HomePlug in the commercial or institutional environment

Often HomePlug powerline networks are, by the name of the technology, pitched at residential networks, typically single-dwelling homes. But can a HomePlug powerline network, whether a v1.0 Turbo or an AV network exist in a block of flats, a shop or a small office?

There are many applications for the use of a HomePlug in the commercial or institutional environment. One would be to set up a network printer or other network-enabled device in a manner that allows the location to be changed at a moment’s notice. This would be of importance for equipment likely to be on the shop floor for example.

Another application would be to set up a multiple-access-point wireless network to extend the coverage of the wireless hotspot in your café or bar. One of the HomePlug wireless access points can easily do this job especially on a temporary setup or setups where you need to remove the access point at night as a security measure.

You may also want to use HomePlug for establishing a temporary network as part of an event that you host at a town hall, school assembly hall or other community facility, thus avoiding extra cables or unreliable wireless networks. Then there is the ability to try out computer-equipment locations for a certain amount of time before you have the electricians pull the Ethernet cabling to the final location.

An example of this kind of setup

At the moment, Devolo, a German company who manufactures HomePlug network devices, have “taken the bull by the horns” in its home market. They have run a German-language Web portal, about using HomePlug as a solution for establishing computer networks in schools. On this page, there are examples of three schools who have established HomePlug network segments that are known to be in full service.

AC power issues

The main issue is that AC power supplies which supply most of these locations aren’t similar to the typical residential AC power supply. These supplies typically involve a “multi-phase” wiring plan that is typically set up for larger motors or other large loads. This shouldn’t be really of concern for setups covering a flat, small shop or office because most of the power wiring is similar to that of a regular house. In the case of shops and other premises that have special equipment like large commercial refrigeration setups, the special equipment is typically wired to its own group of phases while the ordinary power outlets are wired to a single phase, in a manner similar to a domestic setup.

Similarly the large motors like those that typically drive commercial refrigeration / air-conditioning or lifts and escalators can yield interference as they are used. Similarly, arc welding and similar work equipment can increase the amount of interference in the power line. Another issue to remember is that there is very little chance of a HomePlug segment working if you plug any of the HomePlug devices in to one of those three-phase – single-phase powerboards used primarily to run large clusters of standard lighting or cooking equipment from a three-phase outlet. This is usually due to the use of transformers and different phases in these installations.

Testing a HomePlug network segment

When you set up a HomePlug powerline network segment in any of these premises that you haven’t dealt with before or where significant work has been done, you may have to do a test run at the locations you intend to set up your installation at before you run the installation full-time.

You could run the “PowerPacket” utility that comes with most HomePlug-Ethernet bridges to observe the link quality of your HomePlug segment and the existence of the other HomePlug devices that you have plugged in at the locations you want to use. The latter observation can be useful if some of the ordinary power outlets in the premises are wired to different phases. You can also observe changes in link quality when any of the heavy motors are in operation such as whenever someone is using the lift or the refrigeration compressor that serves the commercial refrigeration installation comes on.

Another test would be to do a simple network-based file-copy between computers connected to the HomePlug devices and time that copy process for actual throughput measurement.  At this time, it may be worth looking for changes in network behaviour when any of the heavy motors are in operation as in the situations described above.

But before you do these tests, make sure that the HomePlug equipment you intend to deploy in the commercial environment works properly at your home or at a location where you know from experience this kind of equipment has worked. Also, make sure that you can return the HomePlug equipment to whoever you bought it from if it doesn’t work or be able to buy the equipment “on approval”.

Other setup issues

Another good practice with deploying HomePlug in these locations is to set up an installation-unique Network Password for the installation. This can be easily done with HomePlug AV devices that have “Simple Connect” push-button setup because the HomePlug AV devices work out a unique code for that installation. On the other hand, you would have to use the setup software like PowerPacket to align all the devices (which have the Device Passwords physically on them) to the same Network Password. This allows your HomePlug network segment to work in a secure fashion.

Once you have used HomePlug in these kind of setups, you can be able to know what it can and cannot do in a particular location and defeat the common limitation of HomePlug being just for the home.

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Adding Optical Drives to Non-Computer Devices Using USB – What Can Be Done?

The typical network-attached storage, electronic picture frame or printer is now equipped with a USB host port, typically for connecting USB flash drives and other similar devices. Even a lot of boomboxes and clock radios which have a dock for an iPod have a USB host port so they can play MP3 files held on a USB flash drive. But what about connecting a USB-attached CD or DVD drive.

