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HomePlug alliance vies with IEEE over powerline spec

Posted: 26 Aug 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:homeplug powerline alliance? audio-video? broadband-over-powerline? home networking?

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance has announced at the Intel Developers Forum the restructuring of its standards effort to create an Implementers' Forum Board of Directors.

The addition of Intel Corp., Cisco Systems Inc./Linksys, Motorola Inc. and others as sponsor members is expected to boost the alliance's effort to have its audio-video and broadband-over-powerline (BPL) standards accepted by the IEEE, European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and other standards organizations.

The implementers' board also includes Comcast, Earthlink, RadioShack, Sharp and Sony. Under the board are three Promoters' Groups reflecting the three key HomePlug specs: 1.0 + AV for broadband in-home networking; BPL for broadband access over powerlines; and home automation, for lower bandwidth control applications.

While HomePlug members declined to characterize the reorganization as a challenge to existing international standards bodies, several members have been concerned since the IEEE announced the formation of the P1901 working group for BPL standards in mid-July.

Earlier this year, a chip standard for physical-layer (PHY) and medium-access (MAC) layer interfaces, already approved by HomePlug for AV, was adopted by the alliance as the basis for a BPL standard. Philip Poulidis, senior director of BPL standards at Intellon Corp., said, "We welcome the IEEE effort, but it's no secret IEEE standards take a long time. We hope that we can bring a fully functional PHY and MAC chip to the table and that IEEE will take that into consideration."

When CableLabs created the Docsis standard for home modems, IEEE steered clear of developing competing standards due to the tight relationship between OEMs, chip set suppliers and cable TV operators.

When first-generation HomePlug standards were introduced, consumer electronics manufacturers were promoting in-home networking. Hence, international bodies let HomePlug take the lead. With AV, control and BPL being added to the mix, however, IEEE and ETSI are scrutinizing the standards.

Jim Mollenkopf, vice president of products and architecture at Current Communications Group, serves as the co-chairman of the IEEE P1901 PHY/MAC Working Group. He said IEEE deliberately placed the effort within its Corporate Standards Group, rather than within LAN/MAN 802 subcommittees, because industry standards bodies are organized in a way that speeds the approval process.

Mollenkopf added that "the members all realize that IEEE has had a reputation for doing things the right way, but not necessarily with optimum speed. We want to do this particular job quickly."

The group's next meeting will be Sept. 12-13 in Dallas. Mollenkopf said his group will consider PHY and MAC chip-development work made in the past, "and it is absolutely part of the group's mission to look at harmonization of design between in-home and access standards."

HomePlug is an important member of the PHY/MAC group, he said, as is the European Universal Powerline Association and the Japan-based Consumer Electronics Powerline Communications Alliance. "Our biggest goal is to get all the groups' efforts harmonized," he said.

Harmonization efforts includes common methods of filtering interference, Mollenkopf said, since the 1901 group intends to meet IEEE P1775 limits on electromagnetic compatibility. "No one in 1901 wants to become a regulator."

Mollenkopf added that ham-radio interference remains a potential problem in BPL systems, but "the existence of tens of thousands of deployed systems without complaints from amateur radio serves as proof that we can do this."

Kurt Scherf, vice president of research at Dallas-based Parks Associates, said the HomePlug reorganization was undertaken with the IEEE specifically in mind "since everyone at the alliance I've talked to privately feels they want to be in the lead. They really want to be able to take control of the standards process, and having an 800-pound gorilla like Intel on board really helps."

Scherf said many alliance members are also IEEE members, and are willing to participate with P1901. However, "a lot of them legitimately wonder about what kind of representation the utility service providers and network service partners have within IEEE."

Matt Theall, Intel's director of powerline initiatives and recently elected president of the HomePlug Alliance, said the reorganization was prompted not so much by IEEE efforts as to provide equal standards efforts for AV, BPL and home control.

Pete Griffin, director of corporate technology at Radio Shack, also serves as chairman of the implementers' forum board. Independent promotional efforts by the three vertical groups will be merged by the board, he said, where members will work together on subjects such as common MAC chips for AV and BPL.

"DS2 in Spain has been working with a European-based group called UPA [Universal Powerline Association], and Japan has a similar group. But we believe none address the broad range of in-home and automation applications addressed at HomePlug," Griffin said.

He added that the alliance must synchronize its efforts for common standards on a global basis. Like CableLabs, HomePlug is striving to become a source for field testing interoperability as well as serving as an industry forum for standards development.

- Loring Wirbel

EE Times

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