G.hn Home Network Standard Progresses

While the ITU marked off another milestone for its G.hn standard for home networking last week, the specification may now face a greater challenge going up against existing technologies.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) intends G.hn to be a universal standard for wired home connectivity, covering in-home powerline, phone line and coaxial infrastructure. The standard will allow for speeds as high as 1G bps (bit per second), according to the organization, which is affiliated with the United Nations.

As telecommunications carriers and cable operators expand their data and entertainment offerings, they want to provide ways for consumers to enjoy those services around their homes. Wi-Fi is expected to continue as the main way to wirelessly surf the Internet on PCs, but various wired technologies remain in the mix for rich content such as high-definition TV streams.

A single standard for all three types of wires could allow consumer electronics manufacturers to build just one home networking chip into their products instead of three, cutting their costs. In addition, a universal standard could simplify the installation of connected consumer electronics devices for carriers or consumers.

On Oct. 9, the ITU-T Study Group 15 approved the physical layer and architectural components of G.hn. The data link layer still needs approval, which the ITU said it expects in May 2010. The HomeGrid Forum, formed to promote G.hn, said late last year it expected products on the market in 2010, a forecast the ITU repeated in a press release on Thursday.

But the planned universal specification may run into growing competition from purveyors of current home networking technologies, such as HomePNA, that already have a foothold in service provider deployments.

Last December, after the ITU's G.hn study group consented to physical-layer and architectural proposals for the standard, the Multimedia Over Coax Alliance (MoCA) and the HomePlug Powerline Alliance took the ITU to task for creating what they called a new standard without backward compatibility to products already in consumers' hands. At that time, the head of the HomeGrid Forum, Matt Theall of Intel, said the ITU study group would make sure its standard coexisted with all earlier systems.

Recent conversations with European service providers have convinced Parks Associates analyst Kurt Scherf that HomePlug has strong backing from that industry, which is the most important channel for wired home network gear today.

"I do not think that the G.hn effort will fully succeed until they take into account HomePlug and build in some compatibility with it," Scherf said.

G.hn may also face a rival at its own game. On Wednesday, two major vendors of powerline and coaxial networking chips announced they are joining forces to co-develop products that combine HomePlug and MoCA They plan to demonstrate video streaming "seamlessly" between MoCA and HomePlug networks at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas early next year.

"Aligning the capabilities of Entropic's MoCA and Intellon's HPAV (HomePlug AV) solutions will ensure continued compatibility with tens of millions of devices already deployed by service providers and consumers around the world," the companies said in a press release on Wednesday. They claimed there are more than 55 million MoCA and HomePlug products deployed worldwide.

The combined MoCA-HomePlug technology will also provide a path to future specifications, MoCA 2.0 and HPAV2, that should allow physical-layer speeds above 1G bps, the companies said.

The HomeGrid Forum's board includes Panasonic, and chip makers Infineon and CopperGate. This year it has added two prominent companies to its board: carrier BT and U.S. consumer electronics retailer Best Buy. Texas Instruments has left the organization, possibly because of recent changes in that company's overall direction, though TI said in a statement that it supports the HomeGrid initiative even though it can't participate at this time.

The HomeGrid Forum couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

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