Home networking with HomePlug finding acceptance
HomePlug technology is the solution wherever thick walls and ceilings cause problems for, or even completely prevent, networking with wireless LAN. The use of the electrical wiring as a backbone for transmitting data, audio and video is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. The new high-speed adapters even enable videos to be transmitted from plug socket to plug socket without loss in quality and at speeds of up to 85 Mbps. Entertainment electronic devices with an Ethernet interface can also be linked up with the home network without problem.
Households with a powerful home network remain the exception right now. The breakthrough is still at its earliest stages even in countries with a high penetration of broadband Internet connections, according to a study by the American market research company The Diffusion Group (TDG). According to TDG, the number of home networks in the USA is just 17 percent, in Japan the figure is 16 percent, while in South Korea and Germany the figure is just two percent. “Whereas broadband is growing rapidly worldwide, the spread of home networks is being braked by various factors.”, explains Michael Greeson, President of the Diffusion Group. His opinion is that this is caused by a lack of “technology push” by providers, service providers and governments and, mainly, the low level of consumer knowledge about the relevant technologies along with the multitude of competing standards in this field. In a recent survey, around eight percent of USA consumers said that they were hesitant because of their inability to install a home network without help.
Widespread breakthrough of home networks by 2008
The consumer hesitation seen to date will change significantly by 2008, according to market research. A decisive factor here is in particular the increasing availability of network-compatible appliances. According to their study, 34.7 million homes had home networks connecting a total of around 107.6 million devices in 2004. By 2008, The Diffusion Group expects those numbers to grow to 162.3 million home networks worldwide that interconnect 973.8 million devices. According to forecasts, the strongest growth will be seen in South Korea where 90 percent of all homes are expected to be networked. In Germany, this rate is expected to reach around 38 pecent. Market research by the American In-Stat-Group is even more optimistic. Their figures indicate annual growth averaging 44 percent resulting in over 200 million networked households by 2008. The main cause of this rapid growth: The increasing proliferation of media-centre PCs in the living room that are fitted with Ethernet interfaces will increasingly replace conventional TV sets. Analysts were also enthusiastic at the European symposium "The Networked Home" that took place in Amsterdam in early June, 2005. “The vision of the networked house is becoming a reality this year”, emphasised Peter King, director of market researcher company Strategy Analytics. He sees the principal driving force in this development as the spread of broadband Internet access in private homes, the number of which is due to increase to 370 million worldwide by 2010. “In Western Europe and North America, over 60 percent of all houses and apartments will have high-speed Internet access”, said a convinced King in Amsterdam. By this time, the number of digital TV sets is expected to have grown to 720 million units worldwide—a second important reason or the increasing trend towards home networking. “People want to be able to watch and share video material on different devices throughout the house”, said the market observer, “That’s why we need broadband networks."
HomePlug technology is increasingly becoming established as the backbone
Besides wireless LAN and traditional Fast Ethernet, HomePlug technology is increasingly becoming established as a backbone. “This is because taking advantage of the existing electrical wiring in the house means that no holes have to be drilled in floors and ceilings as with Ethernet cabling, and there’s no need of any new wires", explains Heiko Harbers, CEO of devolo AG. The company based in Aachen, Germany, has been successfully working for three years now on the development of HomePlug solutions and is Germany’s market leader in this selgment with their dLAN (direct Local Area Network). In the meantime, products from the German specialists are being well received in other European countries and in North America. For crossing relatively short distances or in large, open areas free of dividing walls—such as in railway stations or airports—the optimal networking technology is most likely to be wireless LAN: However, where the Internet access connection is in the cellar and a PC or games console has to be connected that is located in the a room under the roof, then the wireless technology quickly exceeds its limitations. Reinforced-concrete ceilings or thick walls often present an unsurpassable barrier. True home networking is simply not possible on this basis. HomePlug demonstrates itself to be far superior in a wide variety of cases, even if its perception by the public eye is overshadowed by WLAN technology. The advantages are particularly obvious with regard to the stability of data transfer and the dimensions of the network that—as experience has shown—can work over ranges of up to 200 metres without loss of performance. “HomePlug is stable, is installed without effort, can be expanded without problem and is highly secure”, says Andreas Melder, Senior Vice President of chip manufacturer Intellon Corporation, naming further positive aspects. And: “Just about every house has 40 plug sockets or more, so every room is in range". That this technology has a future is proven by the recent decision by Intel and Motorola to invest in Intellon. Intellon will use the new financial means to accelerate the development of next-generation HomePlug ICs. The future HomePlug AV ICs, based on the current HomePlug 1.0 standard, are conceived for the broadcasting of high-definition video and digital audio with a high service quality.
