The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is now backing a technology that may send high-definition video around the average home in a few years.
The standards body, whose standards are widely followed around the world, has approved the specification called HomePNA 3.1 (for Home Phoneline Networking Association) for high-speed communications over both phone wiring and coaxial cable in homes.
HomePNA 3.1 is one of a handful of emerging approaches to the problem of distributing high-quality multimedia streams from a broadband gateway or a device inside the home. For example, it lets users plug a PC into any phone jack and a TV into a standard coaxial cable and have them all connected at speeds as high as 320Mbps, according to HomePNA. Home electrical wiring and a variety of wireless LAN-based approaches are also in the running.
Demand for high-speed connectivity around homes will grow as service providers roll out “triple-play” services that include voice, data and video, both live and on demand, said Parks Associates analyst Kurt Scherf. The ideal technology to provide it may vary from one country to another, and a key to wide deployment will be adoption by large service providers in the gear they offer consumers, he said.
HomePNA 3.1 has an advantage in North America and parts of Europe, where cable TV is popular and many homes have the coaxial cable used for it, he said. AT&T is deploying HomePNA 3.1 gear to customers of its Project Lightspeed triple-play service, a European carrier is using it, and there are trials in North America, Europe and Asia, according to HomePNA President Rich Nesin.
Adoption by a large standards body such as the ITU lets many vendors introduce interoperable products, which can lead to high-volume manufacturing and competition, both of which tend to bring prices down. Earlier versions of HomePNA have been adopted by the ITU, and some have had a degree of success—although wireless dominates home networking, according to Scherf.
Version 3.1 is the first HomePNA standard that works with both phone wiring and cable, and it introduced higher performance to the specification. It was completed in November, and compliant products were already on the market earlier last year, Nesin said. He said service providers have rejected wireless LAN and powerline technologies because of high error rates. But carriers in some markets around the world have embraced both of those alternatives, according to Scherf.
ITU certification can aid a new technology by overcoming regulatory hurdles in some countries, Scherf said. In addition, it clears up questions about licensing intellectual property used in the standard.
In any case, it’s likely that many homes will use a hybrid of something like HomePNA and wireless LAN, both for flexibility and because not every home has a phone jack in every room where broadband is needed, Scherf said.
-Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service (San Francisco Bureau)
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