The HomePlug consortium has been around since 2000. It is made up of a number of companies which develop products intending to network the home using the already existing electrical wiring infrastructure. The consortium's technology has been adopted as the baseline for the IEEE P1901 standard due for ratification next month. In this section, we will not talk about standards such as MoCA (Multimedia-over-Coax) and HomePNA which are alternatives to powerline networking for a connected home. The focus will be on standards which aim to compete with the HomePlug base requirements.

Gigle Semiconductors (now, Gigle Networks) was the first to introduce a Gigabit powerline networking chipset by adding proprietary extensions to the base HomePlug AV standards (which correspond to the 200 Mbps PHY). The only product using this chip in the US market is Belkin's GIgabit Powerline Network Adapter Kit, reviewed in detail here. As can be seen, there is an increase in the available bandwidth. However, this increase in performance is not uniform or reliable enough across various locations in the house. The situation with the proprietary extensions to the base standards is such that Gigle Networks is now advertising (PDF link) design wins for their 200 Mbps PHY chipset. Unless Gigle's proprietary extensions become part of the HomePlug / IEEE P1901 standards, it looks likely that we will not be finding many Gigabit powerline adapters in the near future.


The main competitor for the IEEE P1901 standard comes from the ITU. The G.hn standard promoted by the HomeGrid Forum, and also pushed by the ITU, aims to propose a single standard for networking over electrical wires, phone lines and coax cables. While the Wikipedia article suggests that the G.hn standard can network at rates upto 1 Gbps, a detailed perusal reveals that the June 2010 sitting of the ITU committee had decided to reduce the baseband operational spectrum. This further strengthens the criticism of the G.hn standard mentioned towards the end of the article. That said, it would be interesting to see whether Marvell puts its weight behind G.hn, now that it has purchased one of the four initial G.hn silicon vendors, namely, DS2. There are other big companies introducing G.hn silicon too, such as Sigma Designs. However, the fact that there is no proper G.hn standard yet, coupled with the issue of lack of demonstrated silicon, doesn't bode well for the technology.

Having setup the required background for powerline networking products, we now proceed to review the WD Livewire.

Introduction Unboxing & Setup Impressions
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  • BubbaJoe TBoneMalone - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    I use a USB stick to transfer video content from from my computer to my HD TV via the WD TV Live HD Media Player. I love this but will wait for the upcoming Atheros AR7400 chipset and its testing of 1080p content at AnandTech. :) Reply
  • glugglug - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    Installing ethernet wiring is much cheaper than this, particularly when for the lengths you will want to run it through the home, likely going through walls, you will end up making your own cables.

    I bought 500ft of CAT5e, along with a bag of end connectors and a crimping tool all together for $35 off e-bay. It was not difficult to find the pin-outs needed online and crimp my own cables.

    I needed the performance and reliability of wired ethernet rather than wired because I am using it with Media Center Extenders to stream TV throughout the apartment.

    In applications like this that require good performance and have more than 2 nodes, powerline networking is not a fit because it acts like a hub rather than a switch - so there will be network collisions - and yet it costs more. If you don't need the peformance, wireless is more convenient. So that basically leaves no situations in which powerline networking is the correct solution.
    Reply
  • dijuremo - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    You are missing the point that not everyone want/can run cat5/cat6 on their homes. Not everyone has the expertise or time to go through sheet rock, fish cables, etc, specially if you are going between floors in a 2 or more story home. The product is aimed to those people, not the tech savy guy who is not afraid of cutting sheet rock, pulling wire and crimping it.

    For a regular person, it would be easy to plug the device to the power lines in two locations and that is it, they are done, no sheet rock cutting and patching, dealing with fiber insulation, fishing wire, etc. Is it the best way? No, Is it the easiest way? Yes.
    Reply
  • mmatis - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 - link

    Or what about anyone who is renting their home? Do you think the owner is gonna want them pulling cable? Not that ANYONE is renting these days with the outstanding real estate market that we are currently in... Reply
  • BPB - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    What about a home built in the late 60's or earlier that is two stories high? One not built with the intent of being re-wired, so there are many obstacles. It's for reasons like this that people consider "wireless" options. I'd love to wire my place with ethernet cable, but it just isn't worth the hassle. Reply
  • Dravic - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    Time was a factor for myself...

