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A Step Forward Creates Powerline Networking Opportunities

According to Atheros Communications, IEEE’s P1901 powerline networking draft standard is on schedule to be ratified early this fall. Semico believes that this will spur a high growth phase for powerline networking.

A powerline network makes a lot of sense. It uses the electrical wiring in a home to connect PCs, home entertainment systems, TVs and other electrical or CE devices. The wiring is already there. There is no need to thread expensive new wiring through the walls or attic of a home. Connections are available wherever there is an electrical outlet, and it’s as easy as plugging a module into the outlet. Connections are easy, truly plug and play. So why isn’t it more pervasive?

One obstacle has been the lack of a widely accepted powerline networking standard issued by an internationally recognized organization. The first powerline networking standards were for home automation and did not have enough bandwidth for multimedia. Others that followed did have the bandwidth; but, as usual in the electronics industry, groups of companies established separate standards to vie for market share for their products. The most widely used standard has been HomePlug AV, issued by HomePlug, an alliance of networking industry leaders. More than 40 million HomePlug AV devices have shipped worldwide.

IEEE P1901 uses HomePlug AV as the baseline technology. It allows the powerline networking market to unite around a single standard while retaining interoperability with the HomePlug AV-based products already on the market. As Atheros’ CTO Bill McFarland says, “…this assurance of interoperability of products produced worldwide will pave the way for greater customer and end-user confidence, resulting in wider adoption of this valuable technology.”

HomePlug AV2 and Green Phy specifications, now in development, will be interoperable with HomePlug AV/IEEE1901 to provide a complete ecosystem of interoperable solutions from low-power smart-grid through next-generation home networking.

Semico believes that powerline networking compliments wireless LANs based on 802.11, and will not detract from those applications. Powerline networking will make it easy to connect fixed devices to create multimedia LANs or smart power grid augmentations. Wireless LANs will continue to connect mobile devices, both within a home or business and while traveling. Powerline and wireless networking offer huge growth opportunities as new computing and CE devices that can benefit from being part of the home network are developed .

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