CES: UWB, Wi-Fi and powerline vie for position

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While many networking vendors, both wireless and wireline, diplomatically agree that no single networking technology will prevail in the connected home of the future, they are still battling over which technology is most suitable for streaming high-definition video.

"A home hybrid network of different technologies is the solution that will be the network topology," said Andy Melder, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Intellon Corp., a developer of chips for powerline products. Powerline networking delivers data or video over existing power lines in a home through adaptors plugged into regular wall outlets.

Melder, along with other powerline networking executives who spoke on a panel on Wednesday at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), said that wireless technologies, even the latest 802.11n standard, just won't do for streaming high definition television. "With content you have to have quality of service and that's very difficult to do with wireless," he said.

The powerline executives said 802.11n and other Wi-Fi technologies are best used in the home to share data while streaming video should be left to higher speed technologies like powerline.

But some wireless providers think differently. D-Link Corp. introduced on Monday its latest router that is expected to comply with the 802.11n standard. The router operates in the less crowded 5GHz frequency as well as the 2.4GHz band that is used in the popular 802.11g standard, said George Cravens, technical marketing engineer for D-Link. In addition, the router includes quality of service technology that prioritizes voice and video to help improve video streaming, he said.

D-Link also sells powerline adaptors but Cravens offers one good reason, also conceded by other powerline developers, why customers might not choose powerline over 802.11: price.

The cost of a pair of powerline adapters is about the same as an 802.11n router. The router can be used to stream data and video to a variety of devices around the home. But if users want to link more than two devices over the powerline network, they must buy additional adaptors.

Consumers will soon have another option to stream high-definition video, though only over short distances, with ultrawideband (UWB) technology. Tzero Technologies Inc. criticized both 802.11n and powerline networking for low quality compared to UWB. Power spikes and poor condition of lines can affect the quality of powerline networking and wireless, even 802.11n is just too slow, said Matthew Keowen, senior director of corporate marketing for Tzero. While 802.11n offers the speed necessary to transmit high-definition streaming, it might be stretched to support some additional services like fast forward and rewind, he said.

Tzero showed off at CES a new external UWB device made by Asustek Computer Inc. that includes Tzero chips. Users connect the small box to their high-definition television display to wirelessly stream data from a set-top box.

Keowen expects that later this year manufacturers will start selling televisions and set-top boxes with embedded UWB.

In addition to UWB, 802.11n and powerline, other wired networking standards are jockeying for position. For example, the Multimedia over Coax Alliance is working on a specification to transport entertainment content over coaxial cable and both UWB and powerline technology can run over coaxial cables.

The variety of options presents a dizzying array of options for end users. Keowen expects that there will be some shakeout among the different technologies. "There will be some standards that persist and others that go by the wayside," he said.

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