This could allow, for example, a typical network-attached storage to work like the RipFactory RipServer and “rip” audio CDs to the hard disk so they can be shared to DLNA-compliant media clients. Similarly, those CDs that we “burn” photos on to for sending to other people or viewing on our JPEG-compatible DVD player can be viewed on an electronic picture frame or select pictures can be printed from these discs using an “all-in-one” printer or the pictures that are on these CDs can be copied on to a network-attached storage so they are available on the home network. Approved DVD-playback software could be installed in an electronic picture frame so that one can turn it in to a personal DVD player by adding an optional DVD-ROM drive. Similarly, an MP3 player that doesn’t have a built-in optical drive could become a CD player once a CD-ROM drive is connected to it. The same holds true for such players that have a built-in optical drive but the optical drive has failed, thus extending the useful lifespan of these devices.

The main problems about this is the ability for these devices to support optical drives as part of the USB Mass-Storage device-class specification. Then there is the issue of providing enough power at the USB socket to support a “single-cord” USB optical drive of the kind sold as an accessory for portable computers like laptops or netbooks. This is because the USB cord in these drives is required to supply power as well as data. The power-supply problem can become more intense with devices such as electronic picture frames that are built to a limited size budget and have to work from internal batteries or an external power supply.

If this is implemented, the idea of an “add-on” optical disk drive for the likes of network-attached storage units, electronic picture frames and “all-in-one” printers that the user can buy at a later date can extend the value of these devices through their working life.

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thinkbroadband :: 2Meg broadband to become universal

thinkbroadband :: 2Meg broadband to become universal

My Comments about Britain’s universal broadband Internet step

Britain is taking a positive step in placing broadband Internet on the same standard as the telephone service – accessible for all no matter where they live.

I have always raised a particular issue regarding rural ADSL and wireless broadband in that the bandwidth needs to be measured from the customer’s doorstep rather than the base or a location closer to the base. This is because ADSL throughput is dependent on the length and condition of the telephone line to the customer’s door and wireless throughput is dependent on the quality of the signal received at the customer’s door.

Then any universal-service funding should be used to renovate telephone infrastructure that will impede ADSL throughput. This could include implementing DSLAMs installed in exchanges located in villages and hamlets, use of range-improvement ADSL codecs and identifying and working on any old and decaying telephone infrastructure.

Any inconsistencies in the way ADSL service is provisioned should be addressed. They typically can manifest in situations where some households, particularly those who have had their telephone lines renewed, may be able to receive ADSL whereas their neighbours may not be able to receive ADSL. This usually is caused by a street or block being serviced primarily by decaying telephone infrastructure.

Once these issues are looked at, then we can be trusting about broadband Internet as a universal service.

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PlugPlayer – A UPnP / DLNA media controller for your iPhone or iPod Touch

All of you who are using an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch have access to another DLNA media controller for these devices. The program, PlugPlayer, is able to play content that is compatible with these Apple devices from a UPnP Media Server or act as a control point for other UPnP / DLNA media players that support external control.

One feature that it will miss compared to the CyberMediaGate iMediaSuite program is for the iPod to be a MediaServer and use DLNA technologies to serve its media across the network. This may be something you may not need if what is on your iPod is a subset of the media library that is on your network. You can have an iPod running this program managed by another media controller like TwonkyMedia Manager or an iPod running iMediaSuite or this program.

This program is leading the Apple portable-device platform towards the DLNA-compliant media platform. Wake up, Apple and realise that the DLNA home media network is the way to go.

Links:

PlugPlayer – software information

PlugPlayer download link at iTunes App Store

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A step in the right direction towards unified messaging for personal and residential telecommunications

 Neufbox de SFR : la messagerie vocale évolue – DegroupNews.com (Language: French)

I have read this French-language article about improvements to SFR’s voice-mail service for their NeufBox residential triple-play customers and one feature that stood out was interfacing the voice-mail with the customer’s home computer.

Typically the voice mail service that is available with most personal / residential landline and mobile telephone services can only be managed through the user pressing buttons on the phone keypad in response to voice prompts. Business-grade setups typically have a “unified messaging” setup where their voice mail and e-mail messages are managed through the same interface, typically their computer workstation or their smartphone. Some PC-based answering-machine setups could achieve this through a “voice modem”, essentially a data modem with built-in sound-card functionality that can work with the phone line, answering all of the voice calls and communications software that can work with the “voice modem” capturing all of the messages.

This setup allows the user to receive their voice-mail messages as an e-mail message through their regular computer interface and/or an MMS message through their mobile phone. This kind of service will typically pack the message the caller leaves as an e-mail attachment or MMS multimedia attachment, which can be of use for replaying (through other devices) or archiving. SFR are extending the functionality to cover 5 different e-mail or mobile-phone destinations. This would typically allow for reception of the messages at work or for a couple to receive their home landline messages on both their mobile phones.

This kind of “unified messaging” service can be of benefit to telecommunications providers who want to encourage their customers to “have all their eggs in one basket” and subscribe to their personal / residential / SOHO telephone and Internet services through them. It is also future-proof when it comes to handling wideband VoIP telephony or videophone services because messages from these services can be distributed in the same manner as regular e-mails or MMS messages.

