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Qualcomm Atheros shamelessly copies Sigma’s powerline strategy

Lost in all of the Atheros announcements for Computex is the fact that it has its own new version of what arch-rival Sigma has been calling MIMO, for


Published: 2 June, 2011


Lost in all of the Atheros announcements for Computex is the fact that it has its own new version of what arch-rival Sigma has been calling MIMO, for the HomePlug system. It calls this system SmartLink, which it says is a new powerline technology which increases coverage by transferring data across all three electrical wires line, neutral and ground. Atheros describes this as being analogous to Wi-Fi switched antenna diversity. Atheros acquired original HomePlug chipmaker Intellon before being acquired by Qualcomm itself, which is why it’s interested.

While Sigma pushes technology and its own MIMO power technology, Atheros’ strategy is to shorten the distance that takes the industry forward, in order to marginalize it and get the world to stick with HomePlug.

While it has criticized Sigma for its MIMO expression and the way it is being retrofitted into, Atheros is effectively copying the maneuver and announcing an offering which is just as non-standard as Sigmas.

Atheros claims its new APH126 Hy-Fi reference design offers a range of configurations which allow OEMs to create a variety of hybrid networking products at the right price performance, which means low priced.

The core Hy-Fi system offers hybrid networking algorithms for intelligent path selection, load balancing and smooth path switching between three technologies developed in accordance with the developing IEEE 1905.1 specification for a common data and control service access point in IEEE P1901, IEEE 802.11, IEEE 802.3 and MoCA 1.1 technologies.

The new Atheros Hy-Fi reference design is based on the AR9344 dual-band 802.11n SoC and anticipates a second 802.11n radio to drive throughput up to 450 Mbps. The other major chip included is the AR7400, which it says offers a 500 Mbps powerline transceiver chip using HomePlug AV. Of course this chip is the device which uses extra spectrum, similar to which takes it outside the HomePlug standard. It will talk to another AR7400 at 500 Mbps, but it will have a far slower connection with a HomePlug chip from another manufacturer.

But this configuration balances the throughput between the two mediums and it makes sense from a reference design point of view, but we can’t see why any major CE manufacturers would want to go down this route until it was an approach that two sources or more could supply.

But the newest thing is the Atheros SmartLink technology using all three power wires, which it says increases powerline coverage by up to 50% in previously hard-to-reach outlets. Atheros has consistently said to us that their customers want to push the throughput of the worst performing plug in the house, because that’s what limits their services. The reference design also has the Atheros AR8327 Gigabit Ethernet switch.

General availability of the new Hy-Fi reference design is expected in third quarter of 2011 and is clearly targeted at pay TV operators who will provide end to end networking in a home rather than the CE manufacturers such as Sony, Samsung and LG.

SmartLink works by using all three power wires line, neutral and ground and uses real-time information to send packets over the best powerline path (usually line-neutral or line-ground), dynamically adapting to changing conditions on a per-packet basis using a smart algorithm.


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