ITU approves G.hn for home networking

The standard works with cable, power lines and phone lines at 200Mbps and more

The International Telecommunication Union on Friday gave final approval to G.hn, a standard for high-speed home networking that spans coaxial cable, electrical wiring and phone lines.

The standard is intended to pave the way for streaming high-quality multimedia content, especially video programming, around homes. It allows silicon vendors to make one chip that works no matter what kind of wire exists in the consumer's home, and service providers to deploy just one type of set-top box or gateway device. That should lower costs for all involved, G.hn supporters said.

The first G.hn chips should hit the market by the end of this year, at least in sample quantities for manufacturers, and the first consumer products using the standard should arrive next year, said Matt Keowen, co-chairman of the marketing workgroup at the HomeGrid Forum, which promotes the standard.

The standard is designed for a maximum theoretical throughput of 1Gbps (bit per second) but will deliver different speeds depending on the medium it is using. For coaxial cable, it should deliver as much as 800Mbps, for power lines, between 200Mbps and 400Mbps, and for copper phone lines, 200Mbps or more, Keowen said.

The HomeGrid Forum counts among its members Intel, Panasonic, BT, retailer Best Buy, and companies focused on the home networking market, such as Ikanos. On Friday it announced that Kawasaki Microelectronics America and TangoTec have recently joined.

However, existing technologies targeted specifically at power lines and cable, as well as emerging high-speed wireless technology, cast some shadows on the potential of G.hn. The new standard does not work with systems backed by the HomePlug Powerline Alliance and the Multimedia Over Coax Alliance (MOCA), though manufacturers could combine it with those technologies by making one chip or including two, Keowen said.

On Friday, HomePlug questioned the need for a new standard.

"If you really want to unify the market, you've got to have the leaders there," said Rob Ranck, president of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. HomePlug counts Cisco Systems, Broadcom, Marvell and General Electric among its members.

"You could hit the same cost points and have a much more stable basis for doing it, if you combined HomePlug and MOCA on the same chip," Ranck said.

A MOCA official was not immediately available for comment. Broadcom and Cisco also belong to MOCA, as do Panasonic and cable operators Comcast and Cox Communications.

Meanwhile, wireless LANs, which are popular for home networking of PCs, are set to gain speed with WiGig, a specification that may become part of the Wi-Fi set of standards. WiGig may offer as much as 7G bps within one room, promoters say, and might be linked to the rest of a home via slower, traditional Wi-Fi.

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Stephen Lawson

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