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iMediaSuite for Apple iPod Touch and iPhone – new version

The CyberGarage iMediaSuite program that I have mentioned earlier on in my blog has been revised and is now at 1.0.1 . Some of the improvements have brought about improved stability by fixing a memory leak; and there has been some improved functionality like a “clean screen” for the media player. It would still be available at the same URL at the iTunes App Store.( http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=293809842&mt=8 )

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Apple – the next of the big personal-computing companies to change leadership

 

Steve Jobs steps down, Tim Cook runnin’ the ship until June : Boy Genius Report

Apple boss Steve Jobs to take extended leave | Technology | guardian.co.uk

My Comments

Last year, Bill Gates stepped down from the chair at Microsoft because it was his time to retire. Now, this year, Steve Jobs had just stepped down from the chair at Apple due to ill health. Now that the two biggest personal-computing ships who started up in the late 70s and set the direction for ubiquitous desktop-based computing are changing leaders, what could become of the world of personal and small-business computing?

There are possibilities of newer leadership causing a change in how the companies operate as far as their product portfolio and consumer relationships go. On the other hand, the companies could just work as they have been going. They could lose their mantle in this class of computing as newer startups get themselves going and improve on the technology.

Other things to watch for is how the workforce in the companies reacts to the changes that are taking place and whether established companies in the same industry are likely to change leadership, thus causing a different wave to sweep across this class of computing.

These next few years will be very interesting to watch as far as the small-form computing scene is concerned.

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Consumer Electronics Show 2009 Comments

Kitchen / laundry appliances, building control and security

Unlike the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2008 in Berlin, this show hasn’t headed towards exhibiting kitchen / laundry appliances and building control / security devices. But a show like this could head down that direction under various mandates like the “green” energy-efficiency mandate and the “smart home” mandate.

The main reason that this has been put off is because of the financial downturn in the US where many of these companies who rely primarily on the “new building” market are simply not selling many of these devices, therefore cannot afford to spend on this kind of activity.

Windows 7 Goes Beta

This has meant a major milestone for Microsoft in having Windows 7 legitimately enter the public beta stage. It has allowed the blogosphere to talk about improvements to the way Windows will be working under this operating system.

One major improvement will be the Device Stage where there will be an integrated user interface for all of the peripherals that the computer benefits from. It doesn’t matter whether the device is connected by a USB or other peripheral-connect cable or is accessed over a wireless peripheral link or the IP network the computer is a member of. This interface will provide access to the standard tasks for managing the device as well as any manufacturer-specified tasks for that device.

Another highlighted connectivity improvement is the Windows 7 “Home Group” which simplifies how a home network is set up and represented. This also includes any “non-computer devices” like network media players, network-attached storage units, games consoles and IP cameras.

Large colour bit-map display as a preferred user-interface display for “fixed” consumer electronics

Previously, we have seen “fixed” consumer-electronics devices like stereo / home-theatre equipment, computer network equipment and similar hardware having either a vacuum fluorescent display, monochrome liquid-crystal display, monochrome LED display or lately an OEL display as their user-interface display. Such a display would take up a small area of the device’s front panel and typically show textual information. If they show graphical information, it would be a low-resolution display which represents a “current-function” icon or a bar-graph representing a quantity like sound level.

Now manufacturers are supplying some of their devices with high-resolution colour LCD or OEL displays. Examples of this include the D-Link DIR-685 Wireless-N router / electronic photo frame / UPnP Media Server; Linksys’s Network Home Audio products and Linksys’s new media-focused DLNA NAS boxes. This has been because of high-resolution colour LCD modules of sizes up to 17 inches becoming more cost-effective.

This has allowed the “fixed ”consumer-electronics devices to have a user interface that is very similar to that provided by the coolest portable devices. It has also allowed manufacturers to look towards equipping their devices with touchscreens and iPod-style “spinwheels”. The user-interface menus on these devices are starting to have the same kind of experience that is accepted on the latest set-top boxes or portable media players.

It will certainly make those monochrome user-interface displays look so tired and “yesterday” as far as product user-interface design is concerned.

SDXC – the next-generation high-capacity SD card

The standard SDXC card can hold up to 2Tb, and being part of the SD Card lineup, be available in the three physical card sizes available for these cards. This iteration of the SD card would primarily appeal to portable devices like laptops, DSLRs, HD camcorders, etc. Could the SD card be the replacement for the hard disk especially in small portable computers like netbooks or as a large firmware storage for electronic devices?

The only limitation about this technology would be that SDXC cards wouldn’t be able to be read in the existing SD or SDHC devices.

