Powerline networking products are quite popular in the European and Asian markets compared to the US. The Western Digital Livewire product was the first powerline product reviewed by AnandTech. In that piece, I had covered the various powerline networking standards currently in existence. The initiatives of the HomePlug consortium resulted in the IEEE P1901 standard and HomeGrid's efforts have led to the ITU G.hn specifications.

In the WD Livewire coverage, I had noted the lack of working silicon from any of the G.hn supporters as the prime reason for its struggles.

Over the last few years, many of the small powerline communication companies have ended up getting acquired by bigger corporations. Intellon was the pioneer of the HomePlug initiative, and Atheros bought them in December 2009 to augment their networking product portfolio. The powerline networking division of Conexant was purchased by CopperGate, who themselves were bought by Sigma Designs in October 2009. Gigle Networks was taken over by Broadcom, while DS2 found itself in Marvell's hands. ST Microlectronics has agreed to take over Arkados, and the only remaining player of note seems to be Spidcom. The powerline networking market is too small to support a lot of players, and it makes sense to bundle the technology with other networking offerings.

Atheros got hold of Intellon to create a hybrid networking platform. This is evidenced by the combo reference design (wi-fi router + powerline adapter) which has been adopted by Netgear and D-Link. Their future outlook involves the IEEE P1905 which is the convergent digital home network working group.

Sigma Designs is a more interesting story. IPTV has been at the core of Sigma Designs. Sigma created a vision with the set top box as the hub to power the new digital home. They acquired Coppergate to shore up the powerline networking side and Z-Wave technology for wireless home control transceivers.

Broadcom, Marvell and ST probably plan to use their PLC purchases to act as a one-stop-shop for their networking gear customers.

While Atheros is categorical in putting its weight behind IEEE P1901, the lineup from Sigma Designs is more interesting. When I visited Sigma Designs in October, I was shown some working demonstrations of HomePlug silicon, while G.hn silicon was shown at CES 2011. We will discuss Sigma's lineup first.

HomePlug Initiatives from Sigma Designs
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  • sabot00 - Wednesday, February 02, 2011 - link

    This seems to be a great alternative to Wi-Fi and Ethernet systems.
    I personally would take an Wi-Fi + Ethernet system for its power but I can see the appeal.
    Reply
  • mcnabney - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    I would say that it is a very poor option to wifi.

    The key benefit is that there is no extension of the network outside of the home that an unscroupulous person could enter through.

    Of course that eliminates the use of laptops (unless plugged into a specific location), cell phones and tablets - which is the direction the market is going. Not sure what kind of future in Powerline-based solutions since it ignores the growing segments of the market (unless you consider desktops to be a growing market).
    Reply
  • derkurt - Sunday, February 06, 2011 - link

    Actually, Powerline is often used in combination with Wi-Fi. More precisely, it is used to extend the network from the point of entry (i.e., DSL/cable modem) to some other place where an access point is connected to a powerline modem. This way, you can have a Wi-Fi network covering your entire home without having to use repeaters, which each cut throughput in half and double latency times, and also without having to install Ethernet, which can be impossible due to restrictions imposed by landlords or very expensive and aesthetically unpleasant in old houses, which do exist a lot in Europe. Reply
  • argosreality - Wednesday, February 02, 2011 - link

    Interesting article and I always thought networking over powerlines was pretty logical but this article could use a bit more editing, I think. The first two pages have a quite a few things repeated and sometimes its hard to figure out where we're going with what. Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, February 02, 2011 - link

    The blurb on the front page and the 'Introduction' section sometimes carry the same information because search engines directly link you to the Introduction section. This is intentional. People arriving via search engines need to get a background on what we are talking about too :) Reply
  • villageworker - Wednesday, February 02, 2011 - link

