Chipmakers Get Tied Up in Home NetworkingStacey Higginbotham
Wireless networking gets all the love in today's mobile world, but inside the home, wires will still play a key role in delivering entertainment and other content. Your set-top box may sport an Ethernet port, but it still connects to the wall via coaxial cable. Wires are a secure, fast, cheap, and existing network inside most homes. The main links around the home are power lines, coaxial cable, copper phone wires or some mix of the three, depending on where in the world a person lives. But the three standards vying for dominance today could gradually give ground to an emerging standard for delivering IP-based services called G.hn.
This fall, the electronics industry will finalize a standard called G.hn (already being pushed by the HomeGrid Forum) that will allow chip companies to provide the silicon that can deliver 700-Mbps speeds over power lines, coax, or copper. It's likely that once G.hn products come to market (chips should be out in 2010), the standard will dominate, because an operator could deploy one box for all types of homes. That's simpler for the operator, and the economies of scale associated with making so many chips should bring the cost of the silicon down. In the meantime, market-share battles are still being fought among chip providers trying to serve the market today. They're pushing various existing wired home-networking solutions, including:
MultiMedia over Coax
MoCA delivers up to 175 Mbps using a home's coaxial cable, and later this year will approve a standard that will reach 400 Mbps. Cable companies in the U.S. and Verizon's FiOS infrastructure use MoCA-based gear. Broadcom has the muscle to completely dominate this market, while Entropic Communications and Conexant also have MoCA chips. Verizon depends on Entropic for at least some of its MoCA chip needs.
The Home Plug Alliance & Universal Powerline Assn.
Promotes the use of power line infrastructure inside the home to deliver speeds of up to 189 Mbps. Intellon and DS2 are the two established vendors in this market, although last year Coppergate Communications purchased the power line division of Conexant in order to get into the power line industry, as well as to prepare itself for the coming G.hn opportunity. These vendors, knowing that the G.hn standard could eventually dominate the home-networking market, are repurposing their power line expertise for the smart grid.
This standard can use copper or coaxial cables inside the home to deliver data rates of up to 320 Mbps. Most-U.S. based telecommunications companies have chosen this as their home-networking standard. Coppergate is a big player in this market, but Broadcom also offers chips. On June 1, Coppergate expects to announce that it has shipped 10 million chips, with 5 million of those shipping in the last year.
Growth in companies pushing these standards has been impressive in the last few years, as larger players purchased smaller ones to enter new markets. However, all eyes in the industry are now on the lookout for G.hn, which is being pushed by the HomeGrid Forum. Members of that alliance include Intel, Texas Instruments, and Infineon, which means that smaller chip players such as Intellon or CopperGate will likely get purchased for their technology or even be crushed.
Some chipmakers, like Intel, are putting their eggs in two baskets. With its participation in the HomeGrid Forum, Intel is making a bet on wired home networking controlled by a service provider, such as a cable company or telecom firm, through a set-top box or residential gateway. It's also betting on wireless home networking delivered from the PC via its participation in Wi-Fi and the WiGig Alliance. This way, no matter which delivery model for home entertainment wins, certain chipmakers will find themselves on top.