What Is HomePNA?   Should You Care?

As you'll notice in our Networking preface, the two most prevalent requirements for home networking are standardization and simplicity. The Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA) is an association of forward-thinking companies working together to ensure adoption of a single, unified phoneline networking standard and bring to market a range of interoperable home networking solutions.
HomePNA decided early last year to standardize on a technology then available from Tut Systems, that allows home network builders to link devices at speeds up to 1 Mbit/s over existing home phonelines. It does not require any hubs or new Category 5 wiring, nor special terminations, filters or splitters. It uses only your single pair of existing phone wires to make its connection, and operates concurrently with any normal telephone service using those same lines. The HomePNA standard coexists with the new splitterless Universal ADSL standard. It is fully compatible with the Ethernet MAC layer standard (IEEE 802.3 CSMA/CD with a new physical layer) and meets applicable FCC regulatory requirements. Building upon this technology, HomePNA hopes to soon develop support for the complex, random-tree type of wiring typically found in the home that would permit data transfers at 10 Mbit/s or more.

By standardizing the technology HomePNA can ensure mass deployment of a consumer friendly, low-cost, "no-new-wires" solution for in-home, phoneline-based networking. Develop certification standards that will ensure interoperability among HomePNA products across the broadest possible range of technology and equipment vendors, as well as interoperability between complementary home networking technologies (such as HomeRF "wireless") and compatibility with high-speed Internet access technologies such as UADSL.

Why, you ask, would the PC industry be interested in home networking over phonelines? In a market where 60% of new consumer PC purchases are by families that already have at least one computer, home networking could represent a highly lucrative market opportunity.

Imagine, if you will, sharing simultaneous access to the internet. Today, when multiple home users want to enjoy Internet access, separate telephone lines and access accounts are required. Home networks can deliver significant savings and greater utility by enabling shared access to a single internet account's connection. The need for this shared access will become even more obvious as today’s 28.8-56K analog connections are replaced by high-speed “always-on” connections such as Universal ADSL, cable or satellite modems, and save money by requiring the necessity of only one such device as it can be shared by all stations across the network. Home networking also cuts cost by eliminating the need for multiple peripherals such as printers and scanners as they, too, can be shared.

The founding members of the Alliance: 3Com, AMD, AT&T, Compaq, Epigram, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Lucent Technologies, Rockwell Semiconductor Systems, Tut Systems and Epigram are encouraging others to join the Alliance as technology contributors or as technology adopters, as they recognize that there is an emerging, near-term need for home networking technologies. HomePNA's member companies agree that both the consumer and the industry will reap far greater benefits if these technologies are interoperable, open and available at attractive consumer prices.

Testing done to date has shown that 1 Mbit/s is more than sufficient for today's home networking applications. The driving force behind developing for 10 Mbit/s and faster networks comes from new voice, video and data applications that will be available in the near future. One of the HomePNA's primary goals is to ensure that initial 1 Mbit/s users are future-proofed as higher performance products enter the home market. Epigram, as a founding member, is focusing its effort on developing the next-generation products and technologies, aiming to achieve 10 Mbit/s and higher, while maintaining backwards-compatibility with the initial 1 Mbit/s specification. Other current and future members will also contribute to developing the next generation home phoneline specification.

As we review some of the networking hardware available, keep HomePNA in mind as a relatively futureproof technology that may meet your requirements for your future home networking upgrade.