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David Becker

Staff Writer, CNET

Wi-Fi now rules the roost, according to a new research report concluding that wireless technology has gained a slight edge over Ethernet cables in home networks.

The survey, by research firms Parks Associates, found that 52 percent of U.S. households with a home network were using wireless technology, compared with 50 percent for Ethernet and about 5 percent for power line networking via electrical wires. (The numbers don’t add up to 100 because some homes use a combination of technologies.)

It’s the first time Wi-Fi has outpaced Ethernet, an achievement Research Director John Barrett attributed to growing Wi-Fi support among broadband providers. Most major broadband companies offer options for hooking up a new account via Wi-Fi equipment, an attractive option for those who haven’t set up a home network yet or want to do more than the Ethernet setup allows.

“You had a lot of people who probably wouldn’t have gone out there and bought an access point and gone through all the trouble of figuring out how to set it up,” Barrett said. “Now you have SBC and these other guys offering integrated residential gateways with Wi-Fi. They walk you through the setup; there’s a number to call if you have any problems. That sounds like a good deal to a lot of people.”

Barrett said the move to Wi-Fi is especially significant as companies from Intel to Whirlpool are pushing media gadgets, appliances and other devices that require a connection to the Internet, a central PC or both.

“There’s been a lot of whiz-bang devices for the home, but the problem was, there wasn’t any kind of infrastructure in the home to get the Internet access where you need it,” he said. “If you’ve got a Wi-Fi network already installed, it becomes a lot easier to get people interested in those kind of devices.”