While eyes were on Broadband World Forum earlier this month, another event was happening that aimed to demonstrate the continued importance of G.hn, the forgotten broadband access technology.
A question raised numerous times in recent years, since the G.hn standard was approved back in 2009, is whether there is sufficient demand for G.hn in a fiber future?
The Broadband Forum (BBF) and HomeGrid Forum (HGF) certainly seem to think so. The two industry standards groups broke bread at the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Laboratory last week, for what was dubbed the first ever pre-certification plugfest for G.hn.
The beauty of G.hn as a gigabit home network communications standard is that the technology is designed to work over any network infrastructure – whether coax, telephone wires, powerline, and plastic optical fiber.
The thinking behind G.hn has always been that the technology is futureproof, yet interest from internet service providers has waned, with investments in developed markets heading to fiber and DOCSIS technologies.
Flagging demand coupled with the technology’s network agnosticism eventually led to a pivot in 2019, as the HGF merged with the GiGA Wire Alliance to transport G.hn from multi-dwelling units (MDUs) to the smart grid.
However, the latest developments appear to signal a desire from members of the two groups to return to G.hn’s multi-gigabit broadband roots.
Plugfests are all about testing interoperability of equipment and software with a technical standard. This particular plugfest was positioned as a teaser event for the forthcoming G.hn Access Certification testing, developed jointly by BBF and HGF. The two groups claim participation in the event, from organizations both on-site and remotely, provided confidence in accelerating service deployments with highly performant standard-compliant G.hn Access certified systems.
Being a plugfest, this is not the sort of event to be boasting about breaking barriers in network speeds from the lab. G.hn was initially a minimum 1Gbps technology, eventually boosting that baseline to 2Gbps, and we don’t see that changing any time soon.
With HomeGrid Forum’s based compliance and interoperability testing combined with Broadband Forum’s based performance testing, the new certification program provides a double stamp of forum approval.
It is hoped this will provide broadband operators with deployment options to extend fiber networks with phoneline and coax-based point-to-point and point-to-multipoint infrastructure and topologies – boosting last mile networks where FTTH is not an option.
Part A of G.hn Access Certification comprises compliance and interoperability testing specified by HGF, while Part B performance testing is specified by BBF.
Participation included BBF and HGF members Albis Elcon, Comtrend, devolo, MaxLinear, Methode Electronics, Positron Access, ReadyLinks, and SendTek, with support from testing equipment providers Sparnex and Telebyte.
MaxLinear is the most significant name here, as the acquirer of Marvell’s G.hn business back in 2017. Marvell was considered the ringleader of G.hn, and so this deal sent shockwaves through the industry, particularly at the bargain price of $21m.
Three years later, MaxLinear went on to acquire Intel’s gateway business, also at a cutthroat price of $150m, in what leadership described as the biggest thing that had ever happened to MaxLinear.
It put all the pieces in place, giving MaxLinear the silicon to do access and connectivity on all network technologies. Completion of the puzzle gave MaxLinear freedom to roam in software, for example working with EasyMesh to bring the power of the cloud to its product portfolio and apply this to WiFi, G.hn and MoCA together.
As alluded to further up, energy companies have been showing growing interest in G.hn. As a power communication standard, G.hn shows potential in smart home applications. German electric utility company E.On is a recent new party to join the HomeGrid Forum in promoting G.hn, which it plans to use to develop its portfolio in smart city and smart grid markets.
G.hn can certainly achieve the gigabit speeds it claims, but once the distance of transmission increases, all power line communications protocols begin to suffer. G.hn has been tipped as a smart grid technology for a few years now without the required momentum from utilities.
E.On might be the catalyst G.hn needs, supporting smart city verticals including smart grids, connected cars and light communications to reach their potential – which require a physical network layer backbone.
In Europe, Liberty Global is a notable name with G.hn extenders in its arsenal. Sky was also sniffing around G.hn in years gone by, although that appears to have hit a dead end.