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HomePlug shares its vision

Oct 28, 20023 mins

Powerline Alliance’s next-generation specification defines future home networks.

Last week, the HomePlug Powerline Alliance unveiled HomePlug AV, the successor to HomePlug 1.0. With the announcement and upcoming second-generation HomePlug 1.0 products, the alliance is fast defining the future of home networks.

HomePlug AV is all about delivering home entertainment. It will be designed to support multistream video distribution to a variety of devices, including standard and High Definition TVs; DVD and CD players; high-resolution monitors; and set-top boxes. HomePlug AV will boast data rates of 100M bit/sec, enhanced quality of service and backward compatibility with HomePlug 1.0 gear.

In contrast, the current HomePlug 1.0 spec provides 14M bit/sec data rates, with actual performance coming in the 4M to 8M bit/sec bit/range (see “HomePlug units easy to use but slow” ). It includes rudimentary quality of service, whereby data types are organized into priority classes. For instance, data with a Level 1 priority would be assured necessary bandwidth over data in priority Level 2. However, if interference strikes, all four classes will be affected.

HomePlug AV will provide guaranteed bandwidth to multimedia applications.

Completion of the spec isn’t expected until fall 2004. Even so, in an interview at HomePlug’s third-annual member meeting last week in Napa, Calif., HomePlug President Tom Reed defended the announcement: “This is our roadmap; here’s where we’re going. We want to talk about it.” He added, rather than taking too long to develop a spec, oftentimes the bigger danger is bringing one to market prematurely. By the time HomePlug AV is completed, broadband service providers will be offering bandwidth-hungry entertainment services, and HDTV will have gained substantial market share.

The decision to name HomePlug AV and not HomePlug 2.0 is intended to shift the technology focus from PC networking to consumer electronics. Smart move, especially in light of the presentation Pete Griffin, Radio Shack’s director of corporate technology, gave on how vendors might get their products into the retail giant’s 7,000 stores.

“We don’t like the word ‘networking,’ and we don’t like the word ‘data,’ ” he said. “We do like products that are divorced from the PC and think there’s a huge market for products that have nothing to do with networking. Just get it from here to there.”

While HomePlug AV will speak Griffin’s language, in the meantime, the next wave of HomePlug 1.0 products is showing promise for PC and entertainment applications.

By year-end, we can expect to see the first HomePlug/802.11b access points- devices that let users extend their 802.11b wireless networks. Simply plug one of these devices into the wall plug and the two access points will communicate via power lines. We’ll also see significant design improvements. In place of the existing clunky paperback book adapters, new adapters from Asoka USA, GigaFast and others will use Cogency Semiconductor’s chip design, which allows for compact devices that plug directly into the power outlet. (Think air freshener.) Early next year, HomePlug expects the first integrated products to be available; speakers, CD and DVD players that have HomePlug built into their designs so they simply connect to the network when you plug them in.

Oh, and for diehards following the Consumer Electronics Association’s competing R7.3 power line specification: It’s dead. Word is, of the four companies involved in development, nSine has shuttered, Inari was bought by Thompson Multimedia, and iTran Communications’ and Adaptive Networks’ futures are unclear.