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Home networks going back to wires?

As wireless home networks struggle against an ever growing tide of multimedia content, consumers may end up going back to wires to shift their digital media from room to room. But rather than undertaking an unsightly cabling rollout, consumers already have an untapped high speed home network available in the form of powerlines.

At the Net-at Home annual conference in Cannes, France, last week, it became clear that high-speed powerline communications (PLC) technology is emerging as a potential platform for networking the home.

Last month, telecoms.com revealed the shortcomings of wifi when streaming audio and video between rooms and highlighted the need for technologies such as that developed by Ruckus Wireless to stabilise the wifi experience.

But in order to provide adequate coverage around the whole house, analysts believe that consumers will adopt a mixture of fixed and wireless platforms to get the job done.

Lance Watson, strategic marketing manager of Spanish vendor DS2, which develops PLC chip technology, said that the powerline network technology can deliver peak speeds of 200Mbps with a typical throughput of between 40 to 60Mbps, putting it in line with 802.11g wifi’s peak speeds.

Based on Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA), the PLC technology also utilises a quality of service mechanism which allows it to stream audio and video content without dropping the stream.

“IPTV is driving the home networking trend,” said Watson, “consumers will want multiple HD channels going around the home.

“Originally, nobody thought about home media networking,” he said. “Wifi was a solution to the problem of facilitating access to data and the internet, but the public is just discovering the problem with media.”

To create a powerline network, customers connect their internet gateway into an adapter that is plugged into any electrical outlet. Computers or other devices plugged into other adapters around the house can then access the internet or share data over the electrical wiring. Eventually it is anticipated that the technology will be integrated with devices such as broadband modems and set top boxes. France Telecom already does this in some products, while BT is testing the technology.

But even Watson acknowledges that PLC technology is not a silver bullet for all home networking woes. “PLC is complementary to wireless,” he said.

Mike Philpott, analyst with Ovum, agrees. “It is likely that consumers will adopt a hybrid of technologies,” Philpott told telecoms.com. “As with wifi, PLC is not designed for every home. Where wifi has problems with distance and walls, PLC technology is also affected by the distance between devices and is also susceptible to noise, which can in fact affect the broadband signal.”

Philpott believes that as home networking takes off, users are likely to adopt PLC or a similar technology for the backbone of their home network, supported by wifi for a selection of devices.

In the US, where it is not uncommon for houses to have coaxial cabling or some such running throughout, the retail market is the driving force for home networking technologies. But in Europe, it will be the operators which adopt platforms such as Ruckus Wireless’ technology and PLC into their arsenal for delivering multi-play services into the home.


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