G.hn home-network backers look to Asia

The standard for multiple wired media is generating interest in China and Japan, they say

Vendors developing gear with G.hn, a home networking standard that can work with four different types of wires, say Asia is shaping up as a land of opportunity.

The standard has been finished since 2010, and chips are starting to get approved for it. But service providers that have already set up home networks for their subscribers, including the big U.S. carriers, aren't likely to get into a new technology, said Matt Theall, president of the HomeGrid Forum, which certifies G.hn products. He spoke at the HomeGrid Forum's booth at the International CES, where makers of G.hn silicon are showing off their fledgling products.

Fortunately, interest in G.hn is growing in Asia, Theall said. Many carriers there haven't yet started setting up home networks for their broadband subscribers, and G.hn supporters have recently enhanced their standard to work well in multifamily buildings, which are common in Asia, he said.

G.hn is a single standard for communications over coaxial cable, copper phone lines, electrical wires and plastic optical fiber. It has a theoretical top speed of 1G bps (bit per second), though real-world throughput will be less than that and depends on the type of wire used. It competes with MOCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance), which is coaxial-only, and Homeplug AV and AV2, which are for power lines. HomePNA, which can use either phone wiring or coax, has also been widely deployed by some carriers.

Using G.hn can cut development costs because one device can be built to handle all four types of wire, with some of the silicon inside being common across all four, the standard's backers say. However, other parts still are separate and unique for each interface.

Though consumers typically network their phones, tablets and laptops via Wi-Fi, many carriers and cable operators offer wired home networks as well for relatively reliable, high-speed backbones between rooms. For example, in the U.S., Verizon Communications provides MOCA to many customers and AT&T has supplied HomePNA and HomePlug to U-Verse subscribers. France Telecom also deploys HomePlug.

Some service providers in some Asian countries haven't committed to either power lines or coax for home networks, opening up a fast-growing opportunity for G.hn, Theall said.

Metanoia Technologies, a Taiwan-based DSL chipset maker that is developing a G.hn product, sees strong demand from China and Japan, according to John Hai Ngo, Metanoia's director of operations. Specifically, China Telecom has expressed interest in the technology with Metanoia and pressed for quick development, Ngo said.

A recent addition to the G.hn standard, called Neighboring Networks, provides technology to secure one household's network from another's in a multi-dwelling building. Electrical wiring and coaxial cable are typically shared infrastructures, so each resident's portion of the system has to be separated from the next. This development should help to sell G.hn in Asian cities, where most people live in shared buildings, he said.

MOCA has been strongest in North America and HomePlug is most popular in Europe. G.hn's best chance is in Asia, said ABI Research analyst Michael Inouye.

"Most of the early opportunities appear to be coming from China, but naturally G.hn isn't the only technology targeting this market," Inouye said.

Broadcom, which makes silicon for both MOCA and HomePlug equipment, is open to making G.hn products if system manufacturers ask for it, said Stephen Palm, senior technical director at Broadcom. Other technologies are firmly entrenched and G.hn doesn't offer a significant performance advantage, Palm said. The potential economies of scale from having some common silicon also are unproven, he said. In Asia as elsewhere, the new entrant will still have to compete.

"Any technology has to prove itself with interoperability and performance," Palm said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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