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Why AT&T Likes HomePNA

Craig Matsumoto
2/28/2007
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- IPTV 2007 -- While coaxial cable would be the best medium for a home network, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is happy with using the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA) specification as part of its U-verse IPTV service, AT&T Labs executive Vernon Reed said at the IPTV 2007 conference yesterday.

Reed, sans guitar, gave a presentation explaining the carrier's priorities for home networking, and how those led to the choice of HomePNA, announced in August. (See AT&T: Hold the MoCA.)

The choice was interesting given that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) had placed an early bet on Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) , a standard for networking over coax. (See Entropic, Verizon Serve Up MOCA.)

Coax is the best option for home networks, Reed said. It's shielded and unregulated, meaning just about any radio frequency (RF) signal can be sent on the cables without causing or receiving interference.

But AT&T wanted to apply one technology to all homes. "If you go into multidwelling facilities or apartment buildings, you don't always have access to coax," he said.

So AT&T sought a technology that would work on twisted-pair copper, and that ruled out MOCA. Reed said MOCA uses so much RF spectrum that it can't be run on twisted-pair -- at least, not without upsetting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) .

That made HomePNA a likely choice, but the kicker was the suite of diagnostic tools HomePNA was able to offer. AT&T can pinpoint the exact locations of interference or signal loss within a home, Reed said.

And while Reed didn't mention it, HomePNA 3.1 also happens to have the approval of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) , as the standards body announced yesterday. (See ITU Approves Home Standard.)

It all comes down to the idea of IPTV as a managed service, or an "assured" service, as Reed put it. Because IPTV targets a mainstream crowd, as opposed to early adopters who want to build home networks, AT&T and other carriers are starting to treat home networks as parts of their own networks. (See RBOCs Want Inside Your House.)

"We have to be very careful about selecting technologies that map themselves well into this assured services network," Reed said.

That's why Reed gives the thumbs-down to 802.11n wireless LANs as an option for U-verse. Wireless networks are subject to interference from uncontrollable sources, such as a neighbor's wireless network, Reed said. That unpredictability could translate into more service calls and more trips for technicians out to customers' homes -- the kinds of things any carrier is hoping to avoid.

"The feeling in the labs is, any wireless technology for moving video would have to be treated as an adjunct to the primary service. Dedicated wires are, for an 'assured service,' the mechanism of choice for the home network."

Still, AT&T evaluates every HomePNA competitor it's aware of, even the wireless ones, and Reed said he's also open to the idea of wannabe universal standards from the Digital Living Network Alliance, the Home Gateway Initiative (HGI) , and the ITU's G.HN effort. But any home-networking standard AT&T accepts would have to match the diagnostic capabilities of HomePNA, he said.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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Pete Baldwin
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Pete Baldwin,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:13:39 PM
re: Why AT&T Likes HomePNA
Question: How would you feel about a carrier "owning" your home network?
rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:13:38 PM
re: Why AT&T Likes HomePNA
Question: How would you feel about a carrier "owning" your home network?

Answer: My home network runs at gigabit rates. It also supports wireless. Handing it over to the phone companies so they can try to retrofit QoS, artificially impose billable events, and try to extort money from content producers by filtering traffic is pretty low on my list of things to do.

Also, I believe the average US household has four TVs. Most don't have twisted pairs wired to them. So it's a pipe dream to think anybody will rewire their house with twisted pair to get telco tv (whatever that is).

Seems better for the phone companies to figure out a way to sell the local loops and peering points to customers. Maybe that will drive investment into modern communications infrastructures.
RTL Rules
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RTL Rules,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:13:32 PM
re: Why AT&T Likes HomePNA
All I got from the article was that AT&T plans to roll out a home networking product based on HPNA as part of their IPTV product line.

I read nothing about whether this affects how they deliver video content.

Am I missing something?

RTL
rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:13:23 PM
re: Why AT&T Likes HomePNA
As for the operators 'owning' the home network. I don't think they can legally own it. It's a matter of managing it and most customers - as opposed to real geeks - will welcome that.

The phone company today can't manage the indoor sometimes twisted, sometimes not, pair copper wiring used exclusively for analog voice. A converged network of wireless, coax, powerline, CAT X, and copper pair is going to be even harder and more expensive. I think that's why the AT&T representative is pushing for HomePNA over twisted pair copper.

