Monday, March 28, 2011

Is 2011 The Year of Powerline Networking?

Having followed the home networking market for over a decade, I’ve gleaned a few lessons along the way:

1. A decade is probably too long to analyze any market, let alone home networking.
2. It’s a market of a thousand turf wars — many of them over now — for physical layers, software protocols and product categories. (Fun piece of home network nostalgia for the day: While Intel no doubt helped Wi-Fi go mainstream with Centrino, the company once saw Home RF as the future of the wireless home. Luckily for them, they eventually came to their senses.)
3. The home network has become a critical but largely invisible services platform for all things from Netflix to pay TV.
4. As connected entertainment becomes the dominant traffic and demand driver, the nature of the home network itself is changing.

One technology, Wi-Fi (and the spec underlying the Wi-Fi brand, 802.11x) not only won the turf wars, but effectively dropped a nuclear bomb on any competing networking technologies. In fact, it’s a pretty easy argument to make that Wi-Fi has been the single most important technology in the connected-home marketplace for the past decade.

But while Wi-Fi continues to be required on any connected entertainment device, that doesn’t mean the experience of Wi-Fi is always optimal. Anyone whose streamed Netflix over a significant range or a few walls knows the quality of the stream falls off pretty quickly, and sometimes will not work at all.

So what else is there? In the pay-TV space, U.S. providers like Verizon have settled on MoCA (a coax-based networking technology), while many European IPTV providers have adopted powerline, in particular HomePlug, for in-home distribution.

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