Home networking wars heat up as HomePlug claims major gains in Europe

The gloves have come off in the fight between coaxial cable and electrical wiring to become the dominant wireline standard for home networking as rates of deployment increase. The respective standards bodies have become increasingly strident, with the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) highlighting its dominance in the United States, while the HomePlug Powerline Alliance has just cited three recent reports indicating strong growth in Europe where relatively few homes are cabled with coax anyway.

The two groups do at least agree over two points. First, some form of wired backbone will be needed for the immediate future because WiFi cannot guarantee QoS across multiroom networks. And second, there is little enthusiasm to install new wires in the home. For this reason, Ethernet has failed to catch on except in new buildings, given resistance among both home owners and operators to install the required Cat 5 cabling.

Meanwhile, there has been growing interest in home networking generated by the proliferation of networkable digital devices in the home, such as tablets, set-top boxes, HDTVs, smartphones and Web-enabled media players, which has propelled non-Ethernet home networking node shipments past 40 million units in 2010, according to In-Stat in the first of the reports highlighted by HomePlug.

In-Stat has found that HomePlug accounted for the highest number of nodes shipped worldwide in 2010, but MoCA experienced the greatest compound annual growth rate of 46 percent from 2007 to 2010. In-Stat predicts that in the next four years, HomePlug will dominate router/gateway home networking units, but MoCA will prevail by a similar margin for set-top boxes.

The second report, the home networking devices market forecast from Infonetics Research, identified IPTV deployment as a primary driver of HomePlug adoption. The forecast pointed out that high IPTV penetration had led Europe to become the world’s leading market for HomePlug adapters, because telcos tended to offer HomePlug kits in association with either IP set-top boxes or residential gateways when installing IPTV. The forecast also indicated this is happening in China, where IPTV is spreading rapidly in urban areas with some analysts expecting the country to overtake the United States in terms of home networks deployed by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, the third report cited by the Powerline Alliance as evidence for its success is “Smart Appliances,” from Pike Research, about the global market for intelligent networkable digital devices. The report indicated that HomePlug was gaining some traction with its so-called “Green PHY,” which lowers the power consumption by about 75 percent compared with the original Home lug AV specification for transmission over electricity wires.

Despite all this hot air, however, it is likely that HomePlug and wireline will continue to coexist, with each remaining dominant where it is currently strong. This means both are likely to be subsumed by the emerging G.hn standard, which is being developed by the International Telecommunication Union and promoted by the HomeGrid Forum, among others. The G.hn specification aims to unify all three prevailing wireline home networking standards, including the Home Phone Networking Alliance (HPNA)’s current Version 3.1 standard for transmission over in-home, twisted-pair telephone wiring, as well as MoCA and wireline.

HomePNA has not enjoyed the success of wireline or MoCA, largely because of the inconsistent and often poor quality of telephone wiring in the home over which the operator has no control. But, a few silicon vendors have developed chip sets that they claim overcome many of the performance and reliability problems and can cite some success, for example in parts of Latin America. HomePNA may appeal as an alternative to wireline for backbones in homes that have extensive internal telephone wiring but lack coax.

G.hn does not embrace wireless technologies such as WiFi, but it will slot in beside them within the higher-level Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) standards fostering interoperability and plug-and-play operation among connected home devices. DLNA has a liaison agreement with the Home Grid Forum over G.hn, and at the same time certifies WiFi devices for compatibility with its standards.