Powerline Networking Groups Connect Standards

Fast in-home networks over electrical wires got a boost on Friday as proponents of two rival technologies merged their approaches and said products already in the market will work together.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic) said they will present a joint proposal to the IEEE P1901 Work Group for Broadband over Powerline, which is trying to come up with a global standard. Their proposal could support both Panasonic's HD-PLC and the HomePlug AV specification, so future products would be interoperable with existing gear that uses either one, said Oleg Logvinov, chief strategy officer of HomePlug. The group's latest in-home technology, called HomePlug AV, can deliver more than 30M bps (bits per second) of throughput from most sockets in a home, he said. A HomePlug adapter about the size of a cigarette pack can plug into a socket and provide Ethernet or another type of standard connection on the other side.

Using wall sockets and home wires is one of several competing methods for connecting PCs and consumer electronics at high speeds. This is expected to be critical for sharing entertainment content around a home after many people start watching high-definition TV and downloadable movies over fiber carrier networks. Phone lines, coaxial TV cable and improved wireless LANs are also vying for dominance, and the market is still wide open, according to Parks Associates analyst Kurt Scherf.

Powerline networking is also being promoted for broadband itself, where it has gained little traction against DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable. The P1901 standard would cover both. HomePlug BPL, designed for this use, can work together with HomePlug AV, Logvinov said.

The partnership between Panasonic and HomePlug should create a consensus broad enough to reach agreement on a proposal in the P1901 working group by the end of this year, Logvinov said.

Friday's move surprised Scherf, who called it good news. Panasonic and HomePlug had been at loggerheads for some time, and their feud may well have delayed the IEEE standard, he said. They face still another entity, the Universal Powerline Association (UPA), that has won converts from some service providers and vendors, Scherf said. UPA probably doesn't have enough backing in the P1901 group to hold up agreement on a standard, HomePlug's Logvinov believes.

The alphabet soup of different standards shouldn't panic consumers at this point, Scherf said. Most products today are adapters rather than expensive, long-term investments. A single standard will matter more when network connections are built in to big-ticket items such as TVs, he said.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance was formed in 2000 and counts some of the biggest names in IT among its members, including Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Motorola Inc. and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. It claims more than 10 million HomePlug products have shipped worldwide.

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