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4 October 2018 won the powerline argument, Liberty means it wins deals

We suppose when your rival technology just gives up, as Home Plug has, then it is not big news if you start getting design wins, even from companies who were previously fans of the rival technology. This week it was the turn of Liberty Global to wax lyrical about over powerline and also join the HomeGrid Forum as a Promoter Member.

It is precisely a year since Faultline Online Reporter outed Liberty Global as a widescale user of, spotting a device on the IBC floor, which it had been shipping as a WiFi extender for several years, but which it omitted to ever announce.

Press announcements from HomeGrid are about 3 months apart and often a year or so old, so there is not much news, except around IBC and Broadband World Forum. But even now companies who are still shipping the older HomePlug devices are still prone to writing off and saying it has hardly scratched the surface of the market and that HomePlug is still out-shipping it.

At IBC MaxLinear and devolo showcased new products with Mesh Wi-Fi, and Germany’s devolo became a recent sign up to HomeGrid. Devolo has had a big retail footprint for Homeplug for years in Europe and it has been a HomePlug supplier to Deutsche Telekom for as long as we have known it. So the 2 year old idea that retail would dump HomePlug and replace it with is finally coming true. As is also the pattern of instead of announcing a deal with an operator, instead announcing an integration with a supplier partner of the operator. It seems this is the best publicity HomeGrid can get for its technology.

It did much the same with Unicom in June, not saying that it was planning any services with China Unicom, but instead welcoming China Unicom Research Institute and the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) as new members supporting in China ahead of CES Asia 2018.

CAICT in fact plans to build a qualified testing lab in Beijing for China Unicom deployments, while China Unicom Research Institute is currently working on a test specification for home networking devices. It would hardly do that if it wasn’t about to begin invading the China Unicom account.

If you assume that Celeno in Israel had to have something to do with any extender products for Liberty Global, as it is the certified supplier for WiFi chips to Liberty Global home gateways, then looking at China Telecom, another Celeno customer, and Deutsche Telekom (another Celeno customer) there’s every chance for many of the largest pay TV operators in Europe to make the step to include a powerline WiFi extender. The China Telecom Shanghai Research Institute joined HomeGrid as late as July 2017, but China Telecom has been using the technology sporadically for about 4 years now.

The largest pay TV operator in Europe is Sky, which has now been acquired by Comcast. And it uses HomePlug in its set top design for Sky Q. It is almost certainly mid-way through assessing as a replacement, which means integration with the AirTies WiFi system, which is currently integrated with HomePlug, but which it has always boasted is easy to adapt to MoCA or any version of

And if three of the top four pay TV companies in Europe, and two of the three telcos in China are already using over powerline, and Korea Telecom has used it for access over twisted pair, then there is every chance that at some point this becomes a global phenomenon. We know that US operators are obsessed with (5G) Fixed Wireless or DOCSIS 3.1 for access, and that Powerline is just a retail proposition, but that’s not the case anywhere else and anyway, it’s a considerable retail market.

DOCSIS is seen as too expensive outside of the US and Western Europe and while fiber is picking up, the MDU situation for home broadband is still up for grabs, and multi-drop protocols like MoCA and offer a lot.

One of the issues with and powerline WiFi extenders in particular, tends to be that operators offer them as an optional extra, not as something that is integrated into a key device. Sky is the company that has broken tradition with that approach and with Sky Q has bundled a second meshed Access Point in with the first installation. So if this goes powerline, then it will be the most significant European installation, and will likely trigger some copycat activity among smaller operators.

Both AT&T and British Telecom have been active in HomeGrid since it began, but neither have yet shown their hand with active installations, perhaps they were waiting for the prices to come down on devices. Even Verizon is listed as a member despite the parlous state of its broadband strategy.

All we know is that while there are multiple suppliers of powerline chips, the only company that has made any inroads outside of powerline is the Marvell team that was acquired a while back by MaxLinear.

MaxLinear has made a point of saying that Liberty Global has used its chips in a WiFi powerline extender in a number of Liberty Global subsidiaries, inside a device manufactured by Comtrend and it was using its second generation chip, which it suggests can handle 2 Gbps on coax/twisted pair, but it’s hard to translate that to powerline usage – some say as high as 600 Mbps, others about twice the HomePlug real world speed of around 300 Mbps, although there are as yet no independent benchmarks.

The Comtrend WiFi extender has been deployed in a number of Liberty Global subsidiaries since 2015 including Telenet in Belgium and Virgin Media in the UK.