    As a tech. installer, mainly in residential setting, I use powerline networking technology to solve networking issues only as a last resort. Reason being its a black box. Powerline either works or doesn't. Any thoughts on how either of these chip guys are addressing the diagnostic tools issue? Reply
  • blokeuk - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    How this adapters slip thru the FCC net is beyond me, everybody knows that you cant transfer high frequency thru powerline normal cables thats why we have cat5 cat6 cables and so on, these units are wireless units that work on Shortware (HF radio amateurs , airtraffic controllers AM radio) for 100Mb and Shortwave and Ultra Shortwave (HF+VHF FM , TV and so on) for 1Gb so insted using an antenna they use Powerlines to transmit and the reciever is connected to the same antenna eg. the same powerline to receive the transmittion. PLA FDM is so wide it interfere with everything all across the bands.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utfUEEhmHYY
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-Ge61BXsaQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xAxvJILDIE

    These are not electrical comunication devices they are radio comunication devices
    If you cant install cat cables use normal 2.4Gh wi-fi instead Shortwave Wi-Fi
    These frequencies are needed for Fire Truckes Police and emergency services please dont jam.

    Thanks in advance and greetings from UK.

    PS. Anand should do RF test on these devices when reviewing PLA.
    Reply
  • lebarle - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    I don't know a lot about it, but I think blokeUK is making a very good point and would like to see what ANANDTECH can find out about it. All of our nifty electronic devices must share this limited spectrum. just looking at the first two videos listed in the blokeUK entry it would seem these powerline devices are VERY noisy and will interfere with my wireless house phones and yes maybe my neighbors police band reciever. If we raise a fuss here maybe the FCC can address this noise source before a lot of these devices get installed. Reply
  • Per Hansson - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    I can confirm your suspicions
    I recently bought the Belkin Gigabit Powerline HD networking kit

    It managed to do 5Mbps over my powerlines, an apartment built 1990.
    When I turned on my FM radio there was an amazing amount of noise in the reception when I was transmitting data, less so when I was not transmitting data but still some pops and cracks in the reception.
    When I unplugged the adapter the reception became perfect.

    Next test was to run the powerline adapter from the apartment out into my garage, the speed now dropped to 1Mbps...
    To my surprise though it managed to even interfere with the FM reception in my car!
    The signal got way harder to receive, it did not crack and pop in the audio tho, but I think that may simply be due to the fact that the stereo in my car is much better at receiving a signal, and the fact that the car itself acts like a faraday cage...

    To say the least I returned this "Gigabit" junk
    Reply
  • epobirs - Thursday, February 03, 2011 - link

    Those of us who have actually used powerline technologies know that blokeuk is completely wrong and those videos are nonsense. These devices are regulated by the FCC in the US. You know, the same FCC that also deals with the prospect of broadband over power transmission lines, with far greater potential consequence for RF comms. We simply haven't seen the same problems here because they were largely hammered out in advance.

    First of all, it's no great revelation that these are RF devices. It's little different than using coaxial lines in your home to transmit signals originally designed for over the air broadcast to multiple TVs. Guess what? Decades ago, when they started running coax through houses, ham operators took to whining and the FCC took on new responsibilities. A lot of gear on the market long ago is essentially illegal now. Today's spectrum is pretty well managed here. I work with a lot of RF geeks who are involved in emergency services support. None of them has voiced a complaint with powerline equipment sold in this market.

    Wi-Fi is not an alternative for many and that number is growing. Wireless is shared spectrum and in many places the spectrum is severely overused. As most ISP are now supplying new customers with Wi-Fi routers there are whole neighborhoods where it has become essentially useless in large patches due to competing overlapping APs. At CES this year the problem was endemic. The head of Nvidia begged audience members during a keynote presentation to shut off the Wi-Fi portion of their phones because it was preventing him from running a demo using wireless. This is a growing problem that isn't getting much attention.

    Powerline isn't going to interfere with your cordless phone. These are far more common than Ham gear in households and would quickly put any powerline vendor out of business if that was the case. Ham operators are pretty thin on the ground compared to teenage girls.

    As mentioned by another commenter, a far bigger complaint, from an installer's perspective, is knowing how powerline will behave in a particular building. Wiring can vary wildly. In my own condo speeds are fine between nodes on the same floor but drop to a small fraction for a node upstairs trying to talk to one downstairs. Few SOHO IT guys have the electrician's knowledge needed to really say what is going on when they get no signal at all between nodes.
    Reply

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