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The Best Medium For Home Entertainment Networks Is Already In Your House

03-11-08, By Rob Gelphman

The home is the final frontier when it comes to networking. But the sheer volume of alternatives based on different technologies and mediums promoted by a dizzying array of standards bodies elevates market cacophony while drowning out value. Too many choices confuse both the service provider and end consumer and ultimately delays purchase.

Home networks are and will continue to be a blend of standards and technologies, each with their advantages and disadvantages. MoCA, the Multimedia over Coax Alliance, does not propose that there will be a one size-fits-all networking scheme, but that decisions will be made based on application and ease of use.

A home entertainment network is defined as multiple streams of standard and high definition content distributed anywhere, anytime. There are numerous other technologies and mediums vying for supremacy but not all are created equal and not all are suitable for high definition video. Many of these mediums are voice and data centric including 802.11n, though its increased data rate performance (more on this later) is designed to accommodate video applications. The most obvious medium for delivery of video around the home is still the one that is well understood by service providers and consumers and has been in the house for more than 50 years � coax.

There are inherent benefits to coax not available with other mediums. Coax is shielded, which eliminates interference with other technologies and networks, as well as unwanted intrusion or unauthorized access.

A recent Parks Associates� report, �Trends in Consumer Technology: Defining and Sizing the Market,� notes the challenge will be not in the number of players providing delivery, software development or platform design � but in the way these companies and organizations determine the technology standards and delivery mediums that make the digital lifestyle a reality.

The Alternatives
While wireless networking has garnered the headlines and is increasingly prevalent in people�s homes, it is still primarily a data-based experience and the coverage experienced may be less than adequate. There are interference and security issues to be worked out. The 802.11n specification that is in process extends the range of the network. This will improve reception but it will also increase the range by which others can gain unauthorized access to the network if not properly secured. This is not an environment in which service providers or end consumers are comfortable.

In addition, Wi-Fi operates in an unlicensed spectrum, so sources of interference cannot be controlled. These include microwave ovens, cordless phones, Bluetooth, baby monitors and neighboring Wi-Fi networks.

Despite some of the issues surrounding wireless networks, it is hard to beat mobility as a compelling value proposition. Wireless networks will continue to play a vital role in the hybrid digital home network because they offer you the ability to �roam� within your household and stay connected virtually anywhere in the home.

Wireline mediums such as powerline and phone line, which also can claim ubiquity as part of their value proposition, may also suffer from interference and reliability issues when transmitting video. It is also interesting to note that many of the wireline and emerging wireless standard bodies claim that their technology works over their native medium and coax. At MoCA, we think this just proves our point.

Most other technologies and mediums, wired and wireless included, were designed with data transfer as their primary objective, and are more than adequate for such applications. Video, however, is another matter. Video delivery, especially delivery of high definition programming, is far more difficult and unreliable over any current wireless or wired technology or medium, save one � coax.

Reliability and uninterrupted delivery of video is mandatory or the entire viewing experience is affected. We may tolerate a dropped cell phone call but glitch video ruins the entire experience and is unacceptable. While most wired and wireless networks deliver data extremely well, errors can still occur with video. If sending data and errors occur in loading a web page, or receiving email, or if service is interrupted, the packet (information) is resent. However, for streaming video and audio throughout the home, lost packets can result in skipped frames, garbled sound or blank pictures.

Coaxial cable is ideal for carrying electrical signals because it is a shielded wire, meaning that the signal being carried is not subject to interference from outside sources. Because coax is designed to carry TV signals, outlets have historically been placed in close proximity to the consumer�s desired TV viewing locations such as the living room, family room and bedroom. Many service providers are already reaping the benefits of coax-based networking technology enabling them to send multiple streams of high-definition content to practically any room in the house.

Cable, satellite and even telecom companies have been using existing in-home coaxial wiring to distribute analog video throughout the home for years. Coaxial cable already exists in more than 90% of U.S. households and many countries in Europe and Asia. It is understood by service providers and consumers alike that coax is for video.

Beware of the Data Rate Claim
Because network performance of other technology can be seriously degraded through interference and environmental issues, a high theoretical data rate, while impressive, does not automatically translate into an equally high net throughput rate, especially when taking into account network overhead and other issues that affect performance.

In field tests around the U.S., MoCA validated 100 Mbps net throughputs in more than 95% of all outlets, a minimal requirement by service providers. The recently ratified MoCA 1.1 includes packet aggregation that will ensure net throughputs of 175 Mbps. This far exceeds the net throughputs of any other home networking technology available today. More importantly, service provider and consumers can expect this level of performance all the time.

The home network will be a blend of wireless and wired implementations. Wireless for voice and data and coax for video. Coax, particularly MoCA, is a great complement to the other mediums, technologies and devices already in use. It can serve as a backbone and network extension with a dedication to video while other networks focus on their area of expertise.

Rob Gelphman is the chair of the marketing work group for MoCA,, an international standards body promoting the standard for home entertainment networks over coax. Rob has been in marketing communications for almost 20 years serving companies in consumer electronics, digital media and networking and communications.