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Silicon to stop next-gen powerline standards war

Will the mains networking biz put its squabbles behind it?

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Powerline networking, which uses ubiquitous home electrical wiring as a pipeline for data, has had a hard time winning popular support. Wireless networking has grabbed most of the public's mindshare, largely thanks to the Intel marketing machine. And the mains wiring technology has struggled with the industry's inability to rally behind a single standard during its evolution through 14Mb/s, 85Mb/s and 200Mb/s incarnations.

Faster speeds are coming, but powerline proponents are still worried that the existence of two, new competing standards for the next generation of Ethernet-over-mains technology will see a continuation of the current standards war.

The two rivals are the IEEE's 1901 and the ITU's G.hn. Both are designed to more than double the performance of today's 200Mb/s powerline links, the better to allow punters to send multiple 1080p HD video streams around the home simultaneously. Get that right and almost any other kind of data consumers want to transmit will easily fit into the available bandwidth.

Both have powerful backers. The HomePlug Alliance, overseer of the HomePlug AV 200Mb/s standard, has given its thumbs up to 1901, not least because 1901 is compatible with its own technology.

The IEEE standard also incorporates HD-PLC, a powerline technology developed in Japan but which is very similar to HomePlug AV. HD-PLC uses wavelet compression; HomePlug uses Fast Fourier Transform to do the same job. In other respects, the two specifications are effectively the same. For that reason, 1901 combines the two.

HD-PLC is relatively unknown in the West - though it's big in Switzerland, says Dr Stephan Horvath, CEO of local technology company Advanced Communication Networks - where HomePlug AV has become the de facto standard after beating a rival offering from the Universal Powerline Association.

The UPA effectively collapsed last year when its main backer, Spanish chip company DS2 shut it doors. Before its demise, DS2 had been looking to G.hn as the next step in powerline networking.

It wasn't the only one. The world's biggest chip maker, Intel, has lent its support to the standard, which is being promoted by the HomeGrid Forum. The Forum is backed by a fair few service providers, including BT.

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