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Home net mesh draws bouquets, brickbats

Posted: 14 May 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:home network  mesh standard  Wi-Fi  MoCA 

Mesh standard for home networks are at the end of bouquets and brickbats with some saying it won't be easy.

Backers praise the effort as the future of whole home coverage, competitors from the Zigbee Alliance critique it as a late comer, those with who have worked on other wireless mesh standards indicate it won't be easy—and some still haven't heard about it.

In late April, an Atheros Communications executive said he was trying to organise a standards effort to create a mesh capability that would span Wi-Fi and the wired technologies of the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) and the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. The effort aims to create hybrid wired/wireless links that can collaborate to cover a home of any size.

"To me that is the home network for the next 15 years," said Tom Lookabaugh, chief technology officer of Entropic Communications, the leading provider of MoCA silicon.

Lookabaugh said he was aware of the effort which is still debating whether it will create an ad hoc consortium or start a new IEEE standards group. "Some OEMs and carriers are already starting to put together MoCA-to-Wi-Fi bridges," he said.

Stefano Galli, a powerline specialist and lead scientist with Panasonic's R&D group in the U.S. welcomed the effort, but said he was not previously aware of it.

"I am not surprised [there is such an effort] because the use and synergistic cooperation of multiple technologies in the home has been of some interest for some time," said Galli. "This is, in my opinion, the true value of wired/wireless cooperation," he said.

Interestingly, the head of the HomePlug group said he was not actively engaged in the mesh effort, possibly an indication of the nascent state of the mesh work. HomePlug does maintain a liaison with MoCA.

Similarly, Vince Groff, executive director of strategy and corporate development at cable TV provider Cox Communications and a member of the MoCA board, said he was also unaware of the mesh effort.

"The problem with Wi-Fi is the interference," said Groff. "Long term we need wireless home networking technology to send high quality video in the home, and Wi-Fi is probably not it today," he said.

The IEEE 802.1s group has been working for six years on a Wi-Fi mesh standard with no end to its efforts in sight. The Atheros executive said the problem was the scope of the group is too large, embracing, home, metro and military networks.

"They have a broad scope," agreed Peter Ecclesine, a wireless technology analyst at Cisco Systems who has followed the .11s work closely. "If it was restricted to a home and two or three relays it would be much easier to conclude in a reasonable time," he said.

A combo wired/wireless mesh effort limited to home networks "is very powerful idea," he added.

Bob Heile, chairman of the Zigbee Alliance, was sceptical of the effort to create a new wireless mesh standard. "It's all been done and standardised and included in Smart Energy 1.0, and it's called Zigbee," he said.

Meanwhile, a Smart Energy 2.0 spec is in the works, aimed at smart grid applications in the home. It will embrace any network type and include support for Zigbee's mesh technology.

Separately, the Zigbee group recently struck a partnership with the Wi-Fi Alliance, in part to standardise gateways between Wi-Fi hot spots and Zigbee mesh networks. Atheros should help finish the 802.11s effort rather than spin new mesh network efforts that could clash with Zigbee, Heile, said.

The Zigbee spec supports mesh across as many as 64,285 nodes and is already in use across 85,000 radios installed in three connected networks at the MGM Aria hotel in Las Vegas for a wide range of control applications. However, the Zigbee spec, based on IEEE 802.15.4, is limited to data rates of 256Kbit/s.

"It took us three years to get a useable [standard] and two more years to get it right," said Heile. "What's there now is not matched by anything in the industry," he said.

It can take five years or more to establish a whole new network technology from a physical layer on up, agreed Lookabaugh of Entropic. However, the effort to just add a mesh layer to existing networks "could happen much faster," he said.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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