Check on home security via Net; IBM, Bell Atlantic's wiring system allows off-site monitoring; Electronics


You're at work. Suddenly you get the nagging feeling that you might have left the stove on in your kitchen at home. You could drop everything and drive back to your house, or you could use your office computer to check your home electronic system.

The futuristic option is the one that's being pushed by Bell Atlantic Corp. and IBM Corp. in a deal to be announced today. The two huge companies are teaming up to market a pricey home wiring system that prepares residences for the latest in Internet, television and audio technology as well as such goodies as home security and automated climate control.

The Home Director networking system is available to new-home buyers in Bell Atlantic's Maine-to-Virginia local telephone service region and will be offered to existing homes by the end of the year, Bell Atlantic said.

"We refer to the home as the dirt road of the information superhighway," said Bill Schutz, a general manager with the Bell Atlantic construction subsidiary that will carry out the partnership with IBM.

"Wiring in the home today is basic at best, and a lot of times substandard. If you try to run a high-speed data service in a home not wired for it, you'll have problems," Schutz said.

The jointly branded product will combine IBM's existing home networking systems with Bell Atlantic's wiring and maintenance services. No financial details of the agreement have been disclosed.

IBM said the new service could allow each member of a family to use the Internet at the same time; currently, such access is typically limited by the number of phone lines in a home.

In addition to the wiring and jacks, the companies will offer -- at extra cost -- additional equipment such as security cameras, satellite dishes and embedded speakers that could be deployed around a room to maximize the sound of a television or compact disc player.

The home network system will not come cheap. Depending on how many optional features a customer buys, it will cost anywhere from $900 to $3,000.

"We think it's a very important new product set," said Mark Schmidt, the director of marketing for IBM's home networking arm. Schmidt said the market for home networks will grow to $1 billion by 2002.

Analysts greeted the Bell Atlantic-IBM undertaking with mixed reactions. "The home networking wave is going to be huge," said Jeffrey Kagan, an Atlanta telecommunications analyst. "This is laying the groundwork for the home of the future."

Bruce Kasrel of Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said he doubts that enough customers would be willing to pay so much for a home wiring system.

"How many people care about rewiring their home?" Kasrel said. "If you're about to buy a house, are you going to upgrade the kitchen or put in a $1,500 wiring system?"

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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