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China home networking spec rolling

Posted: 16 Oct 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:home networking? China? Intelligent Grouping and Resource Sharing? IGRS? Mike Clendenin?

A China home networking technology is gaining traction in the market, spurring its designers to pursue it as an international standard and to encourage the input of multinationals.

China's Intelligent Grouping and Resource Sharing (IGRS) is application-level software that ensures easy compatibility among devices like PCs, TVs and handsets. A handful of domestic companies are embedding it in their systems, and so far, more than 1.5 million devicesmostly TVs and PCshave been preloaded with the software, said Michael Ding, director for international cooperation at the IGRS Working Group.

IGRS has been accepted by the International Standards Organization (ISO) as a New Work Item Proposal, only the first of many steps needed before it can become an ISO standard. Still, backers are encouraged that they have surmounted this first hurdle. "We believe we have a very strong core of protocols to be able to support the most popular applications," Ding said. "Based on that, we are open to work with other industry groups to bring their ideas in and develop something jointly."

The group has about 60 members and is accepting applications from foreign companies that want to work on the spec. So far, STMicroelectronics, NXP Semiconductors, Ruckus Wireless and LG Electronics have joined. The only requirement, Ding said, is a company's willingness to license IP on a reasonable and nondiscriminatory basis. As more non-China companies join, he said, the outlook will widen and perhaps move toward closer relations with similar efforts elsewhere.

In many ways, the goals of IGRS mirror those of the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), a global consortium that aims to ensure interoperability among disparate devices in the "digital home." The first set of DLNA guidelines dealt mostly with issues between media servers and players in home networks. In v1.5, it added device classes to help enable scenarios in which consumers could use a third device, such as a PDA, to control content flow between two primary devices, like a TV and media server. It is now working on compatibility among various digital-rights management schemes.

IGRS seems to be a simple software overlay that would prompt devices to discover each other and determine which resources they can share, such as HDD space or applications.

DLNA uses only existing standards to achieve interoperability and defines no new standards, while IGRS uses existing standards and also creates a new software application to achieve this compatibility.

Ding cautioned that IGRS is not "trying to reinvent the wheel. Everybody knows that Wi-Fi is widely used and that certain standards like TCP/IP are very popular, so there is no reason to develop one of our own just for the sake of developing something. So our approach is really an application-level communication protocol that is independent of the PHY or transport layers."

Like DLNA, it has a logo program and centers for compatibility testing. And, like DLNA, it has ways to go before Chinese consumers recognize and understand what is implied by that logo. Li Zhang, the manager of Lenovo's laptop marketing department, doesn't think IGRS significantly influences sales yet.

"Customers may understand its function, but they probably won't use it, since there aren't many other IGRS household appliances that the laptop can link with," he said. "Lenovo would rather promote the products by its features rather than emphasizing the IGRS standard."

Products on the market include TVs, projectors, mobile phones, PCs, printers and digital media adapters. The most popular device classes are the PC and TV. Konka and Hisense already have their first generation of IGRS TVs on the market, and they are developing a second generation.

If IGRS continues to grow in popularity among manufacturers, it will conflict with DLNA-certified products being shipped into China. Add to that the marketing programs for Intel's Viiv and AMD's Live! Platforms, and there is real potential for confusion among consumers.

A DLNA spokesperson was not available to comment, but Ding sees this potential confusion as an opportunity for the groups to form a larger alliance.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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