Entertainment electronics manufacturers and network operators seek alternatives
There are several million HomePlug installations worldwide today, whereby in Europe—according to Melder—adapter sales are in excess of those in the USA. The HomePlug Alliance is a worldwide panel for standardisation, currently with 55 members including Intellon, Sony, Sharp, Mitsubishi Electric, France Telecom, devolo, Netgear, Siemens and Sanyo. This ensures that the devices from different manufacturers remain compatible. Many of these companies, in particular those in entertainment electronics, have joined the HomePlug Alliance only recently because they view electricity networks as the basis technology for home networking in the future. For this reason, a large European telecommunications company is currently carrying out field tests with several hundred of these adapters in order to provide their customers with a reliable and secure alternative to the problematic WLAN. The cable network operator ewt, a leading supplier of high-speed Internet over the TV cable in Berlin and Augsburg, provides over 300,000 German households with high-speed Internet and connections for IP telephony and recently included the dLAN adapter in its product range, so enabling its customers to extend their TV-cable Internet access to any power socket over the household power circuit.
True multimedia home networking with high-rate data transfer
In addition to the current specification HomePlug 1.0 with a bandwidth of 14 Mbps and which is sufficient for Internet access via DSL, the latest standard HomePlug AV is shortly to be introduced. Erst kürzlich haben sich die Mitglieder der HomePlug Power Alliance auf den neuen Standard geeinigt. This is compatible to its predecessor, enables transfer rates of up to 200 Mbps and guarantees high quality with multimedia applications. The first HomePlug AV-based adapters are expected in time for CeBIT 2006. Weil viele Endanwender aber so lange nicht warten wollen und neben Daten und Musik bereits heute schon Videos in hoher Qualität über ihre Stromleitungen streamen möchten, hat sich devolo schon Ende letzten Jahres zur schnellen Weiterentwicklung seiner dLAN-Technologie entschlossen und bietet nun als weltweit erstes Unternehmen einen Adapter mit einer Übertragungsgeschwindigkeit von bis zu 85 Mbit/s an. In practice these devices, which are compatible with the preceding products, ensure bandwidths of between 40 and 85 Mbps, depending on the quality of the line. Somit können beispielsweise mehrere DivX-Filme gleichzeitig abgespielt werden. Auch Anwendungen wie die TV-Übertragung über Internet-Protokoll (IP-TV) und Video-on-Demand in DVD-Qualität sind damit problemlos möglich. Das hausinterne Stromnetz wird so zum Backbone für Multimedia-Applikationen und ermöglicht die Nutzung von Video-on-Demand im gesamten Haus – überall dort, wo es eine Stromsteckdose gibt. This means that future forms of home networking that focus on the "digital living room" can easily be made a reality.
Brown goods can easily be networked too
Entertainment electronics appliances such as TV sets, hard-disk recorders, DVD players, hi-fi systems, digital cameras and camcorders can just as easily be connected into the network as home servers, computers, external hard disks, games consoles or network printers. The only requirement: An Ethernet connection. In the audio area, however, there are already special adapters that use RCA, minijack and microphone sockets for connecting hi-fi systems, microphones or loudspeakers. Market researchers agree that it is primarily the increasingly popular “digital lifestyle products” that will make it essential to have a powerful broadband network that is available everywhere for true multimedia networking in the private household. Unlike wireless LANs with their performance limitations and Ethernet that is inflexible and demands considerable efforts for installation, the electricity networks are a true “Plug&Play” technology. The adapters just have to be plugged in to the power socket and they are ready for immediate use. From the physical point of view, they behave just like a “real” network cable. Even technology novices can come to terms with them. “And that is exactly what is required for our forecasts to come true and for home networking to become broadly established in the next few years”, emphasises market researcher Michael Greeson of The Diffusion Group.