Ali Sadri, WiGig Alliance: integrating PCs, consumer electronics
and hand-held devices at multi-gigabit speeds
In terms of deployment scale and market uptake, broadband access is one of the most successful communications technologies of recent years. According to figures published by the Broadband Forum, there were 581 million broadband access lines installed worldwide by the end of the third quarter of 2011, up from just 176 million in mid-2005.
Expanded broadband access around the globe has underpinned the growth of a whole gamut of new value-added services, including security monitoring, internet protocol TV and voice over IP. Recent research from specialist broadband analysis firm Point Topic, suggests that broadband value-added services were generating $60 billion at the end of 2010, or an average of an extra $10.20 on top of the $28 monthly broadband subscription charge.
“The trend we’ve observed since 2003 reflects the fact that more people are doing more things via their broadband connection,” says Point Topic senior analyst John Bosnell. “We estimate that at the end of 2010 each broadband line supported an average of 1.95 value-added services. That’s almost four times the average in 2003.”
Life in the fast lane
Meantime, as the number of broadband subscribers has increased, so the average speeds made available have risen. Data from Point Topic suggests that in the current worldwide top 10 broadband markets, averaged across the main delivery technologies, speeds on offer have gone up by around 70% in the three years from the second quarter of 2008.
But according to some experts, there’s now a potential capacity disconnect between the high-speed network roll-outs that can support very high bandwidth services such as high definition video, and some of the technologies actually found in homes to network the new services and to cope with the increasing proliferation of connected devices in the home.
In response, a number of industry initiatives have kicked off the search for higher speed digital home networking.
One of the most popular wireless networking technologies is wifi, running at between 150 megabits a second up to a theoretical 600 megs or more in its IEEE 802.11n version. This is being super-charged in the form of the IEEE 802.11ac variant, which is able to run at around a gigabit a second — and this will emerge as the dominant protocol by 2014, according to analyst firm ABI Research.
Small volumes will be shipped in 2012 and there will be a significant increase in shipments in 2013, says ABI.
Even faster is WiGig, a wireless technology operating in the unlicensed 60 gigahertz band that promises data rates of up to 7 gigabits a second, or more than 10 times the speed of the fastest wifi networks available today. The band has much more spectrum available than the 2.4 or 5 gigahertz bands used by existing wifi products, allowing wider channels that support faster transmission speeds.
In October 2011 there was the first ever so-called PlugFest to test the interoperability of different products from several of the members of the WiGig Alliance.
Ali Sadri, president of the trade association, commented: “At the inception of the WiGig Alliance back in 2009 we envisioned the realisation of innovative and interoperable multi-gigabit wireless connectivity among PCs, consumer electronics and hand-held devices. We are now close to making this a commercial reality.”
Wireline as well as wireless solutions to next generation home networking are likewise being improved.
Home networking based on power line communications has the advantage of not requiring the installation of new wiring. Devices that comply with the ITU G.hn home networking standards are able to send and receive signals over power lines at speeds notionally up to a gigabit a second. This would enables service providers to deploy new offerings, including high definition TV, more cost effectively.
The standard applies to other household wires as well as power circuits, including coaxial cables and standard phone lines. According to John Egan, vice president of the HomeGrid Forum, G.hn is a highly attractive home networking solution on several counts.
First, it provides security for content being networked around the premises and a clean method of delivery so that the consumer experience is not impaired.
Second, service providers require the ability to manage the home network remotely, based on the level of importance of the services. Egan notes: “Traffic with higher importance or priority can gain faster access to time on the wire.”
The fact that G.hn works over any wire in the home means reduced installation times and costs for professional installers. For the consumer, especially those that are looking to install their network themselves, the ease of G.hn installation also stands out, and to add a node to a G.hn network is a plug-and-play operation.
“A system developer would only need to generate the software for their first G.hn system, then, regardless of wire networked over, the same software is used,” says Egan. “This greatly reduces complexity and development time, which results in lower costs.”
Robin Mersh, Broadband Forum: Certification gives operators
confidence in quality and competitiveness of vendor equipment
Other initiatives aimed at improving the scope and user experience of home networking are agnostic as to media type. In the case of the standards and certification work of the UPnP Forum, the standard is agnostic with respect to media, device, platform and operating system. The forum promotes the adoption of uniform technical device interconnectivity standards and certifies devices conforming to these standards.