I think of it like my plumbing or electricital wiring. If I have a problem that I can't solve myself I pay a trades person, usually a minimum of $100, to come to the house and fix it. I suspect in-home networks will be similar. But in the short term, most people can figure out wireless which has more than enough bandwidth for shared internet access over DSL.
rs50terra
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rs50terra,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:13:23 PM
re: Why AT&T Likes HomePNA
I think the article omits mentioning that HPNA3 works on both cable and twisted pair. As such, it can be used to deliver video to TV sets using the home coax and the phone lines to deliver data to the PCs. In fact, being able to work on both coax and twisted pairs gets closer to a universal solution that reaches most places at home.

As a matter of fact, the only media that is guaranteed to reach every wireline device at home is the power line. After all, all TV sets and most PCs are connected to the power.

It would have been interesting if the article mentioned the third technology suggested for a home network: Powerline.

As for the operators 'owning' the home network. I don't think they can legally own it. It's a matter of managing it and most customers - as opposed to real geeks - will welcome that. If they can also manage Microsoft, the more power to ATT and VZ.
paolo.franzoi
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paolo.franzoi,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 3:13:22 PM
re: Why AT&T Likes HomePNA

Part of the reason Home Plug is not used is that the 100Mb/s version never really came to fruition. HPNA3, while available on twisted pair, probably is not a generally deployable technology on twisted pair. There are plenty of homes that this technology would fail on. Coax is a much more reliable mechanism for 100 Mb/s in-home distribution.

seven
rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:13:17 PM
re: Why AT&T Likes HomePNA
Part of the reason Home Plug is not used is that the 100Mb/s version never really came to fruition.

Seven, there was (is?) no pressing need for 100Mbs home networks, particularly when internet access is capped by DSL/Cable MODEM bandwidths.

(Home control/automation uses the house electrical wiring but X10 has proven to be good enough.)

HPNA3, while available on twisted pair, probably is not a generally deployable technology on twisted pair. There are plenty of homes that this technology would fail on.

Paul Allen funded a startup during the boom times that promised 100Mbs over existing in home copper wiring. They found that in real world deployment that the in home phone wiring sucked such that one had to rewire the house anyway. (At the time HPNA was getting about 2Mbs.)

Coax is a much more reliable mechanism for 100 Mb/s in-home distribution.

I think the challenge is to find a reason for room/room 100Mbs. Shared printers, shared internet access, music and photos work fine over 802.11x. Video is either done by moving a DVD from room to room or connected to a DBS/COAX walled garden (read piracy controlled which media companies like). And few people setup backup servers in their homes.

So in my opinion home networks as well as the optical industry are both gated by our substandard access networks. Just the other end of the same problem.
praxis7
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praxis7,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:13:14 PM
re: Why AT&T Likes HomePNA
The issues with telephone wiring have been mentioned, but coax is no slam dunk. Just because it's there doesn't mean HPNA will work properly on it. An installer will have to assess the wiring plant: splitters, topology, connectors, cable quality, etc. and fix any anomalies. Then, as soon as the installation is complete, the homeowner is then free to make inadvertent changes in the coax and/or phone wiring plant and screw everything up. HPNA would not work right out of the box in my home due to the creative and artistic manner in which the previous owner modified the coax and telephone wiring. I suspect my home is not the only one.
rjmcmahon
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rjmcmahon,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:13:12 PM
re: Why AT&T Likes HomePNA
rj, Your cable and sattelite deliver more than 100Mb/s for video today. It is distributed in the home using coax.

Seven, that's the point. 100Mbs home networks aren't really needed so anybody selling a room/room 100Mbs network doesn't have much market demand. This will remain the case for as long as the broadbadnd access networks are controlled by the cable and phone companies because as it's not in their interest to upgrade the broadband access infrastructures to speeds beyond today's paltry levels.
paolo.franzoi
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paolo.franzoi,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 3:13:12 PM
re: Why AT&T Likes HomePNA

Praxis, I agree with your comments with the exception that HPNA3, working at the low frequency end of the spectrum is not as likely to have issues as MOCA does.

rj, Your cable and sattelite deliver more than 100Mb/s for video today. It is distributed in the home using coax.

seven
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