G.hn home-network backers plan tests next week

Vendors will test chip sets using the ITU G.hn standard for interoperability

The G.hn technology for wired residential networks should be a step closer to consumers' homes after interoperability tests taking place next week.

G.hn is an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) standard, approved last June, for high-speed networking over coaxial cable, phone lines and electrical wiring. It is designed for speeds as high as 1G bps (bits per second), though performance will vary depending on the medium used. Powerline and coaxial data networks have been available for years, but G.hn is intended to unify all three media. Consumer products using the technology may hit the market by the end of this year.

The testing, sponsored by the HomeGrid Forum and Broadband Forum, will help makers of G.hn chipsets ensure their silicon can work together in the same network. It will also help to work out the kinks in a test plan to be used in a formal product certification program later this year, according to Kimberly Lewis, marketing co-chair of the HomeGrid Forum. Tests will take place May 23-27 at ITU facilities in Geneva.

At least one silicon vendor, Lantiq, is already shipping G.hn chipsets in sample quantities to a small number of manufacturers. Lantiq's customers expect to ship consumer products by the late 2011 holiday shopping season, according to Chano Gomez, director of business development at Lantiq. The first products are likely to be adapters with Ethernet jacks for connecting PCs into a G.hn network, such as a unit that plugs into an electric wall socket, Gomez said. Sigma Designs also announced a G.hn chipset last October, saying it would ship in sample quantities in the first quarter of this year.

G.hn has taken longer than some other technologies to get from completed standard to shipping products. HomeGrid's Lewis said the complexity of handling three types of networks, plus the small size of many of the early vendors in this space, partly caused the slow movement. Next week's tests will help move G.hn along, she said.

"Things should start moving faster once we get past this milestone," Lewis said.

But meanwhile, existing powerline systems from the HomePlug Powerline Alliance and coaxial networks from MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) are gaining large customer bases among consumer electronics vendors and with service providers that distribute home networking gear, said Parks Associates analyst Kurt Scherf.

"It's going to get a lot harder for companies to switch boats in midstream," Scherf said.

Just as important, he added, these technologies are now being mated with Wi-Fi, the type of network most consumers like to use in their homes, at least for devices such as PCs and tablets. On Tuesday, chip maker Atheros said it introduced a faster, more advanced version of its Hy-Fi silicon that combines Wi-Fi, HomePlug and Ethernet.

Vendors will be able to combine Wi-Fi with G.hn gear as well, HomeGrid's Lewis said. She downplayed potential lost opportunities.

"There's still a whole big market out there that still has to make a decision," Lewis said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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