Try home networking to uncork a bottleneck

If you frequently run into a logjam getting your turn at the Internet when you bring work home from the office or want to catch up on online banking, heres an easy-to-implement resource-sharing solution home networking. The solution could also work nicely if you work with multiple computers in a small office where either desk space or funding is lacking for matching peripherals and extra ISP lines.

If you frequently run into a logjam getting your turn at the Internet when you bring work home from the office or want to catch up on online banking, here’s an easy-to-implement resource-sharing solution — home networking.

The solution could also work nicely if you work with multiple computers in a small office where either desk space or funding is lacking for matching peripherals and extra ISP lines.

Setting up a traditional office network is expensive, requiring special peer-to-peer cables among computers within a network client/server service. The fast-growing category of home-networking solutions offers a side-door avenue for home offices to share printers, files and a single Internet account on one phone line, at minimal investment and without having to install any new wiring.

Several companies are promoting a variety of new, kit-based products aimed at the home market that enable remote printing within the network, file transfer across the de facto intranet and downloading of files from the Internet from any of the networked computers.

These products, designed to cost less than the equipment they supplant (including supplementary Zip drive and printer) use one of three technologies as the backbone: radio frequency, existing ac power lines or existing phone lines (the least expensive method).

Typically, phone line-based setups, which consist of plug adapters and operating software, run about $50 to $99 per PC.

Products using the phone lines, plugging into standard RJ-11 telephone jacks, follow specifications that comply with the Home PNA standard set up by the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance, assuring interoperability of products from complying manufacturers.

Depending on the brand, up to 25 PCs can be hooked up within a range of 500 ft., enough for a home or office up to 10,000 sq. ft. (The length refers to phone wiring distance through walls and floors, not straight-line distances.)

The units noted below all work at optimum 1 megabit per second, which is about 18 times faster than a 56K modem. Some manufacturers note that hooking up more than 10 PCs on one home network could result in degraded speed.

With phone line solutions, voice and data are transmitted over different frequencies. This means users can print or transfer files and talk on the phone at the same time. However, because voice telephone calls and modem connections use a single phone line in the same way, users cannot speak on the phone and browse the Internet simultaneously.

The PCI cards or other devices that install into the individual computers basically all do the same thing — connect the computers. What differs from manufacturer to manufacturer is the software bundled with them. Those solutions that use PCI cards require opening up the computer; a solution using external hardware does not.

Though competing hardware products are interoperable, we suggest using one manufacturer’s software throughout your network. The products noted below all include set-up wizards that automate network installation.

The Intel AnyPoint Home Network solution (www.intel.com/anypoint, 408/325-7000) is available in three configurations: using an internal PCI card; using an external adapter that plugs into a pc’s parallel port and into a nearby phone jack; and using an external unit that plugs into the usb port on newer computers.

Intel’s Internet Sharing Software, packaged with all three types, is a transparent proxy server that ensures each user’s Internet browsing remains separate from others on the network. One PC is designated as the server (with the software installed) and has the physical connection to the Internet. The other PCs are essentially the clients (though the server also acts as a client and can participate in all functions).

The Internet connection can be a standard telephone modem, broadband connection or cable modem. In fact, the client-server configuration allows any connected PC to access the Internet through the PC with the best Internet connection.

AnyPoint’s manual and installation guides are well designed, with a lot of explanatory graphics and comprehensive detail, so you should be able to set up fairly quickly.

Zoom Telephonics’ Zoom/Homelan PCI (www.zoomtel.com, 800/631-3166) uses Sygate 3.0 Internet-sharing software for simultaneous use of one Internet account through a single analog modem, ISDN, xDSL or cable modem. The package also comes with a special filter to use on an extension phone to prevent data signals from interfering with voice calls and vice-versa.

Diamond Multimedia’s HomeFree Instant Home Network solution (www.diamondmm.com, 800/468-5846) includes Wingate Home 3.0 Internet sharing software, which allows up to three computers to access the Internet at the same time. The software also runs a history log (which can be turned off) listing Web pages accessed and the computer name that requested the access.

Any of these systems could certainly be a good gift for your family, helping maintain peace in the household when multiple members want to sit in front of individual pcs instead of the TV.

Remember those days?

The Feldmans write about computer use for the construction industry and produce customized newsletters for various businesses. They can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] or tel. 914/238-6272.