SAN JOSE, Calif. Atheros Communications is trying to rally interest in defining a standard for mesh technology in home networks. Such a standard would help the company merge and add value to its Wi-Fi and powerline chips.
The IEEE 802.11 group that created the Wi-Fi standard has tried for years to set a standard for mesh networks, so far without success. The problem, in part, has been efforts have involved a wide range of stakeholders interested in a variety of home, metro, military and public service nets.
"When you start with that kind of crowd in a room you get a mess," said Bill McFarland, chief technology officer at Atheros in an interview at the Embedded Systems Conference
"We are interested in standardization, but we will do it in a focused way for mesh in powerline, Wi-Fi and MoCA," McFarland said, referring to the Multimedia over Coax Alliance. "We are only talking about home networking," he said.
The discussions so far have involved members of MoCA, other Wi-Fi companies and members of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. They have not yet decided whether they want to try to set an ad hoc standard or work through the 802.11 group.
"There is a lot of discussion of that at the moment, and each approach has its advantages," said McFarland. "I expect it will be resolved in the next few months," he said.
Atheros is in an early stage of developing its own mesh technology. It demonstrated traffic running across Wi-Fi and powerline nets over a few discrete hops at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. However, it is yet to show robust multi-hop technology supporting quality-of-service policies.
Atheros envisions hybrid home nets that can use powerline to help Wi-Fi nets extend their range or route past walls. "There's a great use model story there," he said.
Of course, vendors such as Atheros will have to create software to make the different device IDs, addresses and keys on hybrid networks appear as if they are on a single net for consumers, McFarland noted.
The work on mesh standards comes as Atheros is sampling a new powerline chip set from Intellon which it acquired in September. As many as five other chip makers are about to debut powerline chips that, like Intellon, are based on the ad hoc standard of the HomePlug group and the IEEE 1901. They include Arkados, Gigle Networks, Renesas and STMicroelectronics.
"The big evolution is we now have an IEEE standard coupled with price reductions that will let us move from installations based on adapters to being embedded," said McFarland. "Powerline has never been embedded into another devoice, but now TVs and Blu-Ray players might have it built right in.
"We are across the chasm in embedded Wi-Fi and we are about to cross it for powerline," he added.
Long term, Atheros believes it can produce integrated silicon for Wi-Fi and powerline, making the mesh software even more strategic. "We don't have definite product plans, but I don't see how it would not come to pass eventually," he said.