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  • Home Networking Becomes Reality
  • May 4, 1998 (TOKYO) -- Japanese makers of home electric appliances and personal computers, as well as electric companies, have started promoting technology developments to construct networks for households.
    In and after 1999, many products are likely to be compatible with such home networking systems.

    Home networking systems will enable users to access the Internet from each room of a house, turn on air conditioners and heaters and operate a video cassette recorder from outside the house.

    Such networking systems started drawing attention with the improvement of high-speed communication infrastructures outside the home, including the integrated services digital networks (ISDN), cable television (CATV) networks and Internet access via a satellite.

    Technological Development Active in Japan

    As a first step, in December 1997 the Econet Consortium was set up to exchange opinions on networks connecting home electric appliances using a lighting circuit or power line and radio transmission (See table.). Managing companies for the consortium are Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. and Mitsubishi Electric Corp. The four companies plan to secure interconnectivity among electric appliances made by different manufacturers and put that capability into products by 2000.

    Shikoku Electric Power Co., Inc. has developed OpenPLANET, a networking system using a power line. The system will grasp and control operating conditions of home electric appliances through the Internet. The electric company demonstrated controlling equipment in Tokyo from Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku, in February 1998.

    Some firms try to build the home networking system using a high-speed digital interface standard. A group of eight Japanese and European companies including Sony Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. will jointly draw up specifications for audio visual equipment around August 1998 to secure interconnectivity among makers.

    It is not only the private sector that is taking an interest in the home networking system. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications also has set up a study group on the system and compiled a report on research and development of multimedia home links in early April 1998. The ministry plans to invite regular monitors by the end of 1998 at the earliest to launch verification experiment for home networking systems with participation of makers.

    The ministry also set up a committee on advanced home-based information systems within the Telecommunications Technology Council to examine the future possibility of home networking systems.

    The ministry also has started examining allocation of the radio frequency for the home networking systems. Domestic manufacturers are requesting the 5GHz band used for the high-performance radio local-area networks (HIPERLANs) regulated by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). By using the same bandwidth, manufacturers will be able to integrate development of equipment both for the Japanese and foreign markets.

    High-Speed and Control Networks

    Home electric appliances used to construct the home networking system will be roughly classified into two categories.

    One category is called home electric appliances for information, which exchange the vast amount of data, mainly picture images, including televisions, video cassette recorders, camcorders and personal computers. The high-speed network will be needed to link these types of equipment.

    The other one is electrified products such as refrigerators and air conditioners. Such products can function sufficiently on the low-speed network because they only need to exchange data to control turning on and off the electricity and grasping the operating conditions of the products.

    Currently, the high-speed network and the control network are being developed separately.

    The advantage of each network differs. The high-speed network will enable home electric appliances to share information and to simplify the wiring.

    The control network will allow for remote monitoring and operating of equipment. The applications will include electric power companies using the network to control the electricity consumption at the its peak time in summer, support for home-based medical treatment and monitoring of fires and intruders.

    The two networks will not be separated in the future. Industry observers predict that both will be connected to the same household gateway equipment.

    IEEE1394 to Be Interface for High-speed Network

    Although the technology to be used for the home networking system has not been finally decided yet, high-speed transmission using the IEEE1394 serial interface standard, radio technology such as personal handyphone systems (PHS) and the control network using a lighting circuit are considered to be strong candidates.

    The IEEE1394 standard interface will make high-speed communications of 100-400 Mbps possible. However, under the present conditions, the IEEE1394 interface will need a dedicated cable. Its transmission distance is only 4.5 meters.

    NEC Corp. has been developing a system which will realize the IEEE1394 transmission using infrared rays. TERMBOY IR 100, the firm's prototype equipment, can communicate with other equipment 10 meters away or less at 125Mbps.

    Some manufacturers have already started preparing standards for long-distance transmission for the IEEE1394 interface. They will be standardized by the end of 1999. The technology will pave the way for the transmission of 50 meters or longer using an optical fiber.

    NEC is also developing a wall socket designed for the IEEE1394 interface which can connect an optical fiber and equipment laid within a house. In addition, NEC will ship an IEEE1394 repeater, TEAMBOY PF200, by June 1998. It will allow for long-distance transmission using an optical fiber.

    Another measure which is readily available is the PHS system. Although the system is not as high speed as the IEEE1394 interface, it can be used to construct the home networking system easily without any wiring, just by preparing equipment conforming to the PHS Internet Access Forum Standard (PIAFS).

    Terminal adapters to construct the home networking system using PHS is already on the market. Such equipment includes NEC's AtermIW60HS and Matsushita Communication Industrial Co., Ltd.'s Wireless Data Station. PCs and telephones connected to terminal adapters and equipment connected to the PHS can communicate at 29.2kbps.

    Control Network Also Tested

    As for the control network, Shikoku Electric Power has developed the technology to control equipment such as air conditioners using a power line. The firm's OpenPLANET adopted LonWorks, a control system developed by Echelon Corp. of the United States.

    Although the transmission speed of the power line is only 4kbps, the system can exchange control signals with no problem. Each piece of equipment is equipped with a neuron chip, and once the equipment is turned on, the control information will be automatically stored in a server located in a house.

    The information on the equipment, described in a Java language as a virtual machine, can be obtained with a browser via the Internet. Its settings can be changed.

    Table: Japanese manufacturers' current efforts to develop the home networking system
    In the United States, the Home Radio Frequency Working Group (HRFWG),
    a working group to develop radio technology for households, was organized in March.

    (return to news)

    Related stories: Home Electronics Makers Set Networking Specifications
    Sony Reveals Outline of Home Network Software
    Shikoku Electric Develops Remote-Control Java Technology

    (Nikkei Communications)

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    Updated: Sun May 3 19:55:13 1998