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HomePlug claims victory in Powerline spec battle

Posted: 30 Oct 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:powerline standards  access and in-home networking  DS2 

The HomePlug Alliance is claiming victory in a decision that could force all sides to respin powerline networking chips for a standard that could be set as early as March. But rival Design of Systems on Silicon S.A. (DS2), whose technology was not chosen, said it will demonstrate in November chips that double today's throughout and claims warring parties are still holding private discussions on a compromise.

At the recent Boston, Massachusetts meeting of the IEEE P1901 group, members voted to accept proposals for access and in-home networking co-sponsored by HomePlug and Panasonic. They rejected proposals from the Universal Powerline Association (UPA) and Mitsubishi based on technology from DS2, said Jean-Philippe Faure, who chairs the group.

The HomePlug/Panasonic proposal requires a PHY protocol that can recognise either company's products and prevent interference. It included an option for supporting both companies' PHYs so that the networks can share data.

"There were many members of the HomePlug Alliance present and they did a good job lobbying for their proposal, as did Panasonic," said Faure. "UPA did not pick the best technology of the three, but stuck very close to the DS2 approach," he added.

The vote as reported "is not the understanding between the parties now in discussions," said Chano Gomez, VP of tech and strategic partnerships at DS2. "There are still a lot of conversations in 1901 about reaching a consensus, and we don't want to put these conversations in jeopardy by discussing them publicly," he added.

Before the Boston meeting, UPA and DS2 representatives said they were putting on a full court press to get all sides to agree to a new unified PHY that would require all sides to make changes in their silicon.

'Not very sincere'
"A last-minute push is not very sincere," said Oleg Logvinov, chief strategy officer of HomePlug and chief executive of chip designer Arkados, Inc.

Logvinov said he had proposed a unified PHY three years ago at a time when HomePlug was defining its 200Mbps technology. But at that time DS2 already was a leap ahead in the market, shipping its own 200Mbps products and declined to participate, Logvinov said.

The HomePlug proposal must win a vote from at least 75 per cent of members when it comes up for confirmation at a December meeting in San Diego, California, a hurdle which is not seen as high given the proposal won nearly that many votes in Boston. The P1901 chairman said the situation is still fluid, but it appears the proposal will become the basis for a standard that could force all sides to modify their chips . "We will follow our customers and I think they will demand full interoperability so all companies probably will have to update their chips," said Faure. "There is a reasonable chance we will have a final baseline standard by March," he added.

Faure is a VP for standards in a French subsidiary of Schneider Electric, which makes a variety of powerline systems based on DS2 chips.

"There's a very high demand from customers for standards so we will have to move to it. We made this analysis very early on in the process and that's why I am chairing the group," he said.

Others, including an anonymous commenter on the EE Times blog on interconnects, agreed. "There are plenty of service providers holding back on [powerline] deployments until there is a ratified standard. That's why P1901 is seen as very important," the commenter wrote. "Not being part of the standard will be a blow to any of the companies," he added.

Still up for debate are rival co-existence proposals from HomePlug and UPA. Faure proposed the concept of developing a mechanism that would let separate networks share powerline media by using separate frequencies and transmission times. He envisions a mechanism defined by IEEE that regulators such as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission could use to set sharing policies they monitor.

Vendors balked at the idea because it would eat into their bandwidth budget. Nevertheless, HomePlug and UPA submitted competing proposals on the issue.

"It was a contentious thing and has been since the beginning," said Faure.

Just before a vote on the proposal came up in Boston, the HomePlug group announced changes that won the support of Japan's powerline trade association, the Consumer Electronics Powerline Communications Alliance (CEPCA). The vote was deferred to the December meeting, and Faure asked the various parties to re-submit proposals by Nov. 20 in hopes a single approach may emerge.

"They have a month to merge," Faure said.

Tech leap
Meanwhile, DS2 is planning another leap ahead for its technology. The company will demonstrate in November versions of its chip running at up to 400Mbps at the PHY layer. The company provided few details on the new technology or products based on it, but it did say systems using the chips should be available to ship in 2009.

"The increase is obtained by changing many parameters," said Gomez of DS2. In a statement the company added the chips, aimed at supporting multiple high and standard definition video streams in the home, will be backward-compatible with its current 200Mbps parts.

The statement also implied the chips will be able to handle transmissions over powerline or coax media. While the new generation is in the works, DS2 said it will add new and undisclosed features to its current products and lower manufacturing costs to maintain competitive pricing.

The HomePlug proposal to P1901 also details an improved PHY design. Using powerline spectrum from 2-50MHz it will deliver peak rates up to 330Mbps at the PHY, said Logvinov.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times




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