Anton Monk on IEEE's move to simplify the multipurpose home network

The IEEE is in the earliest stages of developing a standardized abstraction level over which existing home networking standards such as Ethernet, WiFi, HomePlug and MoCA would run and coexist. If successful--and again the industry organization has just formed a P1905.1 working group--things would be really simplified for service providers and equipment manufacturers building and maintaining multipurpose home networks.

Anton Monk, EntropicAnton Monk, co-founder and vice president of technology for Entropic Communications and a member of the working group, took time to answer some questions from FierceCable editor Jim Barthold about the direction of the new standard.

FierceCable: On the surface this looks like some sort of counter to (the technology standard being developed by the ITU-T and promoted by the HomeGrid Forum). What's different?

Anton Monk: claims to solve all the world's problems with home networking which is kind of silly. They have an excellent marketing machine behind them and there's a lot of hype that doesn't match reality.

FC: IEEE P1905.1What's reality and what's your differentiator?

AM: We have companies ( involved in Ethernet, HomePlug, WiFi and MoCA, three IEEE standards that are probably the most widely deployed networking standards in placed in the home today. There was a perceived need going forward in the house for heterogeneous solutions at different times.

FC: Sure, that's nirvana. How do you make it happen?

AM: Provide an abstraction layer above those layer 1, layer 2 standards to unify the interface for management and control and as a way to bridge and extend those networks and provide redundancy. When accomplished, a gateway device or an application wouldn't really need to know what network it's talking to; it would push everything down through a single abstraction layer interface and whichever standard had the best performance, that would be the one that's used.

FC: This seems like the dream come true for vendors and service providers. Why is it only now being developed?

AM: There actually were companies working independently on this. That's why there was so much interest driven directly by the OEMs and the silicon vendors. That's what makes it counter; any home networking technology could fit under this umbrella.

FC: Is it, to use a marketing term, evergreen? What happens when something new comes along that uses, say, the rays emitted from energy smart light bulbs or some other new age network technology we haven't even considered yet?

AM: The target was to reference specifications that are already ubiquitously deployed and have tens of millions of devices or homes already deployed with a vibrant ecosystem as opposed to potential future specifications that don't have any deployment and aren't proven yet. But, if those come along, they can be added. It's just at this point it's really the primary de facto standards for the various media that are included in this effort.

FC: Any progress on productization?

AM: The standard is not developed; it's just kicked off so the concept is at the high level.

FC: OK, then to revise that question, who wants this standard to happen?

AM: We have service providers involved in this effort. If you look at the new residential gateways or media gateways that are coming out or are already out, they all have multiple ports. You can see the potential for multiple networking technologies in one gateway. From that point of view the service providers just want the darn thing to work and the OEMs want a common interface.

FC: And the consumers?

AM: You'll start to see devices like a MoCA-to-WiFi adapter or a HomePlug-to-WiFi adapter that will support these new protocols. When they join the network and there are other 1905 devices on the network. They will all understand how to do this more advanced bridging or simultaneous traffic controls or common interfaces.

FC: That's nice in theory. Give me a case in point of how this would work?

AM: Some of it could be as simple as control and set up. If you want to add a WiFi or MoCA bridge on the network and there's already WiFi somewhere else in the house and you already have a secure medium, why not create a simple mechanism to transfer the password and security key across the wired medium so the new devices automatically set up. That's an example of ease of use so the user wouldn't have to enter a password or know to press buttons or all those things. You could just improve the throughput and coverage by automatically sending the data over multiple interfaces.

FC: Dumb question: Is this going to require any hardware changes?

AM: It's really expected this will be software implementation. These are high layer protocols that would presumably not require new hardware. I think what you'll see when the standard eventually evolves and is implemented by vendors is existing chipsets that have processors in them to connect to this new software.