Powerline Networking with the Western Digital Livewireby Ganesh T S on August 24, 2010 7:50 AM EST
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.