CES 2011 was quite exciting from the perspective of the powerline networking industry. G.hn silicon finally emerged from vaporware territory, and the initial demonstrations look promising. Of course, end products based on this silicon are probably 12 - 18 months away, but the threat for HomePlug is much more credible than what it was a year back. The absence of new silicon from the HomePlug vendors, as well as the distraction from IEEE P1905 will give a chance for the G.hn silicon vendors to catch up.

Though we didn't get a chance to look at Lantiq's offerings in the G.hn space, a look at their product brief [ PDF Link ] indicates that they are looking at their G.hn chip to enable hybrid platforms (extenders and multiple networking technologies in one product). The specs of the silicon from both Lantiq and Sigma Designs look similar. The backward compatibility with HomePNA and HomePlug AV/IEEE P1901 gives the Sigma silicon the theoretical edge.

It is the end consumer experience and improvements from proprietary algorithms such as ClearPath which will decide the winner in the G.hn silicon race. There are also a number of issues for G.hn itself to overcome in its fight against HomePlug. Interoperability with the already large installed base of HomePlug would be good, but this needs to be done without performance loss. It is good to see Sigma Designs taking the cue here and providing support for interoperability, but this should not be proprietary (as other G.hn silicon vendors don't want to implement this). There is still a lot of work left to be done in terms of software maturity and making the products carrier-grade. Controlling end product costs in the price sensitive retail consumer market will also be a challenge.

All said, we can't wait for G.hn products to hit consumers and the HomePlug forum to pull up their socks to counter the competition. It is an exciting time ahead for the powerline networking industry.

Atheros Smart Link Technology and Hybrid Networking Initiatives


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  • wolrah - Thursday, February 3, 2011 - link

    Sorry bud, but you're completely wrong. Look up the G.hn specs yourself. Depending on the region, on power lines it'll use anywhere from 1-200MHz. The power lines in your house are in general unshielded, making them effectively an enormous (though not particularly well optimized of course) antenna. The frequencies in use overlap with numerous radio bands, including a number of amateur bands, CB, commercial AM/FM, and commercial/government SW/MW/LW. I don't believe most public safety spectrum at least here in the US is that low down, but there probably is some. Particularly in amateur HF and SW/MW/LW being able to receive weak distant signals is important, so any interference on those bands is an annoyance to area users.

    I'm not sure why you bring up cordless phones. BPL and power-line networking don't come anywhere close to those, so there's no reason to think it passing the "teenage girl test" means anything at all (900MHz, 1.8GHz, 2.4GHz, and 5.8GHz are the four cordless phone frequencies seen in the US).

    Again it will not interfere with any unlicensed radio services I'm aware of other than CB, but you're putting a fat signal in to a huge antenna right in the middle of a lot of licensed spectrum. The area of effect isn't huge, but as an amateur operator if you were my neighbor and you were broadcasting anything on the HF bands I'd offer to help fix it if possible, but if it couldn't be told to not operate in certain ranges it's turning off or you're getting an FCC complaint for broadcasting without a license and interfering with licensed users.
  • derkurt - Sunday, February 6, 2011 - link

    I don't know exactly about the new G.hn devices, but a HomePlug AV2 500 Mbit/s device uses a spectrum from 2-68 Mhz. The standard employs these frequency filters (source: German wikipedia):

    * f ≤ 1,71 – AM Broadcast and below
    * 1,71 < f < 1,8 – between AM and 160 meters band
    * 1,8 ≤ f ≤ 2,0 – 160 meters amateur band
    * 3,5 ≤ f ≤ 4,0 – 80 meters amateur band
    * 5,33 ≤ f ≤ 5,407 – 5 MHz amateur band
    * 7,0 ≤ f ≤ 7,3 – 40 meters amateur band
    * 10,10 ≤ f ≤ 10,15 – 30 meters amateur band
    * 14,0 ≤ f ≤ 14,35 – 20 meter amateur band
    * 18,068 ≤ f ≤ 18,168 – 17 meter amateur band
    * 21,0 ≤ f ≤ 21,45 – 15 meter amateur band
    * 24,89 ≤ f ≤ 24,99 – 12 meter amateur band
    * f >= 28,0 – 10 meter amateur band

    In Germany, you are allowed to use Powerline devices as long as they don't interfere with other HF applications in your neighborhood. If they do, the Bundesnetzagentur (German FCC) can be called, which may request removal of the source of interference.

    So far, I haven't heard of a single case where a radio amateur successfully requested removal of a HomePlug device. Keep in mind that the amateurs are likely to be the only ones which might be disturbed by PLC at 2-68 Mhz. In fact, as far as I know, the filters mentioned above cover all frequencies where a radio amateur is legally allowed to operate within the 2-68 Mhz range. Also, although PLC is admittedly turning the power wiring into an antenna, the signal strength remains small compared to other in-house HF applications, such as Wi-Fi.

    In theory, PLC is a "dirty" solution and looks like it would be bound to cause problems. In reality, devices such as mobile phones, babyphones (which also use the power lines), and even WLAN are far more likely to annoy your neighbor.
  • davmat787 - Sunday, February 6, 2011 - link

    Excellent post sir. Just the kind of complete and detailed post one would expect from a German. :) Reply
  • HoosierEngineer5 - Thursday, February 3, 2011 - link

    Do any of these technologies replace the X-10 modules, or are they simply replicate Ethernet? It would be great if these could actually DO something other than pass data... Reply
  • andrewmc - Thursday, February 3, 2011 - link

    Very nice. So when do I get my Homeplug Green PHY silicon. Reply
  • aahjnnot - Friday, February 4, 2011 - link

    Powerline networking is relatively successful in Europe and Asia compared with North America because our housing stock is very different from yours. WiFi isn't a good solution in areas of very dense population, as interference from neighbouring networks can kill throughput. Traditional European housing stock with thick internal walls made of brick or stone kills WiFi, and the long, narrow shape of traditional British terraces mean that Wifi users can often have several neighouring networks that are closer than their own access point. And retro-fitting Ethernet into a property with traditionally plastered walls, stone floors and no wall voids needs either visible cabling or significant redecoration.

    By contrast, the traditional American wood-built detached property sitting in its own spacious yard is perfect for WiFi.
  • ragincajun84 - Wednesday, February 9, 2011 - link

    Is this a paid article? It reads like an ad for Sigma and G.hn. It barely mentions the other silicon players yet raves about Sigma demos and slideware. Sigma has not brought a single powerline product to market and G.hn has been hyped for 5 years and still has no products on the market. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, February 10, 2011 - link

    I believe I have pointed out enough places where G.hn is yet to catch up or will have potential problems.

    I wrote the article after seeing Sigma's demonstrations both at their HQ in CA as well as their demo at CES. It really works in the demo situation / lab. Any new company will have teething trouble, trying to get into the market and convince customers. That doesn't mean the technology is not good. Yes, G.hn will have to present a really valid case to the concerned people to shift from HomePlug because HomePlug is very well established and mature.

    At CES, after seeing what Atheros and Sigma had to offer, I believe Sigma has taken bigger strides and that is why 75% of the article is focused on them. (They have taken bigger strides because G.hn hasn't seen mature silicon yet). This article wasn't meant to be a coverage of the PLC industry as a whole.

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