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G.hn and HomePlug get tetchy over which will conquer the world

We wrote a single throwaway line after the IPTV World Forum, about the respective speeds of the two competing factions in “no new wires” networks, G

By PETER WHITE

Published: 28 April, 2011

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We wrote a single throwaway line after the IPTV World Forum, about the respective speeds of the two competing factions in “no new wires” networks, G.hn HomeGrid and P1901Homeplug. It triggered mayhem.

Unwittingly we put HomeGrid’s real world performance claims in a sentence with a huge sign we saw on the Devolo stand – quite simply “Why wait for G.hn we do 500 mbps now,” an unfair comparison because this was clearly the PHY (physical layer maximum theoretical rate) of one system up against the real performance of another. HomeGrid has been claiming a 1Gbps PHY for a while now and Sigma is fond of claiming 3Gbps because it uses all three power cables to deliver it using its ClearPath technology .

Reviewing all major coverage of this debate it seems we have all been brainwashed into believing that just because a technology system is new, it’s better than the one it was designed to replace. It’s usually the case, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. So perhaps instead of asking if G.hn can or will work, we should ask whether or not it is any better than HomePlug, and in particular HomePlug AV2, due out as a standard this quarter.

When the piece ran in a partner publication, it triggered a hail of complaint in particular from Sigma Designs with Michael Weissman, VP of corporate marketing, writing an “outraged” letter, stating “facts” as he saw them.

From the other camp the phone rang a few times as well, and emails went hither and yon, “Did we know the difference between PHY rates and real world performance?” “Had we heard of IEE 1901?” One throwaway line can get you into trouble in this business, but the truth is that we stand by it, if you have a PHY of 500 Mbps, it’s probably enough to deliver HD around a home, so why worry – surely both systems are fine. What everyone wanted to know was did we need help understanding this?

Do we need help? Well perhaps. We certainly felt the need to think about it and come up with some guidance for our readers, because although understanding the technology isn’t all that hard, we also have to understand how the mechanics of the IEEE work and where the power is in this equation. After all large companies have been known to turn up with 50 new members on an IEEE committee, vote out the chairman, and hijack the standard.

So for the record let’s establish what the two sides are? Promoter members for HomeGrid include Sigma, Lantiq, Intel, Gigle and Marvell, as well as VDSL specialist Ikanos, and these are the chipmakers who are driving G.hn, all of them very capable. And yet Intel is very clearly in both camps, and Gigle has been acquired by Broadcom, another chip maker just as clearly pushing the opposing HomePlug camp, and joining as a board director in January.

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