LCD TVs – 7mm thick, Plasma TVs – 8.8mm thick

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/technology/4159682/Worlds-thinnest-television-unveiled.html

Thinner flat-panel displays based on the common large-screen technologies are appearing. This will allow for improved consolidation for the display unit, thus allowing also for lighter sets and reduced “bill-of-materials” costs for this class of electronics. Manufacturers can allocate more room for extra functionality and there will be less of the overheating that occurs in these sets because of improved airflow over the chassis. This also leads to improvements in operational efficiency thus reducing the accusation about the large-screen flat-panel TVs being as inefficient as a 4-wheel-drive “Toorak tractor”.

MoCA being launched to the consumer

Mostly this will manifest in the form of “Ethernet-Coax” bridges in a similar form to the common “homeplugs” which are simply “powerline-Ethernet” bridges. Read more about MoCA in this article in this blog.

US-market TVs equipped with Netflix and similar service

In the US, Netflix and similar video-on-demand companies are “buttering up” to the “brown-goods” companies to integrate support for their service in their TV sets and similar devices. Similarly, some TV manufacturers are moving towards providing mid-range and premium equipment with built-in large-screen Internet viewing functionality. This will typically require the TVs, PVRs or set-tops to have Ethernet ports or WiFi connectivity.

If a customer wants to use this kind of feature, they should use the wired means (Ethernet, MoCA, HomePlug) rather than WiFi because this will provide increased reliability with these services.

An ideal feature for these sets would be to have DLNA / UPnP AV functionality with “Play-to” support. This can allow one to view or listen to their own media library whether it is held on their own PC or network-attached storage unit. It is more so because a lot of the NAS units pitched at the home market are being equipped with DLNA server functionality.

Linksys DLNA-compliant music systems and NAS boxes

1 music system with CD player, 1 network music system and 1 network audio receiver, all able to be controlled by a Linksys WiFi remote controller. Linksys is also selling “media-optimised” DLNA-compliant NAS boxes, one of which has a memory card slot for “dump to NAS” ability and a colour LCD display.

The “dump to NAS” memory card slot featured on the mid-range and deluxe units could come in handy with digital-camera memory cards and SlotMusic cards by making the content that exists on these cards available to the home network at all times.

Premiere of USB 3.0

The first few devices will be out, mainly in the form of external hard disks. Could this be an alternative to eSATA as an external hard-disk connection? Could it work as a “fat pipe” for a WiFi-N network adaptor.

The situation will be the same as what has happened with the launch of USB 2.0 where it will be available in a “retrofit” form for existing computers. This option will then end up being available as part of computer hardware introduce from next year onwards.

Premiere of eCoupled

Fulton Innovation had officially promoted the eCoupled inductive power-coupling system, providing it as an alternative to corded power for portable devices. They had set up a proving ground at the CES for wirelessly charging mobile phones, cordless power tools and remote controllers.

This technology will benefit portable entertainment and IT devices by achieving a standard wire-free power source for these devices. They also had proven the idea of “parking” a remote control on a set-top box or TV set so it can be charged quickly. It could allow for the TV or set-top box to perform required tasks like shut-down whenever the remote is parked on or removed from the unit.

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Comments about the Intel vPro Anti-Theft Technology

Intel Demonstration video of vPro Anti-Theft technology in action

Linked through from the IntelChannel YouTube channel

My comments in relation to small businesses and home setups

The Intel vPro anti-theft technology as presented in the above YouTube video is promoted for use by larger companies or schools who have a fleet of notebook computers and people in their regular hire who manage their IT needs. This is typically represented by the segment where the user is working at a software or Web-based “console” to administer the “poison pill”.

This kind of facility may not be available to households or small organisations who manage their own IT needs unless the remote management functionality is available as a cost-effective service. Such a service could be offered by security firms who sell their services to residential and small-business customers and these firms could integrate the “secure notebook” as part of their business-security packages or as a stand-alone service.

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Watchdog exposes broadband speed rip-off – Times Online

Watchdog exposes broadband speed rip-off – Times Online

My comments

There hasn’t been a standard for defining the quality of service that one should expect from their residential or small-business broadband Internet service but this is one key issue I have talked about in the blog at its current location and its previous location. Typically this may concern those of us who want a service not of minimum bandwidth but of bandwidth that is considered reasonable by today’s standards.

Factors that may affect the broadband service quality typically will include the quality (and age) of the telephone infrastructure in an ADSL setup and the number of households sharing the same bandwidth in a cable-modem setup. Wireless installations like 3G tend to vary in quality because they are simply radio-based and can be subject to “distance from base” issues, material being between the base aerial and the customer’s modem; and simply interference.

What needs to happen is a defined minimum service standard for broadband Internet and operators being encouraged to achieve the standard at all service points. Often this is because there isn’t a universal service obligation for the Internet in that country as I have mentioned in a previous article. This issue may be more of concern with country areas or poorer communities where there is little desire to invest.

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