using iSync. The Microsoft mouse is OK, but I've already replaced the batteries once since I got the unit in early April, and it's connected to a computer that's hardly ever used. Phooey.

In short, Bluetooth is a cool idea, but I think that it's still too complicated for most people. The idea of wirelessly synching is "cool," whatever that means, but my USB sync cable also recharges my Palm device, so I'm not sure what benefit I get from Bluetooth. I'd love to hear from anyone who's happily and successfully using Bluetooth, however. But I think we might be a little early on the acceptance curve for that scenario to be possible.

In the first article in this two-part series ( http://connectedhomemag.com/networking/articles/index.cfm?articleid=39382 ), we looked at wired Ethernet networking and Wi-Fi (the 802.11b wireless standard) wireless networking, two of the most popular ways to connect two or more computers to the Internet and share resources such as files and printers. But Ethernet and Wi-Fi aren't the only games in town. This week, I look at some networking alternatives, including those that use jacks you already have in your home. Here's why these alternatives are important: The wired Ethernet and Wi-Fi networking types we examined last time have inherent compromises. Wired Ethernet performs well, but it requires wiring, which can be expensive and disruptive if you plan to space out computers around your home. Wi-Fi, however, can suffer from often-inexplicable dead spots and much lower than advertised bandwidth because Wi-Fi is shared and distance-based: The further you are from the wireless receiver (usually a base station or router of some sort), the weaker the signal and the slower the connection speeds. Two major alternatives seek to address these concerns. Both of them, not coincidentally, use the phone jacks or power plugs you already have in your home. And both of them are wired technologies, which typically provide more consistent networking speeds than the wireless options.

HomePNA (Phoneline) Networking The first alternative--the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance's HomePNA--uses existing phonelines to share an Internet connection among PCs in your home. HomePNA networks run at 10Mbps, although a future version will offer 128Mbps speeds. This type of networking can be convenient if you happen to have phone jacks near your computers. Otherwise, you'll have to have an electrician wire your home, which can be expensive and begs the question, why not just install CAT-5 and get full 100Mbps Ethernet going? For this reason, I usually think of HomePNA as an add-on technology. For example, I've used HomePNA to connect a Dell Rio Digital Audio Receiver (DAR) to a PC in a home that wasn't wired for Ethernet. The Rio supported Ethernet and phoneline networking but was in a room far away from my home network. I did, however, have a phoneline in my home office, so I added a HomePNA networking card to the PC on which my music was stored, and the DAR had no trouble downloading songs from the PC to play on the other side of the house. HomePNA is also adequate for LAN gaming and simple file sharing, but it lacks the bandwidth needed for video streaming. For this reason and the possible lack of phone jacks, HomePNA often isn't an option. But don't count it out quite yet: You might find it useful in a pinch, as I did with the Rio DAR.

HomePlug (Powerline) Networking Another home networking scheme called home powerline networking has more potential because we all have multiple power plugs in every room in our homes. I discussed home powerline networking with Peter Kempf, the president of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, an alliance of industry leaders dedicated to promoting the use of home powerline-based networking products. Kempf told me that the biggest difference between HomePlug and HomePNA is coverage: Although many homes--especially those with anything other than all-new wiring--have scattershot phone wiring, guaranteeing coverage within a home is often difficult with HomePNA products. But HomePlug products produce almost 99 percent coverage in a typical home. So you can plug in HomePlug networking products at the far corners of a home and be reasonably sure that the network is going to work, something that isn't true of HomePNA or wireless products. HomePlug also has a performance advantage. Although today's HomePlug products operate at 14Mbps, the alliance is working on a new specification due this fall--HomePlug AV--that will run at 100Mbps or faster. HomePlug AV is specifically designed for streaming video and other next-generation home-networking scenarios, such as game-machine networking and home media servers. At 100Mbps, HomePlug becomes a truly exciting, no-compromises solution. But even at 14Mbps, HomePlug is faster and more available than HomePNA and Wi-Fi. Your computer or video game machine needs power, so we know there's a power plug nearby. Naturally, HomePlug, like HomePNA, doesn't offer the roaming conveniences of Wi-Fi, but for devices that aren't going to move around much, that restriction isn't a problem. I'm intrigued with HomePlug and hope to test a few HomePlug-compatible products soon. If you're looking into home networking, you should definitely watch this technology, even if it isn't a press darling like Wi-Fi is.

Bluetooth PAN Another emerging networking technology is Bluetooth, which is finally showing up in enough products that we have to start worrying about it. Bluetooth isn't really a home-networking technology, per se, and it won't take the place of Ethernet, HomePNA, HomePlug, or Wi-Fi. Instead, Bluetooth is designed to silently and wirelessly connect devices such as cell phones, PDAs, computers, and printers in so-called Personal Area Networks (PANs). Bluetooth devices can also automatically detect other Bluetooth devices when they're in range and transmit their capabilities to the devices they find. PANs max out at about 30 feet, so they're typically useful only in small areas. But the biggest problem with Bluetooth is that it's often a hassle. I've used several Bluetooth devices, including my Apple Computer iMac (thanks to a USB-based D-Link fob), a Microsoft mouse, a Palm Tungsten T handheld, a Hewlett-Packard (HP)/Compaq iPAQ 5450 handheld, and--during an evaluation period--an IBM ThinkPad T40p laptop. Getting these devices to speak to each other has been painful at best. But even when they do work, they're slow. I can synch my Palm device to the iMac in seconds with a USB cable, but it takes 10 minutes to do so wirelessly using iSync. The Microsoft mouse is OK, but I've already replaced the batteries once since I got the unit in early April, and it's connected to a computer that's hardly ever used. Phooey. In short, Bluetooth is a cool idea, but I think that it's still too complicated for most people. The idea of wirelessly synching is "cool," whatever that means, but my USB sync cable also recharges my Palm device, so I'm not sure what benefit I get from Bluetooth. I'd love to hear from anyone who's happily and successfully using Bluetooth, however. But I think we might be a little early on the acceptance curve for that scenario to be possible.