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Posted on 01 August 2019

The Next BIG Thing!

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Whole-house Digital Media over AC Power Lines

Industry watchers are always asking, “What’s going to be the next big thing?” They are asking what the next big wave in technology will be – the next big money maker, industry builder – the next big impact on society like that of the automobile, airplane, television, computer, Internet, cell phone, and all other means of mobile personal communications.

By Mark E. Hazen, Senior Technical Writer, Intellon Corporation

 

Well, I have an answer for you – it’s whole-house networking that enables instant digital media access from every and any location in the home. That includes whole-house access to the Internet, TV/IPTV/Video (both standardand high-definition video), served-up streaming music, file sharing, security, and more.

Advanced Wired Technology

Advanced wired technology is now making this possible. That’s right, wired! It’s a technology that uses the existing wired power and coax infrastructure in the home to form the network. While household coax has been used for digital video and Internet access, AC wiring has not, until now. New advanced Powerline Communications (PLC) technology converts every AC outlet in the home into a network connection point. Each AC outlet now can serve double-duty as both a source of AC power and an access point for digital content. Powerline technology transforms AC power wiring into Ethernet lines. Modular or embedded Ethernet-to-powerline (bidirectional) adapters are used to accomplish this. There are no longer restrictions on where a TV or computer must be placed. There is no need for a cable jack or phone jack to be nearby. All multimedia and data content is available from any AC outlet.

‘BIG Thing’ Enablers

So, who is behind the ‘Next BIG Thing’? It’s a phenomenal list of industry who’s who. United under the banner of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance standards organization (www.homeplug.org), the list includes semiconductor companies, consumer electronics companies, equipment manufacturers and major service providers around the world. The synergy of this complete market chain is making the ‘Next BIG Thing’ a reality. Customers will hear from their service providers regarding this new technology starting in the second half of 2006. Many field tests are underway now.

Vexing Problems and Costs

Until now, phone, TV and Internet service providers have been vexed with the problem of getting their service into the home in locations where the customer wants it. Trucks have had to roll with technicians to install both equipment and wiring to meet customer needs. The trend now is for service to be a ‘self-install’ proposition, in which the customer is shipped or collects the equipment from a central office, or even purchases the equipment from a retailer, and installs it without on-site assistance. Technology is not always easy to self-install and it still doesn’t address the problem of being restricted to coax and phone jacks. For self-install to be truly successful, the customer should be asked to do little more than simply plug the devices in anywhere they want and start using the equipment and services.

Deployment

Figure 1 illustrates how PLC technology is starting to be deployed. Different service providers may have different approaches to enabling their customers. Satellite service providers are interested in making video content available at every AC outlet and coax jack in the house. Cable companies, who already offer broadband Internet access and digital TV with PVR, may take advantage of PLC to dis- tribute live TV, Video on Demand (VoD) and stored video content throughout the home and to provide whole-house Internet access to customers. Telephone companies are starting to offer Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) using DSL technology and PLC to make Internet access, IPTV, VoD and other services available at every AC outlet in the home. What is common here is that all service providers want their customers to enjoy television and video distribution to any location in the home. PLC and the AC outlets make that happen. Each service is based on a central host digital tuner/media server box, which receives, stores and distributes TV/video content. Low-cost client boxes plug into any chosen outlet, or available coax jack, and are connected to TVs or monitors via standard video and audio interfaces. The remote control for the client box is used to select programming. Figure 2 shows the use of the client box. Program content is delivered over the AC power lines to the client box. Optionally, a coax jack may be used if there is one nearby. Having the option to use existing coax is a hybrid PLC/coax approach. The client box includes the PLC adapter and control circuitry needed for channel selection and the retrieval of stored audio and video content. Media-enabled PCs will also be part of the home network with the ability to surf the Internet, stream video and music, receive IPTV and serve as a Personal Video Recorder (PVR). Figure 3 shows how the media PC is added to the powerline network.

Service Providers Deliver Whole-House Content Distrubtion

Use of the PLC Client Box

PLC-connected Media-enabled PC Brings Total Convergence

The ‘Next BIG Thing’ Rides on the Powerful PLC Backbone

Installing a home network that offers broadband Internet sharing but scales well to high-quality audio/video/IPTV content distribution requires a ‘backbone’ concept to be introduced into home networking. This concept allows the service provider to consider a hybrid network solution to serve the varied applications. A hybrid network that utilizes household AC wiring and installed coax cables provides the needed whole-house ubiquity. Mobile applications such as Wi-Fi-enabled notebooks, PDAs and other devices, may require optimizing the wireless coverage by utilizing the PLC backbone and wireless solutions in tandem. Using the PLC backbone, wireless access points can be placed in any desired location in the home to create hotspots. Table 1 compares the various technologies that may comprise the hybrid network and backbone. Home power lines are the most readily available physical medium for whole-house distribution. The average number of power sockets found in a typical home is over 40. These sockets are readily available in all areas of the home and do not require new wiring or the installation of jacks and signal splitters. With a powerful and reliable whole-house backbone, customers can fully enjoy freedom of mobility and freedom to locate their entertainment stations anywhere throughout the home. HomePlug AV provides the robust backbone that frees the service providers’ customers to fully enjoy the services they provide without the expense of truck rolling and the negative effects of customer technophobia. Just plug-it-in technology is what customers and service providers want. How does HomePlug PLC technology work? How is it possible to put digital information on wires that carry 120 or 240 volts AC power? Those questions and more will be answered in The Next BIG Thing Part 2: BIG Thing Technology (coming in the next issue of Bodo’s Power Systems magazine).

Technologies that May Comprise the Hybrid Home Network

HomePlug Powerline Technology

Powerline Technology has been around for over a decade. The HomePlug 1.0 standard, ratified in 2001, supports extended powerline networking for data sharing at data rates up to 14 Mbps. The new Home-Plug AV standard, ratified in August 2005, is designed to support data sharing along with streaming audio and video, both standard and high-definition, at channel rates up to 200 Mbps. This is what is enabling a massive rollout of the ‘Next BIG Thing’.

HomePlug Powerline Alliance

Sponsors: Comcast, GE Security, Intel, Linksys, Motorola, Samsung, Sharp and Sony
Contributors: arKados, Conexant and Intellon - and over 60 Participants and Adopters

 

Acronyms

AV Audio Video
ADSL Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line
DSL Digital Subscriber Line (digital data service over phone system)
HDTV High-definition TV
IPTV Internet Protocol Television (TVchannels supplied digitally over the phone network)
Mbps Mega-bits per second (Millions of bits of data per second)
PLC Powerline Communications
PVR Personal Video Recorder (stores video digitally on a hard drive for replay on demand)
QoS Quality of Service
SDTV Standard-definition TV
VDSL Very high-data-rate DSL
VoD Video on Demand (video content viewed as desired from an IPTV source or an in-house video server)
VoIP Voice over Internet Protocol (telephone service over the Internet)

 

 

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