SAN JOSE, Calif. – Qualcomm Atheros has announced the first powerline transceiver based on the Green PHY specification of the HomePlug group. The chip is the latest entrant in the race to create smart energy networks.
Powerline specialist Intellon started the design of what has become the QCA7000 before it was acquired by Atheros in September 2009, then acquired in turn by Qualcomm in January. Intellon secured a grant to develop the chip as part of the U.S. technology stimulus aimed at boosting work in smart electric grids.
To date, Zigbee has won most of the sockets for networking smart meters to devices in the home and back-end utility networks. However, utilities have not activated the Zigbee connections on most smart meters, waiting for standards to develop that will create an ecosystem of devices and software to enable smart electric nets in the home.
The Smart Energy Profile 2.0 now in development aims to enable any kind of wired or wireless network supporting Internet Protocol. It won backing from proponents of ITU G.hn, powerline, Wi-Fi and Zigbee networks.
Makers of energy-hungry white goods such as refrigerators and dryers have yet to embed networking in their products. They are waiting for standards to shake out and costs to fall before taking the plunge.
A handful of chip makers helped draft the Green PHY specification including Arkados, Gigle (now part of Broadcom), Marvell, Renesas, Spidcom and ST Microelectronics. They will likely compete with Qualcomm for sockets in smart electric networks.
The QCA7000 is a single chip supporting the Green PHY spec that delivers about a Mbit/second of applications layer throughput. It packs a power management unit, analog front end and memory in an 8x8mm QFN package.
The chip supports SPI and UART host interfaces, a GPIO bus and an optional flash interface to link to smart plugs and monitoring sensors.
Qualcomm hopes it finds a wide variety of uses in plug-in electrical vehicles, smart energy nets and remote monitoring applications. Samples of the QCA7000 chip are available now with volume production scheduled for early 2012.
The Green PHY spec supports the IEEE 1901 standard. It is a subset of the HomePlug AV powerline networking spec that supports data rates up to 200 Mbits/s.