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We look at recent developments in the networking sector

Back of the net

The first few months of the year mark the season of the trade shows, with every major vendor worth its salt unveiling new technologies and products. One segment that has undoubtedly seen a great deal of new innovation at this quarter’s exhibitions is networking. Tablets, ‘connected classrooms’ and other mobile devices are all set to be big this year, and are bound to provide a ripple effect across the entire sector.

Once a niche solution, most internet service providers now supply a wireless router as standard and consumers are using wi-fi for everything from their printers to their smartphones.

Following the IEEE’s final approval of the 802.11N wireless standard, vendors are seeing an increase in uptake of the technology, which can deliver throughput speeds up to 300Mbps compared to the previous 802.11G technology, which reaches a limit of just 54Mbps.

“Wireless is an obvious trend, especially 11N technology,” says Eric Wang of TP-Link. “Networking products are focusing more on SOHO applications, requiring faster and faster responses and a steadier performance.”

VIP networking product manager Mark Lynch agrees that the small office/home office market is crucial to the sector, adding: “Mass take-up in the corporate sector has been slower. The networking infrastructure within larger businesses is often vast and so the transition to wireless is more likely to coincide with planned, organic network upgrades rather than causing unnecessary upheaval.”

However, the consumer market is equally valuable when it comes to wireless networking products. “Due to wi-fi being built into notebooks and netbooks, it is by far the most popular network connection, taking over from traditional connections such as LAN cables. You only need to look around local amenities and see that wi-fi connections are being offered everywhere from public transport to cafés and bars,” observes Rachael Jubb, a buyer and finance co-ordinator at Target Components.

But notebooks and netbooks are not the only devices to provide a boost to the wireless networking industry. Analyst firm Deloitte predicts that tablet PCs will have their ‘breakout year’ in 2010, with ‘tens of millions’ buying the devices. Indeed, several major vendors have already announced tablets – Apple’s iPad was launched in January, while Samsung and Microsoft (with the help of HP) have similar devices in development.

“Tablets are definitely an opportunity. With the iPad, reading e-books while travelling and browsing the internet on the couch are even easier, as is watching digital content or listening to music. If you wish to do all these things you obviously need the networking infrastructure, and that’s where we come in,” comments Steve Walsh, sales director at Meroncourt.

Interactive Ideas marketing executive Yen Tru does not believe the hype surrounding Apple’s long-anticipated ndevice. “I don’t actually believe iPads will have a dramatic effect in the short term on demand, but in the long term, once the competitors catch up with more affordable tablets there will be an increased need for networking products,” she suggests.

Despite the growth of wireless N, many users have found at one time or another that they need to boost or expand their network. Some are turning to HomePlug technology, which uses existing powerlines to improve the reach of the network. Users plug the devices straight into plug sockets, creating additional wireless or LAN access points around the home.

“The new faster speeds of HomePlug AV 200 are offering customers a real tangible benefit over previous versions of the technology. The key to AV 200 is maintaining network speed over distance, a particular strength of the Billion HomePlugs. This is ideal for online gamers and for streaming HD,” says Julian de Selincourt, marketing director at Billion UK.

However, CCI’s business development manager, Cliff Cheetham, does not think the HomePlug revolution has quite hit yet. “HomePlug networking is slowly starting to gather pace. Most sales are within retail as the product needs to be actively sold with benefits – the USP is difficult to understand just from reading a website,” he notes.

Similarly, it seems consumers need to be convinced of the unique selling point of network access storage, which allows users to store files and digital media in a central location. Research by storage vendor Sitecom found that of 5,000 end users across Europe, 47 per cent did not know what NAS was. After it was explained, however, 75 per cent of respondents said they thought they’d benefit from having such a device.

“End users use their home network for entertainment and they need solutions that allow them to easily share their digital files with their family members or to watch digital movies directly on TV with full HD quality. The markets for NAS-servers and media players are rapidly growing,” comments Walsh.

Home and business users are not the only markets for networking products. The education sector is proving to be an increasing opportunity, with major vendors including Dell, Samsung and Panasonic debuting new visions for the modern classroom at the BETT educational technology show in London earlier this year. Each of the vendors demonstrated a combination of devices such as interactive whiteboards, netbooks, tablets, digital cameras and video conferencing tools to enhance the learning experience and improve overall connectivity.

“Historically, wireless products weren’t really a viable option for schools because of their limitations of signal strength, distance and speed. Now, with the introduction of competitively priced 802.11N wireless and the enhanced security features that they support, wireless networking technology can meet the demands of this and many other sectors,” observes Lynch.

Slater adds: “With the Government supporting education reform, many educators are adopting integration of collaborative working spaces, which will further enhance the opportunities for wireless products.”

