Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/12/15/ieee_powerline_standard/

Standard setter seeks to unify power, wired, wireless LANs

One ring main to rule them ail

By Tony Smith

Posted in Hardware, 15th December 2010 13:17 GMT

The IEEE has put in place a programme to devise a standard that will bridge wired and wireless network technologies in the home.

Dubbed P1905.1, the draft standard will "provide a common, protocol-agnostic interface" to not only 802.11 Wi-Fi and 802.3 Ethernet but also the less well-known MoCa (multimedia over co-ax) spec and the 1901 powerline standard.

P1905.1 is all about providing an front end to which applications can speak without having to worry about whether the data being sent out over the network is being transmitted wirelessly, over wires or both.

And all this will happen with end-to-end quality of service (QoS) provision, the IEEE said, the better to deliver a future in which we're all streaming lots of HD content from room to room.

Here's the geek part:

"Also specified are procedures, protocols and guidelines to provide a simplified user experience to add devices to the network, to set up encryption keys, to extend the network coverage, and to provide network management features to address issues related to neighbour discovery, topology discovery, path selection, QoS negotiation, and network control and management."

Do we need this? All of the technologies which P1905.1 will bridge work perfectly well together, as anyone with a wireless router that also networks up wired devices like a Nas boxe will tell you.

The IEEE's pitch is that P1905.1 will make such set-ups send data packets back and forth more efficiently and therefore more rapidly.

So is there an agenda here? It looks like there may be. Says the P1905.1 draft standard working group homepage: "The purpose of the standard is to facilitate the integration of 1901 with other home networking technologies."

The battle for the next generation

The next generation of powerline networking technology is currently the battleground of two competing standards: the IEEE's 1901 and the International Telecom Union's (ITU) G.hn.

The moans of radio hams notwithstanding, powerline networking is seen by some as a key technology for the connected home. The wiring is there, and there's none of the bother you get with wireless: crowded airwaves and low-signal spots.

Powerline is also a foundation technology for "smart grids": intelligent power supply networks able to monitor and control energy usage in the home, the better to reduce energy consumption.

Both G.hn and 1901 have their supporters, but they're all keen to avoid a format war - a universal standard would allow the technology to gain broad support from IT and CE companies.

Ironically, 1901 as originally conceived included support for G.hn, an arguably better solution because it uses a single physical interface (PHY) and a single logical layer (MAC) for all three transport systems - power lines, phone lines and coaxial cables - it and 1901 operate over, whereas 1901 has separate MACs and PHYs for all the wired technologies is incorporates.

That, however, ensures backward compatibility, not least with HomePlug AV, the most popular powerline technology so far.

1901 no longer incorporates G.hn, which is backed by the HomeGrid Forum, an organisation that numbers Intel, Panasonic, Sigma Designs and Texas Instruments among its members. The chief cheerleader for 1901 is the HomePlug Alliance, but it's becoming a battle of the chip makers.

Atheros acquired Intellon, the pre-eminent HomePlug chip maker, in September 2009. In July this year, Marvell bought up the remains of Spanish semiconductor company DS2, which was the key designer of G.hn silicon. More recently, Broadcom bought Gigle, a firm that makes non-standard Gigabit powerline chippery, as used by the likes of Belkin in its Gigabit powerline products.

All three purchasers see value in integrating powerline technology into their wireless products, and all three tout such benefits as improved network set-up and faster media streaming - which are exactly what the IEEE claims P1905.1 will enable. ®