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IEEE to Blend MoCA, Powerline & Wi-Fi

Jeff Baumgartner
1/11/2011
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The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) has launched a new standards initiative that aims to create an "abstraction layer" to manage home networks that use myriad physical layers, including Wi-Fi, powerline, Ethernet and the 1.1 version of Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) .

The effort is designated as P1905.1 and currently labeled as a draft standard for a "Convergent Digital Home Network for Heterogeneous Technologies." The initial working group meeting was held last month in France. Orange (NYSE: FTE) is chairing the initiative.

At a high level, the budding standard looks in part to be an answer to G.hn, an emerging International Telecommunication Union (ITU) standard that supports powerline, phoneline and coax. The IEEE effort doesn't cover phoneline technology, but could trump it on the wireless end by managing WiFi, too. (See G.hn Chips Away at Product Promises , Marvell Buys Into G.hn and Broadband Forum Gives Nod to G.hn.)

Regardless, it's definitely an admission that one home-networking technology won't rule them all, and that the connected home of the future will require a platform with built-in QoS capabilities that can automatically switch to a different physical layer if one is degrading -- a feature that would come in especially handy when video is being shuttled around to different devices hanging off the home net.

"The purpose of the standard is to facilitate the integration of 1901 [Broadband over Powerline Networks] with other home networking technologies," is how the IEEE briefly explains the aim of 1905.

Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) was evangelizing the budding standard at last week's International CES show in Las Vegas. Broadcom, along with Entropic Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ENTR), is a key supplier of MoCA silicon, but is also ramping up its powerline efforts after recently buying Gigle Semiconductor and joining the HomePlug Powerline Alliance board last week. (See Broadcom Gets the Gigle.)

The IEEE doesn't provide much info about how it will manage those home net technologies, but Andy Melder, who handles powerline marketing at Broadcom, says the standards work will result in a "meshing fabric" that will allow the aggregation of wireless and wired streams on the home network. If one type of connection starts to degrade, such as Wi-Fi, the standard will create a way for the home-networking device to automatically switch over or combine it with a second stream using an existing MoCA, powerline or Ethernet connection.

The intent is to give service providers a more stable, hybrid approach to whole-home network DVRs and other types of content-sharing apps.

"For the operator, it's about whole-home coverage... with 100 percent assurance," said Michael Wilson, a former Gigle exec who now serves as a senior marketing manager of Broadcom. That could be a boon for service providers that have already hitched their wagons to MoCA but may not make the leap to G.hn -- a group that includes Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC).

He's hopeful that the developing 1905 standard will base its switching fabric based on a dual channel technology developed at Gigle.

Although Broadcom wants 1905 to succeed, it's trying to remain agnostic and not pick sides. "If a [G.hn] standard emerges, we're willing to move forward on it," Broadcom's Melder says.

Others in the coax and powerline game were also generally supportive of the effort. "We're not a member yet, but I'd be surprised if it would remain that way," said HomePlug president Rob Ranck at CES.

1905 is being "well received by MoCA," Organization Marketing Chairman Rob Gelphman added this week.

MoCA and HomePlug move on
Still, the new IEEE standard is getting under way as MoCA and HomePlug move ahead on their next-gen technologies.

MoCA 2.0, for example, is promising 400 Mbit/s of net throughput versus 1.1's 150 Mbit/s. The channel-bonded, "enhanced" version of 2.0 will hit 800 Mbit/s. At last week's show, Entropic demonstrated MoCA 2.0 producing a 500 Mbit/s point-to-point link. (See MoCA Is Go for 2.0.)

Entropic VP of Technology Anton Monk said his company expects to start sampling MoCA 2.0 chips in the first half of 2011, with production getting underway in "early 2012."

Meanwhile, Ranck says the v2 version of HomePlug A/V should be completed by this May and offer net throughputs in the range of 200 Mbit/s to 500 Mbit/s, versus 40 Mbit/s to 90 Mbit/s for the existing version.

MoCA 1.0 and 1.1 and HomePlug A/V are designed to interoperate with their respective new, faster versions.

As for 1905, IEEE did not immediately respond to questions on when it expects the standard to be done. Since the process is still in the early going, no one else contacted by Light Reading Cable was willing to speculate on the timing.

However, the 1905 working group has scheduled four meetings for this year, with the next one slated for April 5-7 in Vienna.

Update: Project chair Paul Houze responded by e-mail Wednesday (January 12) to note that there's no official timeline for a P1905.1 standard, but that "having a stable draft within one year would be great, and is an ambitious target."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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