Steel believes it doesn’t end there. “Any public sector and corporate network has an opportunity to get wireless sold into it, and the wireless platforms on the market now provide great throughput with top security.”

SYNOLOGY DS1010+
SRP: £687.38
Distributor: SmithieUK
They say: A high-performance, scalable and full-featured network attached storage solution
Specs: 115-plus MB per second reading speed, 109-plus MB per second writing speed, scalable to up to ten drives, LAN and wireless compatible, expandable RAM size (up to 3GB)

DEVOLO DLAN 200 AVSMART+ STARTER KIT
SRP: £129.99
Distributor: Gem Distribution, Ingram Micro, Northamber
They say: Every power outlet becomes a network jack in no time
Specs: Two dLAN 200 AVsmart+ LAN adaptors, transfer rate of up to 200Mbps to cable length of 300m, inbuilt LCD display, power-saving technology reducing energy consumption by 60 per cent

SITECOM MD-253 HOME STORAGE CENTER
SRP: £129.99
Distributor: Meroncourt
They say: You can easily store digital photos, music and movies in a central location
Specs: Two drive bays, RAID1 and RAID0 drive partitioning, file server for digital media, automatic file backup, backup button, UPnP AV connection, built-in BitTorrent client, USB port, Gigabit network port, FTP server to access files worldwide

TP-LINK TL-WR1043ND WIRELESS N GIGABIT ROUTER
SRP: £39.95
Distributor: Target Components
They say: Provides incredibly high wireless speeds
Specs: Wireless N speed up to 300Mbps, four LAN ports, three detachable antennae, USB port for sharing content over the network, user interface supports web software updates

BILLION BIPAC 2073N
SRP: £79
Distributor: EntaTech
They say: Super fast HomePlug networking with the new generation powerline AV technology
Specs: Reaches speeds up to 200Mbps over existing power lines and up to 300Mbps wireless connectivity, extends wireless coverage, power saving feature reduces power consumption by at least 60 per cent

GETNET WLAN 802.11N 4-PORT DSL ROUTER
SRP: £26.99
Distributor: CCI Distribution
They say: A high performance solution for your home and small business network
Specs: Data rate up to 300Mbps, complies with wireless 802.11g and 802.11b standards, increases wireless speed up to 12 times faster, Network Address Translation function allows up to 253 clients to share the connection

HERCULES WIRELESS N ROUTER

SRP: £51.08
Distributor: Interactive Ideas
They say: Optimum and enhanced coverage thanks to three unique positionable antennas
Specs: Bandwidths up to 300Mbps, three adjustable antennae, MIMO technology, WPS button for connecting WPS compatible wi-fi devices, software available in eight languages

EDIMAX AR-7284WNA WIRELESS MODEM ROUTER
SRP: £34.99
Distributor: VIP Computers
They say: Superb reliability and a cost-effective solution for home and small business
Specs: Complies with ADSL2/2+ standards, reaches wireless 802.11n standard, data rate up to 150Mbps, built-in virtual server and DMZ functions, multi-language setup wizard, supports WPS configuration button

Q-WAVES WIRELESS USB TO HDMI EXTENDER
SRP: £99.99
Distributor: Micro-P
They say: A simpler, cable-free way of enjoying digital media
Specs: In-room wireless connection, no limit on file format, 3.5mm audio port on dock station, VGA port, streams web content with internet connection

LEVELONE CEILING MOUNT POE WIRELESS ACCESS POINT
SRP: £139.50
Distributor: Mayflex
They say: The signal remains unobstructed, offering solid coverage of the entire room
Specs: Super-G 108Mbps throughput, two 4dBi antennae for unobstructed signal, supports multi-SSID, easy to install mounting kit included, supports WEP, WPA, WPA2 and IEEE 802.1x for high-level security

NETGEAR STORA MS2110 HOME MEDIA NETWORK STORAGE
SRP: £200
Distributor: Gem Distribution, EntaTech, Micro-P
They say: Home network storage that’s comprehensive and easy to understand
Specs: Two serial ATA channels, SATA and SATA II HDD compatible, ethernet port, USB port, RAID1 drive partitioning, embedded 256MB flash memory, supports a variety of file type

OUT OF OFFICE

With so many of us choosing to work from home or on the move, software vendor SoThin is offering a solution to the problem of accessing a work network or company PC remotely…

SOTHIN THIN PACKAGE
SRP: £116.33 (plus mandatory one year upgrade protection at £57.58)
Distributor: Sigma Software Distribution
They say: Secure and convenient access to email, files and programs from home or on the road Specs: S128-bit encryption, Windows authentication, option to allow use of local drives and printers, to allow sound on remote computer, compatible with all Windows

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