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Growing MoCA foothold drives call for home-net standard

Posted: 22 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:home networks? powerline? MoCA spec?

As the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) increases it foothold with a handful of service providers, a new standards effort and a startup are responding to a call for next-generation gigabit home networks.

Europe's International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is pushing for a home network standard designed to run over telephone, powerline or coax networks. At least one proposal for the so-called "" effort calls for a gigabit PHY to deliver video throughout a home.

"Maybe this will help consolidate the [fragmented] home network efforts," said Barry O'Mahony, a senior staff systems engineer at Intel Corp., who has been attending the meetings. "This has potential to get traction as a next-generation offering, so we're taking a long serious look at it," he added.

Other companies active in the group include BT, Alcatel-Lucent, Broadcom, Intellon, Panasonic and Texas Instruments (TI). The Intel engineer said technical requirements for the spec could be set by a February meeting in Geneva with a final standard possible by the end of the year.

"Everybody is there because we think it could work to stop the fragmentation, but the possibility it may define a lowest common denominator spec is the big fear," said a representative of TI, who asked not to be named.

Meanwhile startup Gigle Semiconductor is preparing to ship in 2008 a gigabit device with similar targets. The startup aims to deliver an IC that supports two channels, one for powerline and the other for a flexible mix of twisted pair, coax and powerline media. It will integrate a processor core, cache, DSP, media access controller and physical layer block.

"This is designed to be installed in STBs, gateways, PCs and video game consoles," said Davin McAndrews, senior VP of marketing and business development at Gigle.

The new efforts come as MoCA has kicked off its own version 2.0 effort. The group has not disclosed its targets but its users are calling for the 175Mbit/s net to push aggressively ahead.

"The next-generation MoCA spec needs to support about 400Mbit/s within two years and a Gbit in four years," said Mark Wegleitner, chief technology officer of Verizon Communications in a keynote speech at the first MoCA technical conference. So far Verizon is one of the main pioneers of the technology, shipping about 3 million MoCA nodes to date as part of its FIOS fibre-to-the-home services.

In a separate talk, Jed Johnson, senior director of systems engineering at Motorola, which supplies STBs to Verizon echoed the call for more bandwidth. "There needs to be a gigabit path in the home," said Johnson.

New strategy
MoCA lets users send video from a main STB to simpler set-tops in other rooms. Verizon is charging $7 per month for such multi-room digital video recorder services.

Tony Werner, chief technology officer of Comcast, said carriers will have limited ability to charge for such home net features, so he pushed chip and system makers to deliver MoCA at the lowest possible costs to drive volume use. Jim Strothmann, a director of product strategy and management at Scientific-Atlanta suggested the MoCA support should rapidly move to silicon blocks in system chips or ASICs his group or chip makers will design.

That's exactly the strategy upcoming MoCA chip suppliers are taking, said David Jones, a marketing director for Conexant Systems Inc. The company will ship discrete MoCA RF and baseband chips in the 2H 2008, then follow them up with chips that integrate MoCA support as a block on DSL, MPEG and passive optical network chips for set-tops, routers and optical network terminals, he said.

To date, only startup Entropic Communications has delivered chips for MoCA. But recently, Broadcom and Conexant joined the MoCA board, telegraphing plans for MoCA silicon. The newcomers expect to add value by delivering greater integration, higher performance, lower costs and lower power.

Having Broadcom and Conexant on the board "will significantly increase the perception of MoCA as a viable RF technology over coax," said Charlie Cerino, a VP network technology at Comcast and president of MoCA.

Both Broadcom and Conexant have taken their share of arrows, developing then discontinuing chips for home nets that did not find significant design wins.

"We've looked at all the home networks to see where we wanted to place our bets. It's not been clear for the last couple years," said Jones of Conexant. "As a vendor of MPEG products, our customers are telling us MoCA is what they want now, so it's essential we get the technology in some SoCs, but the question is when it is viable," he said.

"We were well down the path for a HomePlug AV chip set but [now] we see HomePlug having a transition problem going from being a data to a video network," he added.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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