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25 October 2019

Merged HomeGrid-GiGA Wire proposes G.hn as smart city backbone

 

Remember the HomeGrid Forum, the alliance supporting G.hn technology deployments and famed for its aversion to public appearances? Well, HomeGrid showed its face at last week’s Broadband World Forum, announcing a surprise merger with KT-backed GiGA Wire Alliance in a fusion of G.hn-based groups pegged to create a new force in broadband access. This is a deal all about taking G.hn technology above and beyond the MDU to achieve the smart city dream, and the newly merged alliance entity (new name pending) already faces plenty of hurdles.

HomeGrid has enjoyed virtually unrivaled control of the powerline network market since rival technology alliance HomePlug capitulated a year ago, shipping millions of devices over the last couple of years. Now, a combined effort with the GiGA Wire Alliance aims to propel G.hn-based technology into fields such as connected cars and smart grids, although neither alliance explains specifically how.

While the HomeGrid Forum supports certification for products based on the traditional ITU-T G.hn standard as we know it, designed to support speeds of up to 2 Gbps over copper, coax or twisted pair, the GiGA Wire Alliance extends G.hn technology to MDUs. It does this by providing crosstalk mitigation and auto-pairing features to support multiple users bundling cable, through the installation of a G.hn Access Multiplexer, usually in the basement of a building, alongside a G.hn Network Terminal in the MDU to achieve gigabit speeds, as shown in the diagram below.

But this isn’t the first time the HomeGrid Forum has spoken about G.hn flying the nest, outlining an ambitious plan to expand the technology from the home to smart cities back in April. One factor holding G.hn back, however, is that once the distance of transmission increases, all powerline communication protocols begin to suffer. HomeGrid argues that for smart city verticals including smart grids, connected cars and light communications to reach their potential, a physical network layer backbone is required.

HomeGrid claims to have received a positive response to its roadmap and trials of smart grid applications, showcasing G.hn’s broadband capabilities for real-time data communication between smart meters and the electric utilities’ central office. Although, as far as we can tell, HomeGrid is still struggling to gain recognition among utilities. A joint push with GiGA Wire will certainly help its case in Asia Pacific, yet the scope for wider international smart city adoption is dubious.

“From the HomeGrid Forum side we will provide continued support to GiGA Wire members on system certification through strict compliance and interoperability testing for service providers’ smoother and faster deployment. As G.hn technology is at the core of systems for in-home and broadband access deployments (in MDUs and last mile network segments), the new organization automatically ensures end-to-end coexistence and interoperability at all levels,” said Livia Rosu, marketing chair for the merged HomeGrid Forum and GiGA Wire Alliance.

The GiGA Wire Alliance is even more allergic to press releases than HomeGrid, issuing its last release in September 2017. KT (Korea Telecom) first proposed the idea back in 2014 and kicked it into motion some three years later, eager in its efforts to deliver gigabit speeds to MDU-heavy cities using G.hn as an access technology. Initially called LAN GiGA, the Korean project was built around devices from local networking firm Ubiquoss using Marvell chipsets, using the unshielded twisted pairs laid in bundles up and down MDUs, before going over a single twisted pair per apartment. A more advanced access multiplexer was installed, rather than a simple G.hn modem, birthing the first GiGA Wire installments starting at 500 Mbps, later breaking through the 1 Gbps barrier.

While the HomePlug Alliance is no more, paving the way for majors like Liberty Global and China Unicom to become G.hn advocates, shipments of HomePlug devices continue. Comcast-owned Sky, in Europe, uses HomePlug in the design for its Sky Q set top, although we are almost certain the European operator has been actively assessing G.hn as a replacement, integrating it with the AirTies mesh WiFi software.

Meanwhile, DOCSIS 3.1 is seen as too expensive outside of the US and Western Europe, while the case for FTTH is picking up traction but still leaves the MDU market wide open for G.hn, as well as MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance).

There is still the small matter of how a combined HomeGrid-GiGA plans to pitch G.hn as a physical network layer to smart city technology companies – and indeed whether there is enough money in the smart city sector to warrant a major marketing push. Faultline got in touch with the merged group whether it plans to work with industry groups like the Wi-SUN Alliance, a body bringing interoperable network specifications to IoT end devices, but company representatives were unavailable for comment.

Unfortunately, we fear at least another year of radio silence before HomeGrid-GiGA resurfaces with some progress – or at the very least settled on a rebrand.