SAN JOSE, Calif. – A handful of companies are have agreed to draft a standard that could help unify fragmented wireless and wired home networks. The IEEE 1905.1 group has backing from Atheros, Broadcom, Cisco Systems, Intel, Marvell, Toshiba and others.
About twenty engineers are expected to attend the group's first meeting in Paris this week. They hope to have a draft standard available by early 2012 defining an abstraction layer covering Wi-Fi, powerline, coax and Ethernet home networks.
Chip makers increasingly share a vision of connecting all devices to all services in the digital home. They recognize that no one network can handle that vision, so many have been hammering out hybrid home network strategies.
For example, Wi-Fi chip maker Atheros bought powerline specialist Intellon in September 2009 and announced hybrid Wi-Fi/HomePlug reference designs recently. Rival Broadcom acquired powerline chip maker Gigle in November 2010 and has similar reference designs in the works.
The IEEE effort will specifically cover Wi-Fi, Ethernet, the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) version 1.1 spec and the two powerline technologies specified by the IEEE standard 1901.
"We identified a need for convergence between Wi-Fi and powerline in Europe, and at the same time some people in the U.S. were also targeting similar convergence between MoCA and Wi-Fi, so we all talked and there was a common will to reach a standard," said Paul Houze, chairman for 1905.1 and a standard expert for France Telecom.
In separate interviews, companies such as MoCA chip provider Entropic Communications and powerline chip maker Sigma Designs expressed support for the hybrid home network concept.
The 1905.1 group's abstraction layer will reside between the media access controller and the Internet Protocol layers. It aims to make it easier to install and manage hybrid home networks so consumers "can buy devices with several interfaces that can plug and play," said Houze.
The interface likely will require changes in home networking silicon, he added.
The standard will be extendable to work with other home networking technologies, according to a description on the group's Web site. It's not clear however if it will be useful for uniting the fragmented world of relatively narrowband home automation networks such as Zigbee and Z-Wave.
The 1905.1 standard aims to permit dynamic interface selection of protocols or transports for transmission of packets arriving from any interface and support end-to-end quality of service (QoS) policies, the Web site said.
The standard aims to simplify for hybrid networks processes such as adding devices to the network, setting up encryption key and extending network coverage. It also aims to streamline management features on hybrid nets such as network and device discovery, path selection, QoS negotiation and network control and management.
"It's really a new idea [and] we have to accommodate technologies that aren’t necessarily alike, so there will be some real technical challenges," he said.
Atheros, Broadcom and France Telecom collaborated on the project authorization request granted by IEEE in October. The trio has continued its collaboration on areas such as use cases and technical requirements, but it remains to be seen if the three parties will remain united when it comes time for technical contributions for defining the standard.