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« The Obligatory First Post | Main | Coop's Home Networking Challenges »

October 13, 2008

Why do we need a unified standard at all?

One of the most common questions that I hear when I talk about what G.hn and HomeGrid Forum are trying to do is "Why do we need a unified standard at all? What is the problem with having a standard that works over powerlines, another that works over phone lines, and so on?"

My response is always the same: even if each of the existing "medium-specific" standards and industry specification available today do a good job at solving specific problems for specific markets, many players in the industry would benefit enormously from having a single unified standard that can work over different physical media.

Although 802.11 wireless technology is the most popular choice for consumers that simply need to share a broadband connection, the vast majority of IPTV service providers are using wired networks (powerline, phonelines or coaxial cable) as a home networking solution for SD and HD video delivery. The reason is that wired solutions in general provide better performance, reliability and security than wireless options.

The problem today is that each market has chosen a different solution: while European IPTV service providers in general are using powerline-based solutions (because coaxial and phoneline connections are scarce in European homes), North American service providers are mostly using a variety of coaxial and phoneline solutions for home networking. Both markets are very attractive, so silicon vendors are interested in addressing both without having to develop different products for each market.

At the same time, equipment manufacturers (vendors of Set-Top-Boxes and Residential Gateways) that want to sell in all these markets today are being forced to develop three or more versions of their products, each one with a different physical interface. This represents a huge problem in terms of extra development cost, more complex product planning and supply forecast, etc.

Even Service Providers that may have standardized on a single physical medium can benefit from deploying a technology that can work well in any media. If a service provider normally uses powerlines, it can still benefit from using a coaxial connection if one is available in a specific location. Also, if a service provider normally uses coaxial connections, it can use powerlines to provide solutions to those customers that don't have a suitable coaxial cable in one of the rooms where they want to install their TV.

Having a unified standard will increase competition and decrease costs:

  • Silicon vendors can address two or three markets different simultaneously, with a single chip. NRE costs are reduced, unit volume is increased and per-unit cost is reduced thanks to economies of scale.
  • Silicon vendors that used to supply to different, isolated markets (to the powerline market only, or to the phoneline market only) will now compete with each other for the single unified powerline+phoneline+coaxial market, accelerating innovation and driving prices further down.

Once we take all these factors into account, it's clear why having a unified standard across different physical media is the best way to ensure that the wired home networking industry can develop its true potential.

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