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Alternative Networking: Slowly inching forward

The headline about says it all for the state of powerline and TV coax-based networking this year. On the powerline front, the DS2 / UPA vs. Intellon / HomePlug battle continues, with DS2 in the lead for 200 Mbps-or-so (or "HD") powerline networking products shipped, mostly into IPTV applications outside the U.S., but also widely available through online and neighborhood retailers. HomePlug AV products have been announced by Zyxel and Linksys, but haven't hit retail yet (I've been waiting since late November for my promised test samples from Zyxel).

Linksys PLE200 PowerLine AV Ethernet Adapter

Linksys PLE200 PowerLine AV Ethernet Adapter

The HomePlug forces say they have signed on Actiontec, Asoka USA, Aztech, devolo AG, D-Link, Gigafast, Linksys, NETGEAR, Sercomm, Siemens Home and Office Communication Devices, Solwise and ZyXEL for fielding HomePlug AV products although currently-shipping "HD" powerline products from D-Link (DHP-301) and Netgear (HDX101) use DS2 chipsets.

I asked DS2, Intellon and HomePlug booth reps whether any progress had been made on at least allowing DS2 and HomePlug products to be plugged into the same home's wiring without them rendering each other inoperable. Sadly, the answer is no. So you better pay attention to what you're buying if you go shopping for powerline networking products and get either all DS2 or all Intellon based gear. DS2 products should be identifiable by a UPA (Universal Powerline Association) logo somewhere on the box, while Intellon products should have a HomePlug logo.

It's too bad that the two camps have chosen a path that is sure to give consumers some unhappy experiences with powerline technology, because I think that the 200+ Mbps technology might be a contender for streaming HD content on a home network. But the stakes are big and so are the corporate egos, so once again, the consumer takes the risk when trying to figure out what to buy.

Extending your network onto your home's TV coax cabling is also getting more real. But once again, there are competing technologies. The key player in this area is Entropic whose technology forms the basis of the Multimedia over Coax Alliance's (MoCA) spec. However, Entropic is being challenged by both DS2 and Intellon, who have repurposed their powerline technology to also work over coax.

The consumer is at less risk here for purchasing incompatible products, since coax-based networking seems to be limited to deployment by service providers. No Ethernet-to-coax networking adapters are currently available in retail, nor do any seem planned for the near future (although I did see a Linksys blue box Ethernet / coax bridge in Entropic's booth and was told that Actiontec might be considering a retail product).

Given the superior electrical environment, a coax-based networking solution would be the next best thing to Ethernet for HD streaming. But since coax isn't guaranteed to be found in every room and power outlets are, coax networking covers a smaller percentage of possible households.

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