    I have plenty of CAT cable for the job, and have built many cables in my time as a network admin. With a full time job, 3 kids, and learning android programming.. I neither had the time or will to patch and paint after running cables in my home. An contractors tend to do a crappy job, or a "good enough" job.

    I have 2 netgear powerline 200Mbps adapters connecting my main floor with my office upstairs (delivers all 25/25 of my FIOS easily). I attempted a 3rd adapter in the basement with the 360, HD tv, and slingbox but with too many serial power drops i couldnt get a reliable signal. So i went with a pair of netgear MOCA land bridges from the basement to the main floor over coax.

    After years of dealing with crappy Wireless WDS solutions(speed halved, only WEP in wds, resets) , the Powerline adapters and MoCA bridges have given man "wired" conenctions from the 2nd floor to the basement. Now i can stream my sling box at its highest setting, and im wire speed for 360 (games and netflix).

    ~$300 (powerline kit and moca bridge kit), so its a bit pricey, but its done, works, and i didn't have to patch and paint any more then i already do with a wife and 3 kids...

    Reply
  • knight511 - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    It is easy to fail to see the benefits of powerline networking when you live in an apartment. Once you are in a house and you are trying to set up your entertainment system and your network, you will look at 500ft of cat 5 and think "Isn't that cute." Powerline networking has been of interest to me (and I am sure I am not the only one) because my entertainment system in my living room is on an exterior wall of the house. It is much more difficult to run ethernet cable to an exterior wall (especially in a room with a vaulted ceiling which limits the crawl space in the attic) unless you are okay with the eye sore of cable being run down the outside wall of your house. I have gone through great lengths to have only a single cable (RG6 for my cable) on the exterior of my house (and I am talking a run of less than 15 feet as it exits the attic at the soffit and runs down and through the wall to the TV location)... the last thing I want is a bunch of cat-5 run around the exterior of my house.

    Unfortunately, this product doesn't look like the answer I was searching for either... it looks like a day or so in the attic getting the cat-5 dropped "close enough" to the entertainment center still lays in my future. :-)
    Reply
  • chromatix - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    ...amateur radio operators nearby may wind up being interfered with - where "nearby" could be miles away. They don't like that, and the more proactive ones might track down your house as the source of it and put a polite note through the door telling you about it.

    The problem is quite fundamental - in order to get that kind of data bandwidth through a wire, it is necessary to use a lot of signal bandwidth - and that means you are sending high-frequency wide-bandwidth signals through wires designed to carry only 50Hz. These wires then radiate a lot of this energy into the surroundings, and despite notches having been cut in the spectrum for this purpose, some of that energy is in the bands that radio operators are trying to listen for weak signals on.

    Ethernet, being made of twisted pairs, is designed to not radiate the signals transmitted through it. This is also why Cat6, with more twists in it, is preferred for GigE.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    chromatix,

    Do you have any documented cases of this happening? I believe the HomePlug AV standards make sure that the operating frequency bands do not interfere with spectrum already in use.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • chromatix - Tuesday, August 24, 2010 - link

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_line_communicat...

    "The British communications regulator Ofcom has investigated a number of PLT-related complaints but nearly 20% of these remain unresolved.[13] Ofcom maintains that "there does not at present appear to be significant public harm arising from this situation." [14] Since publishing this statement, Ofcom was presented with evidence by the RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain) that PLT is causing significant disruption to Amateur Radio and Shortwave broadcast resulting in Ofcom commissioning a report into the interference being caused by the technology. [15]"

    Feel free to follow up the references. It's mostly talking about long-distance BPL (Broadband over Power Lines), but the home-network stuff is fundamentally similar - and there's nothing in your home wiring to prevent these signals from extending some distance into the wider grid. They would probably be stopped at the nearest step-down or balancing transformer.
    Reply

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