At CES: Jockeying for a place in home networks
3-D is reaching out to grab most of the attention at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, but equally – if not more – important is all of the activity associated with home networking and connectivity among the electronics products in the home. There were technological advancements and product integrations announced for several competing wired and wireless technologies, including G.hn, Wi-Fi (the newer 802.11n version), WHDI, MoCA and HomePlug.
Consumers are now accustomed to setting up simple Wi-Fi networks that include multiple PCs and maybe a printer, and perhaps a game console or a Blu-ray player with Internet connectivity built in, but there is so much more that could be connected: TVs, camcorders, mobile handsets, digital cameras, DVRs and gateways – and beyond that security systems, power meters, household appliances and more.
It’s a given that there will be both opportunity and need for multiple networking techniques in every home. CE companies are banding together in the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE); the group intends to settle on a prescribed number of standards they intend to back. DECE announced 21 new members  yesterday.
With so many networking options, the question may be which set of standards and protocols will be best? Of course, “best” doesn’t always mean the most effective; it sometimes refers to whatever has become a de facto standard. To that end, advocates of each networking protocol are in a rush to become prevalent enough to become an inevitable choice.
CopperGate is at CES demonstrating its HomePlug AV CG2110 chipset, announced last October, for communicating via powerlines. The company announced Asoka and Gigafast will use the chips in networking products.
CopperGate also produces chipsets supporting HomePNA, for networking via phone lines. The company is a key advocate for the G.hn standard, which is approaching final ITU ratification later this year; G.hn operates across all three wireline types (coaxial, powerline, phone line).
HomePlug advocates are moving toward G.hn, and as an indication that MoCA expects G.hn will gain some momentum, it has agreed to cooperate with HomePlug .
One consideration for CE makers and service providers is to make things easier to connect. That indicates wireless techniques, and indeed several wireless protocols are being advanced. The other key consideration is being able to reliably transmit HD video throughout the home. Until recently, that suggested a wireline method, but with the latest generation of wireless protocols, beam-forming techniques and the shift to the less-prone-to-interference 5 GHz band, that may be changing.
Several companies are working on making Wi-Fi suitable for HD. Ruckus is already well-known for its beamforming technology. In the last year, it was joined by two chip companies: Qualcomm and Quantenna. They are making possible a new generation of routers warranted to reliably handle video, even HD video.
D-Link announced three 802.11n wireless devices for the home, which will hit the market later this year. One, the Rush, operates in both bands and can either stand alone or supplement an existing Wi-Fi router (of any Wi-Fi generation). The Touch is similar but also incorporates a 3-inch interactive touchscreen for setup, configuration and management of the router and Internet traffic.
D-Link’s Wireless N Pocket Router, meanwhile, is a travel model that creates a mini-Wi-Fi network. The device also can be used to connect an Ethernet-ready device, such as a desktop PC or Xbox 360, to a Wi-Fi network.
Netgear announced a forthcoming line of networking products based on a Wi-Fi technology capable of reliably transmitting multiple simultaneous HD streams. The Netgear equipment will incorporate chips from Quantenna that have 4 x 4 multiple input multiple output (MIMO), dynamic digital beamforming, and wireless channel monitoring and optimizing. It operates in the 5 GHz band.
Quantenna says its technology delivers reliable full HD video quality anywhere in the home, across distances of 100 feet or more, regardless of signal interferences and dead zones that exist in most residential environments.
Quantenna CEO David French acknowledged that Wi-Fi for video has proven risky in the past, leading service providers to turn to wireline methods for video distribution, but the new generation of Wi-Fi is so reliable that it is forcing many service providers to reevaluate. He said Swisscom in Europe has demonstrated the reliable delivery of multiple HD streams using Quantenna technology.
The company is focusing on the retail market, with companies such as Netgear. Gateway products may appear by mid-year. French said the company is in only preliminary discussions with set-top manufacturers. “Service providers have the biggest stake here, but arguably they’re the slowest to adopt, as well,” he said.
Broadcom introduced a new set of Wi-Fi(n) chips that integrate high-performance Power Amplifiers (PAs) designed to allow OEMs, through USB interfaces, to add high-performance Wi-Fi connectivity to a variety of products, including PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, broadband modems, Blu-ray disc players and other consumer electronics devices.
Broadcom’s Intensi-Fi XLR Wi-Fi media family consists of a 2 x 2 2.4 GHz-only solution, a dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) version, which the company said was designed for whole-home video streaming applications, and a second dual-band version with custom enhancements and software to support carrier-grade IPTV.
Broadcom also debuted a new software platform that developers can use to add different types of wireless connectivity to software applications across communications, computing and consumer products. The unified API framework includes support for Bluetooth 3.0 High-Speed and the upcoming Wi-Fi Direct standard.
The InConcert Maestro platform can be used to create products that will auto-configure, easing the setup for consumers, Broadcom explained.
Yesterday, Broadcom introduced two sets of connectivity-related products , one that supports MoCA connectivity, the other powering CE that conforms to RVU Alliance specifications.
WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) is a wireless alternative to Wi-Fi(n), pushed largely by chip vendor Amimon. It is also warranted to be able to reliably transmit HD video at distances up to 100 feet, and through barriers.
WHDI is occasionally dismissed as a non-standard, but that argument isn’t stopping CE manufacturers such as LG, which announced several WHDI-enabled TVs at CES, or Toshiba, which recently joined the WHDI organization.
Original WHDI Promoters include Amimon, of course, and LG, but also Hitachi, Motorola, Samsung, Sharp and Sony. New WHDI members are Haier, Maxim and Mitsubishi Electric. Additionally, the following companies have joined as WHDI Adopters: AmTran, Domo Technologies, Elmo, Gemtek, Gospell Smarthome Electronics, Hosiden, Murata, QMI, Seamon Science International, TDK and Zinwell.