Interview - IEEE 1901 Powerline Communication Standard

Frederic Onado, SPiDCOM

Frederic Onado is Chief Operating Officer of SPiDCOM Technologies and he is also Vice President EMEA of HomePlug Powerline Alliance.

SPiDCOM Technologies is a fabless semiconductor company. It specializes in integrated circuits and Linux-based software bundles for Multimedia Home Networking, EoC (Ethernet over Coax), BPL Access, Smart Grid and other any wire based applications (powerline, coax, phoneline). SPiDCOM provides both proprietary & HomePlug AV standard based open solutions to its partners for “no-limits” product developments.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance, Inc. is an industry-led initiative with more than 70 member companies that creates specifications and certification logo programs for using the powerlines for reliable home networking and Smart Grid applications. The Alliance accelerates worldwide adoption for HomePlug technology by collaborating with international standards organizations such as the IEEE and through market development and user education programs.

 

Q : What is IEEE 1901 Powerline Communication standard?
Back in 2005, all the major stakeholders (including utilities, telecom operators, manufacturers and semiconductor vendors) joined forces inside IEEE standardization body to define a common powerline communication standard. That was a necessity in order to end the market fragmentation due to competing technologies.

After an extended selection process where all stakeholders could present their proposals, the group chose to develop the IEEE 1901 Standard using HomePlug AV as the baseline technology. This standard was also designed to accommodate Smart Grid applications as well as next-generation broadband-speed solutions.

Q: When will the standard be adopted? 
In April 2010, the standard passed the first sponsor ballot with over 80% support, which paves the way for a final ratification at the end of Q3 2010.

The standard has been stable for a long time now, and the draft specification is available for download on the IEEE website since January 2010.

Q : What will be the consequences for the powerline communication industry?
I see three main consequences.

First, this global standard eliminates previous market fragmentation, laying a unified foundation of interoperable standards for powerline; it includes next-generation broadband (HomePlug AV2) and smart energy (Green PHY).

Next, the ratification of the IEEE 1901 global standard will boost the adoption of powerline communication and increase the number and diversity of products on the market. HomePlug AV already has three semiconductor vendors and all of them will manufacture IEEE 1901 chips in short order.

Last, all successful home networking standards emanate from IEEE including Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth. Now IEEE 1901 for powerline networking joins that family of standards and we expect this will lead to the same level of market success.

Q: What will be the primary applications enabled by this standard?
The primary application will be powerline communication home networking for HD/SD video streaming (especially over-the-top video services), Internet sharing, gaming, connect NAS/PVR/PCs… using the home electrical wires.

Then, the standard was also designed for smart grid applications (remote metering, manage outages, implementation of variable tariff schedules…) and Access BPL.

Q: Who will benefit the most from the standard?
Everybody will benefit from the IEEE 1901 standard, but the end-user will be the biggest winner. Indeed, the standard will drive prices down, increase the number of products on the market place and lead to the integration of the technology directly inside consumer electronic devices in the short/medium term.

Q: What about interoperability with existing powerline communication technologies?
During the last two years, the powerline market has unified quickly to more than 95% of products now sold under HomePlug AV technology. So before being an IEEE standard, HomePlug AV was already a market standard; IEEE 1901 is interoperable and compatible with this installed base of millions of HomePlug AV products.

Furthermore, a strong foundation of interoperable standards is assured, as HomePlug AV and IEEE 1901 provide the interoperability baseline for HomePlug’s Smart Grid and Next Generation powerline networking technologies.

Q : SPiDCOM’s chip based on HomePlug AV specification will therefore also interoperate with IEEE 1901 standard?
Exactly. This validates SPiDCOM vision and strategy.  We’ve been deeply involved inside HomePlug Powerline Alliance & IEEE 1901 for the last 7 years, strongly believing that the key decisions for the PLC industry were going to be taken there. That’s why we dedicated so much effort and energy to make things happen.

Our SPC300 HomePlug AV SoC achieved its first design wins; our open approach (dual core SoC with Linux firmware) got a great interest in the industry. With IEEE 1901 ratified, the SPC300 will therefore be the only open platform that interoperates with this standard.

Q: Who will certify the products based on IEEE 1901?
HomePlug Powerline Alliance will be the certification body for IEEE 1901. It has a long experience of product certification, as it has previously developed compliance and interoperability programs for several generations of HomePlug technologies. To date, more than 200 powerline communication products have been certified by HomePlug Powerline Alliance.

Q:  When do you expect we will see the first products introduced to the market?
End of 2010 is a realistic timeframe to find the first IEEE 1901 products on the market, all of them being interoperable with the wide installed base of HomePlug AV products.

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