G.hn’s cloudy outlook in the home-networking space

The proponents of G.hn should be excited. After all, the new triple-wire home networking standard is inching ever closer to market, what with ITU approval of the specification last year, the availability of the world’s first G.hn chipset this year and a fairly successful plugfest in Geneva this week.

But even after all that, the outlook for G.hn is still cloudy. Why? Because while the technology makes a lot of sense in theory —one chipset, three wires — so far only two service providers (BT and AT&T) have publicly committed to using it. And while G.hn may eventually make it to the retail sales channel, the wide adoption of Wi-Fi and HomePlug in home networks today makes for a pretty formidable one-two punch that will be hard to avoid.

So does G.hn stand a chance? While (naturally) some of the backers of MoCA (the standard for home-coax networking) and HomePlug (the standard for powerline home networking) would say no, there are still viable advantages that continue to make G.hn attractive:

  • One technology and three wires should mean (eventually) lower costs. One MAC/PHY to work over three wires will mean only one gateway SKU, and this should mean lower costs to service providers both in hardware and training.
  • The standard is an approved International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standard, which means it should be widely available and free of the IP licensing snags that crop up with proprietary technologies.
  • It is next-generation standard — meaning it has a data throughput of up to 1 gbps — making it competitive with the next-generation MoCA (MoCA 2.0) and HomePlug (AV2) standards, which are both promising gigabit per second speeds.

With these advantages, why is G.hn still appearing to struggle? One reason is that the technology is late to market for many. In North America, MoCA has become the de facto multimedia networking technology for service providers, while HomePlug has gained significant traction at retail as an alternative to Wi-Fi and has seen some success overseas.

Perhaps most importantly, one of the biggest critiques of G.hn is that it’s not backwards-compatible with HomePlug or MoCA. It makes sense for a new standard to essentially work from a “clean slate” technologically, but for those service providers with millions of MoCA boxes in the field or for those with a HomePlug network, moving to G.hn would require a “forklift upgrade” of the home network.

Are things hopeless for G.hn? No, but the technology needs to find momentum quickly, both with additional service provider commitments and the shipping of hardware. Today silicon has already shipped from the likes of Sigma and Lantiq to hardware manufacturers, but there are no production units of G.hn in the field. For a standard that was completed a year ago, to just start holding plugfests and have no production hardware is a sign that things are not moving quickly.

Once hardware is available, it is likely that some service providers will field trial G.hn. Field trials take time, and all the while, MoCA and HomePlug keep marching on, with devices being deployed and next-generation technologies on the cusp of delivery.

Bottom line: If G.hn hopes to stand a chance, it needs to start showing results in the marketplace, and fast.

Question of the week

What does G.hn need to do in order to gain traction in the home networking market?

Why We May Never Reach Home Network Nirvana

Wi-Fi home networks are no longer the sole domain of the tech-savvy, while more and more non-PC devices — be they game consoles or iPod touches — are connecting to the network. But while the home network has, in fact, evolved, we’re not anywhere near that utopian vision of the digital home. As any of us who have a home network can attest, half the time it feels like it’s hanging together with Band-Aids and silly putty, a temperamental creation in which devices can’t connect, the router needs rebooting, and if we’re lucky enough to make video streaming from the PC to the TV work, chances are it won’t tomorrow. In short, for all the advances of the home network, the transition to the full-fledged, seamlessly connected media network remains a distant vision. So what’s the deal? Why is the reality of the digital home so hard to achieve?