Home networks can be found in the air and riding atop home electrical wiring, in copper telephone wires and coaxial cables. Like any environment that develops incrementally, home networking is jerry-rigged to serve today’s purposes. But they are haphazard, wasteful, inefficient and unlikely to adequately support future growth.
The days when home networks needed to only support a small number of devices doing rudimentary things are over, of course, and anachronistic ad hoc home networks are an increasingly weak link. The remote workers and the types of devices being served today – data-voracious IP-connected smartphones, tablets, televisions and others – do more things and have an increasingly broad set of requirements. In addition, service providers must improve home networking to adequately support the coming wave of home automation and security services that will add their own unique demands.
IEEE 1905.1 to the Rescue?
In short, what is being done on the network in the home is increasingly complex, and a way to upgrade the network supporting those activities is needed. The telecommunications and CE industry – or at least a good chunk of both – think that the answer is a standard called IEEE 1905.1.
The standard was “published” – which is standards-talk for made official – last week. “This is the first effort to consolidate wireline and wireless and create an interoperable system,” said Purva Rajkotia, the chairman of the Convergent Digital Home Network Working Group. “That is what I view as the biggest advantage that 1905.1 creates for the industry.”
In parallel, an initiative called nVoy will certify equipment on the standard. The goal is to enable gear from different vendors to plug seamlessly into 1905.1-managed networks and to create an extremely easy mechanism – such as pressing one button – for consumers to integrate new devices. The bottom line is that consumers won’t have to think about their home network when shopping for equipment.
The desire was to create this welcoming and flexible environment without fundamentally changing or adding to the very different standards that exist. IEEE 1905.1/nVoy is built on four technologies – Wi-Fi (through the Wi-Fi Alliance), Ethernet (through IEEE’s 802.3 standards), coaxial cable (through the Multimedia Over Coax Alliance, or MoCA) and electrical wiring (via the HomePlug Alliance, which uses the IEEE 1901 standard).
The idea is to create an “abstraction layer” that creates a blanket over the four networking techniques. Software intelligence at that layer decides on the best way to traffic the data arriving to the targeted downstream devices. “In general what you are trying to do is creating an uber-spec that recognizes all the technologies…that exist in the home,” said Rob Gelphman, the Vice President for Marketing and Member Relations for MoCA. “It’s a discovery-like mechanism” that recognizes what it finds and reacts accordingly.
The software at this abstraction layer assesses packets as they flow by and determines important elements, such as their destinations and nature of the content that is being transported. In most cases, the end device will have access to the network in more than one way. The software will consider which of the available networks is optimal based on rules established by the vendors and services providers. Factors that are considered include the overall availability of networks, the quality of service (QoS) level required, the throughput of a link at a particular point in time and others.
The 1905.1 approach doesn’t require a change to the underlying silicon, a big advantage. Moreover, it is a future-oriented standard that can serve as the foundation for advanced services. It will enable redundancy between the four media – if, for instance, the Wi-Fi network in the home goes down, traffic can be instantaneously rerouted. Diagnostic metrics can be analyzed and used to diagnose problems. “It’s about managing the network and being able to optimize the data, depending on network and house conditions,” said Michael Inouye, a senior analyst for ABI Research. “nVoy will offer better details on what is causing problems.”