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Wired, wireless both seen in future home nets

Posted: 01 Aug 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wired wireless home networking? standard draft UWB? coax cable?

The WiMedia Alliance has set up a group to explore whether it should draft a standard for UWB networking over coax cable. News of the effort came following the announcement by WiMedia member Tzero Technologies Inc. of a UWB chipset that supports both coax and wireless transmission at data rates up to 300Mbps.

The efforts follow in the footsteps of Pulse-Link Inc., which is shipping a UWB chipset based on a proprietary technology supporting application-level data rates up to 430Mbps over coax and wireless. The moves amount to a recognition that tomorrow's home networks will be a mix of wired and wireless options, and that chipmakers must support both to score design wins, especially in STBs. They may also be motivated by a desire to find new homes for UWB beyond the wireless USB links that could become instant commodities once price and performance issues are overcome.

Responding to the challenge of the fast UWB chips, Entropic Communications fielded software that ratchets up the data rate of its coax networking chips from 135Mbits to 180Mbits. Entropic is also expanding the QoS features of its silicon beyond those laid down by the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) spec.

The Entropic chips are still far behind UWB data rates, which typically exceed 300Mbps. But Entropic claims its extensive field tests show its data rates can be reached reliably in 97 percent of North American homes.

"Cable providers want application-level data rates of 200Mbps, and then they want to move to 400Mbps, but there's no road map for that on MoCA," said Dan Karr, VP of sales and marketing for Tzero.

Although MoCA hasn't announced a road map beyond its current, 135Mbps spec, it claims the format has passed muster in cable operators' evaluations. A senior executive of Comcast Corp. was named president of MoCA in May.

"We have met operators' current requirements and are working with them on their next-generation needs," said John Graham, VP of marketing for Entropic, the only company shipping MoCA chips. "Operators don't want to know how fast it goes as much as what percentage of homes it works in. Based on field trials, users can get our maximum data rates on 97 percent of the S connectors in typical U.S. homes. UWB hasn't done extensive field trials."

Entropic is adding parameterized QoS to its chips to enable delivery of premium broadcast video throughout the home.

The MoCA and UWB approaches are dueling for sockets in next-generation STBs and optional peripherals. Those systems, bought by cable and IPTV operators in the millions, are prime territory. "TV service providers are trying to use whole-home digital video recording as a killer app to lock in customers," said Karr. "Everyone has pretty much given up on wireless whole-home networking, so you have to support a mix of wired and wireless links."

UWB chipset works with coax, wireless transmission at 300Mbps.

It remains to be seen whether more UWB backers will jump into the STB fray or define their own standard for coax. If the WiMedia Alliance coax study group recommends setting a coax standard, it will also propose a general architecture. The study group has no deadline to finish its work, but a WiMedia spokeswoman called the participants "motivated" and predicted "a quick response."

First mover
Pulse-Link started the move to a single chipset that uses a UWB PHY to drive networking across wired and wireless nets for whole-home coverage. Its CWave will deliver application-layer data rates up to 430Mbits at average power consumption of 2W or less when it hits production in the fall, said Pulse-Link President Bruce Watkins.

CWave already sports parameterized QoS, but that alone is not enough to guarantee delivery of isochronous data, said Watkins. "The CWave chipset uses the IEEE802.15.3b TDMA media access controller, designed from the ground up to support deterministic QoS," he added.

Watkins expects other UWB companies in the WiMedia Alliance to follow Tzero's lead in supporting coax. But he suggested Pulse-Link may seek royalties from anyone fielding UWB-over-coax products.

Tzero's 7200 chipset claims application-layer data rates beyond 300Mbps for at least 150 meters. The chips support IP, 1394 and proprietary protocols. "Initial design wins will be in dongles that come off the 14394 port on set-top box and bridge to IP," said Karr.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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