New G.hn ITU standard for home networks

The International Telecommunication Union has approved a standard for high-speed networking over multiple types of in-home wiring.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has approved a standard for high-speed networking over multiple types of in-home wiring.

The powerful world standards organization said Friday that agreement has been reached on G.hn, a set of specifications that would encompass phone lines, power lines and coaxial cable within homes. Vendors will be able to use the standard to build network hardware to send high-definition TV from room to room, the ITU said. Without specifying speeds, G.hn networks will deliver 20 times the throughput of current wireless technologies and three times the performance of wired home networks.

As service providers begin to deliver high-definition TV and video-on-demand to homes, the Wi-Fi networks that consumers typically use to share a broadband Internet connection have not been up to the task of sending that content from room to room. Several industry groups, including the Home Phone Network Alliance (HomePNA), the HomePlug Powerline Alliance and the Multimedia Over Coax Alliance (MOCA), have pushed different technologies to take advantage of the wires and sockets already in homes.

A new industry group, the HomeGrid Forum, has been formed to create a compliance and interoperability program and market G.hn worldwide.

A single international standard is likely to slash the cost of equipment by increasing the economies of scale for chip makers and other manufacturers, according to In-Stat analyst Joyce Putscher. The makers of current home-networking products will probably embrace the ITU standard once chips are available, while also including backward compatibility with their current systems, she said.

The fast wired networks aren't intended to replace Wi-Fi, which is expected to remain the preferred technology for access to the Web and other data that doesn't have the strict quality requirements of video.

Although the first G.hn products will probably be provided by carriers rather than offered in retail stores, the common standard should lead more service providers to deliver fast in-home networking gear to their subscribers, Putscher said. After that, more gear should show up in stores. G.hn-compatible products would be able to talk to each other, but backward compatibility with products that use today's technologies will be optional and consumers should check product documentation for it, she said.

However, none of these issues will be relevant by the year-end holiday season in 2009 or even 2010, Putscher believes. She estimates that G.hn-compatible chips could be available in sample quantities in the second half of 2010, with full systems most likely available in 2011 from service providers. The ITU said products could be out as early as 2010. The MAC (media access control) layer of the standard is still being worked on, according to the ITU.

"Standards always take longer than everybody wants," Putscher said.

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