Untangling the home network wiring debate

While none of the wireline side of the FierceTelecom group attended the CES extravaganza in Las Vegas last week, my fellow Irishman from Chicago Dan O'Shea and I did spend time reporting on one trend that was rampant at the show: home networking.

Following Dan's recent column he aptly entitled 'Beware the device glut,' I think a similar confusion could potentially arise in the 'No New Wires' standards camp that wants to leverage a home's existing wires to carry data and video signals throughout. 

There are obvious upsides for service providers--and even consumers--to leverage a home's existing wiring to deploy home networking and related video and data services: faster installation time and less disruption in that the service provider does not have to drill holes through walls to run new cable.

Fighting for prominence in the 'No New Wires' movement are four camps: HomePlug, Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA), HomePNA and the latest member G.hn, which claims it can accommodate any existing home inside wire.

Out of the four, the powerline group was clearly the most active during last week's CES show. Not only did the IEEE release the P1901 Draft Standard for powerline communications covering the Medium Access Control and Physical Layer for powerline communications, but the HomePlug Alliance said it will finalize its HomePlug "Green PHY" (GP) specification for Smart Grid applications.  

Perhaps the even more important piece of news that came from the powerline camp was that they would share information through a formal liaison agreement. Their alliance, while not stated outright, is likely a joint response to the emerging all-in-one no new wires G.hn standard. At the same time, it could show that perhaps the groups want to bridge some of the fragmentation that exists in the home networking groups.    

G.hn, while promising, still trails the penetration that the other approaches have already enjoyed. What's more, it appears that only BT and AT&T--along with the HomePNA group--have publicly professed their support for G.hn. However, another unnamed service provider that uses MoCA said it won't even consider thinking about G.hn until there's a similar volume of available devices.

Regardless of the underlying technology, I think these groups do need to continue to share information not only with one another but also the service provider community who will ultimately leverage these technologies in their home network rollouts.    

Getting more service providers involved in particular technology forums, of course, isn't easy as they probably don't want to pigeonhole themselves into a corner with one approach.

I do think that in the near-term that service providers will likely leverage the already established approaches as evidenced by Bell Canada joining the HomePNA alliance last week for home network.

Regardless of what approach service providers do take, they will also face the responsibility of educating the consumer on how their devices are connected in the home to pinpoint issues on service calls. Afterall, a consumer that, let's say, buys a HDTV with their AT&T U-Verse service simply expects to plug in their TV to the set top box and connect regardless of what wire they are using.  

It's time to stop fighting with one another and find a way to work with together to untangle the home wiring debate. --Sean