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[Special Interview] Smart Home Needs Big Players to Create Push & Pull
By Lingo Lin 2015-01-20
SMAhome has had the pleasure to sit down with HomePlug Alliance’s President, Rob Ranck to talk about their latest offerings for the connected home and his perspectives on the burgeoning smart home market.
Q: What is the beauty of power line communication?
Basically when you plug this in, you are turning the wiring in your home to make it the same as Ethernet. Normally, you would have to run a cable or Wi-Fi to create a network. Now, instead of a cable, you could plug this next to your home router directly into a wall. Then, in another place of your home, plug another unit in the wall, and now you have an Internet connection for your smart TV, or for any other device that support the Internet. I never have to run an Ethernet cable. Basically, I just have to plug these throughout the home and I can utilize all the electrical wiring in the home to extend my Internet connection.
Q: And they all send out signals to other plugs?
Yes, exactly. Say you have a big or small house with a router in one part of the house connected to access Internet service, just plug this into your router. You could have a smart TV that has an Ethernet jack on, even in a different room. You could also to do it with a smart TV with Wi-Fi that doesn’t work so well. This device works better because it’s the wires that carry the signal.
In Europe, for IP-TV services, they sell lots of HomePlug to connect the router right to the access point of TV sets, phones, and things like that. So, the other thing you could use HomePlug for is when you don’t have very good Wi-Fi throughout the home. So, once again you could plug this next to your Wi-Fi router and using our Wi-Fi access point, it extends a stronger Wi-Fi signal in another part of the house. In short, you can look at HomePlug as a networking backbone. And by connecting these Wi-Fi modules you could have perfect Wi-Fi. It’s as if you are running Ethernet all over your home.
Q: Can HomePlug work on all kinds of power lines?
Yes, it should. However, sometimes there can be difficulty but usually it’s very rare. I think only a very small percentage of outlets could have a problem. Quite frankly, if those outlets have a problem, maybe the wiring is a little bad and they should check the wiring. I’m not saying our device is perfect, but it’s near perfect.
Q: Are there interferences that can affect transmission?
Sure. The magic of power line communications and what makes it very difficult to have the products is because everything you plug into your home can generate some noise. So the power line is actually just like Wi-Fi, a radio signal that becomes digital, a digital radio. So the magic of the HomePlug is that the radio dances around the noise. Sometimes, we do have to give people some pointers. For example, a cellphone charger can be very noisy when placed around power lines. That’s why we say don’t put this next to a phone charger. It could still work, but the performance goes down. Those are the types of tips we give to consumers.
HomePlug has been around since the year 2000, so we have many generations and now we have HomePlug AV2, which is the latest. It gets better and better each time. The key difference between HomePlug AV and AV2, is that AV2 can use all three wires. And the two wires is called SISO (Single- Input, Single-Output) and three wires is called MIMO (Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output). HomePlug now has MIMO which has just been launched this year. There are already products out in the marketplace.
Q: Who are some of your members?
Our Sponsor members include Broadcom Corporation, Cisco, Duke Energy, MStar Semiconductor Inc., and Qualcomm Atheros. Companies like D-Link, LEA Networks, TP-LINK and Netgear are all supporting HomePlug. Our products are pretty new to the smart home because they are more of high-speed, ultra HD. We are currently showing two ultra HD devices that can stream simultaneous videos in high bandwidth.
Q: What are the biggest differences between HomePlug and HomeGrid?
You know HomePlug has been around for many years. There is always competition. We had some companies that said the way to compete is to create a new standard. And so back in 2006/7 they started this effort and standardized ITU. Meanwhile, HomePlug was working with the IEEE, of which we are an IEEE standard like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and Ethernet. You can easily buy HomePlug products in the market.
It’s as simple as that HomePlug has shipped over 130 million devices worldwide, many through telcos and service providers. We have Qualcomm, Broadcom, STMicroelectronics and others developing chipsets with the most support. Qualcomm has over seven generations of HomePlug chips in over 12 years, so we know we have quality chips to support.
Right now for wireless networking everyone just says Wi-Fi. We don’t want people to say PLC, but just say HomePlug.
Q: Does HomePlug work with ZigBee and Z-Wave?
We work more with ZigBee, but some of our member companies are also supporters of Z-Wave too. There is a company in Germany called devolo who is doing smart home devices. Because Wi-Fi is vastly popular, we are the strongest partners of Wi-Fi. We just try to grab onto the wind and hold on.
Q: Do you think we are still at the very early stage of smart home?
Smart home has a long way to go. For smart home, it’s probably doing better than it ever has. People have been talking home automation for 30 years, so it’s been up to this point very slow. I was with a group called UP&P (Universal Plug and Play) and we had all kinds of big players in the group. Back then they were doing features and standards for home automation such as controlling lights and all kinds of things. That was 15 years ago. So it’s not a new idea.
What’s different now is that it there are other factors which can help it accelerate thanks to smart phones, tablets, and other home networks. We didn’t have that infrastructure before. I think it can start to accelerate, but we are still at the very bottom.
Q: What do you think would be the scenario or when will it begin to take off?
I think key players like Samsung, Apple and Google are still preparing their offerings. I don’t think Apple has done much in the space yet. To me, the smart home market has to be driven as a service by service providers. For example, in the US, we have services offered by AT&T and Comcast. So the Internet service providers are in the best position to make money at the earliest. Right now every service provider does not have a smart home product offering, but we will see over the next three years they will start to have such offering. This would help educate the market and that they could generate revenues sooner to pull their equipment along their services. This model has already been established where service providers pull their equipment. However, the model can also be reversed. Google, Microsoft and Apple can also help generate demand as well. We need the big players to create the push and the pull.
Q: How does HomePlug play out in the Asian marketplace? What are your target audiences in the region?
Our audiences are manufacturers in the region – in Taiwan and China. We have very strong ODMs in Taiwan such as Gigafast, Zinwell, WNC, or HiSense and Huawei from China. We will continue to grow a customer base there, but it takes time.