Powerline Communications: Standard Outlets Boost Home Networks

The original in-home network – the series of wires and outlets that carry standard electricity from kitchen to bedroom to living room – will soon be taking connectivity to the next level. With a recent standards revamp for a technology known as Powerline Communications, or PLC, the everyday wall outlets that are already powering consumer electronics devices in the home are being tapped to provide access to the Internet, too.

That’s an important development for the consumer electronics industry as people rely on their existing home network – usually Wi-Fi – to do more than just surf Web pages from a laptop. Consumer demand is surging for the ability to do things like stream video to a tablet, upload photos from a mobile phone and engage in real-time, interactive game play.

D-Link Powerline Adapter

D-Link Systems Inc.’s Powerline adapter for the European market, with HomePlug-based Broadcom technology inside.

A growing number of home entertainment devices – from the set-top box and smart TV, to the game console and family room tablet are being outfitted with features and services that require a constant online connection. The deluge of content that comes along for the ride can put an unnecessary burden on Wi-Fi networks, which could eventually compromise the quality of the experience.

Through Powerline networking, the standard outlet found on every wall becomes an instant hard-wired port to the Internet for every appliance that “plugs in” to the wall – almost like Ethernet. While Ethernet is faster and more robust than wireless networking, the obstacle to widespread adoption has been the need for special wiring and ports that aren’t very common in older homes. Powerline’s “ports,” on the other hand, are very common.

Now, the technology standard that has been supporting earlier versions of Powerline for more than a decade, called HomePlug, is starting to see some upgrades that make Powerline a contender for meeting the modern-day needs of home networking. Looking ahead, the HomePlug Alliance – which has some 60 member companies, including Broadcom – is pushing for the adoption of  HomePlug AV2, or HPAV2, the next-generation standard that is promising the power, performance and throughput that’s attractive to a large and sophisticated market such as the U.S.

HomePlug-enabled devices are perfect for families with a second or third TV, set-top-box or game console that are constantly tapping into the networked connection to power video streaming services (such as Netflix), online gaming or other Internet surfing demands, according to the Portland, Ore.-based HomePlug Alliance.

Here’s how it works: Plug in a Powerline adapter to the wall outlet and connect it to a broadband modem or router. Then, plug in a second adapter and connect it to a device, such as smart TV or set-top-box, for a convenient connection in any room of the home.

HPAV2, which has three power modes and improved performance over the earlier HPAV standard, is set to translate to a better entertainment experience with improvements in streaming multiple high-definition video and audio files to more devices in the home.

HomePlug Alliance LogoBut home entertainment is just the beginning. The HomePlug Alliance is touting the benefits that HPAV2 will have on other related standards, such as the HomePlug Green PHY, which allows the networking technology to enhance home automation and smart energy applications. The high bandwidth offering of HPAV2 “now makes it possible to deploy truly unified whole-home networking that integrates everything from the HDTV to the game console to the Smart Energy system to the electric car charging station in the garage,” the firm wrote in a recent white paper.

While home automation applications are still is in their earliest stages, analyst firm ABI Research expects the market to grow from the an estimated 1.5 million home automation systems installed in 2012 to 8 million systems by 2017. Likewise, as large players who equip consumers with some of these in-home devices – such as telecom and cable/satellite providers – begin to adopt HPAV2, the adoption rate will be faster and more widespread.


About the Author

Dana Orsini heads communications for Broadcom Foundation and its flagship programs, including the yearly MASTERS® science and engineering fair competition, Broadcom Community Heroes and Broadcom Presents… More