Since 2007 the forum has seen double-digit percentage annual increases in the number of UPnP certifications. In 2011 the organisation certified twice as many devices that render content — including television sets, speakers, audio players, electronic picture frames, PCs and printers — compared to 2010.
Alan Messer, the president and chairman of the forum, says that over 500 million devices using its Digital Living Network Alliance standard will be in service in 2012. “In addition, most applications — IM, games consoles and so on — use UPnP to provide access for their applications through broadband routers. Most, if not all, broadband routers ship with UPnP to enable this usage.”
Also active in the home networking standards arena is the Home Gateway Initiative. Its chief technology and business officer Duncan Bees says: “HGI has addressed the system requirements: in other words mapping the services to the technology requirements, and working with the technology vendors to ensure the right features are available.”
The HGI is now heavily focused on setting requirements for the connected home in which networking is extending to previously non-networked devices, says Bees. “The initial focus is on home energy management, and future projects include home automation, medical monitoring, security and the like. We are engaged with advocates for many home networking technologies, and working to harmonise capabilities at the middleware layer of the home gateway as an enabling step for the operators to establish themselves in these new areas.”
Eventually there will be links between the UPnP standard and internet protocol, says the forum’s Messer. Bridging will allow smart homes to use smart grids, home automation and e-health applicatons. “And there will be integration between the cloud and the home network so that sharing becomes more seamless between the two,” concludes Messer.
This trend to home automation will be speeded up by the growth in DSL and fibre connections to the home, or to a node close to the home, such as a connection box on the kerbside or in the basement of an apartment block.
“FTTX will be where the action is over the next few years,” says Oliver Johnson, CEO of Point Topic. “Consumers are showing signs of being ready to pay for faster connections and, combined with the relatively high deployment cost of fibre to the premises versus FTTX, the hybrid solution set is the best way of getting relatively high speeds to them.”
In this context the gigabit passive optical network is a particularly attractive technology for service providers in terms of the total bandwidth it delivers, the bandwidth efficiency it offers, and its end-to-end manageability. And what is undoubtedly boosting the wider adoption of G-PON is certification of network products to guarantee quality of service and interoperability between different vendors’ solutions.
A comprehensive and universally-recognised compliance and interoperability certification programme can be regarded as the foundation on which to expand market penetration and future network development for this high-speed technology.
One of the organisations leading the certification drive is the Broadband Forum. “Our most recent G-PON certification programme, launched at the end of 2011, is already proving to be very effective and has been widely welcomed by the industry, especially service providers which can now move forward with widespread deployment of higher speed broadband,” says Broadband Forum CEO Robin Mersh. “It is the certification that gives operators and service providers worldwide total confidence in the quality and therefore the competitiveness of their vendor equipment selection.”
At the same time, though, technology developments are winning more and more capacity out of existing copper infrastructures. One of the main capacity-limiting characteristics of copper networks is crosstalk. In typical DSL-based deployments, crosstalk between cable pairs inevitably drives down network performance. The closer in proximity the cable pairs are, the greater the potential crosstalk.
However, the noise cancellation technology known as vectoring has the potential to deliver the performance of full FTTH networks — up to 100 megabits a second data rates and beyond — at a fraction of the cost of implementing a network with FTTH architectures. VDSL2 specialist Ikanos cites industry estimates that the cost for passing and connecting a home using FTTH can run above $2,500 per residence, while a fibre-to-the-node architecture using vectored VDSL can cost only a few hundred dollars each.
“Over time, the vast majority of VDSL networks will be vector-enabled,” predicts Kevin Fisher, vice president of advanced DSL technology at Ikanos. “Service providers around the world are demanding the ability to quickly, easily, cost-effectively and broadly deploy breakthrough vectoring technology.”
Whatever the access technology, though, the demand is clearly there — and customers are using their broadband for more and more services that need to be coordinated. GTB
Further reading from Global Telecoms Business:
The gigaworld is coming, says Steve Zhu of Huawei, and the ... 13 Dec 2011
Working together across the industry to develop standards 20 Apr 2011
Empowering the industry's migration to iPv6 27 Jan 2011
Multi-technology approach to broadband 10 Dec 2010
GPON standards set the path for fast broadband 30 Nov 2010