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Powerline adapters were previously limited by interference from the electrical noise generated by appliances and household gadgets using the same circuit, but the latest generation appears to have largely overcome that problem. Also, the adapters offer a theoretical speed of about 200Mbit/sec., which is enough to handle digital video signals, even when actual throughput is less than half the theoretical speed (as is common with Ethernet). There are three competing (and largely incompatible) technologies on the market: the HomePlug AV standard from the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, the Universal Powerline Association (UPA) standard, and Panasonic's High-Definition Powerline Communications (HD-PLC) specification. Besides somewhat comparable speed, all of them offer configurable encryption, both to prevent eavesdropping and to avoid crosstalk with other networks of powerline adapters that might reside on the same circuit. (All powerline adapters downstream from the power company's transformer can hear one another.) If they come with any software at all, it is intended primarily to set the encryption key. They support at least 16 units on a circuit, with the units automatically configuring themselves into a network. With all three technologies, the powerline adapters are a little bigger than a cell phone. Each has prongs for a power outlet as part of the unit or at the end of an extension line, and each also has an Ethernet port. The user plugs the unit into a power outlet and attaches one end of an Ethernet cable to the Ethernet port and the other end of that cable to a computing device. After the user does the same with a second adapter and a second computing device (typically a router), the two devices are connected as if via an Ethernet cable. There are usually indicator lights on the adapter to show that it's functioning. With all three technologies, individual adapters cost less than US$100. One needs at least two.
"Data over power line has been around for more than 15 years, but by 2000 nearly all the interference issues had been resolved," explained Matt Theall, Intel Corp.'s powerline initiative manager and president of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. The alliance was formed in 2000, and 14Mbit/sec. HomePlug 1.0 adapters began shipping in early 2002. Currently, 37 vendors are shipping HomePlug adapters. In the future some of these will be built into or used for televisions, DVD players, speakers, home automation gear, smoke detectors and docking stations to connect iPods to sound systems. A 1Gbit/sec. version is also under development. The HomePlug AV system might, in an ideal environment, achieve 86Mbit/sec. to 90Mbit/sec., but that extensive testing showed that 35Mbit/sec. is a realistic expectation. However, that 35Mbit/sec. is sufficient for high-definition video, which usually takes 20Mbit/sec. Aluminum house wiring (used three decades ago), halogen lights, long wiring runs and electric motors can also degrade a signal, he noted.
UPA backers tout the fact that UPA got to the market first with 200Mbit/sec., as the first UPA adapters for home use began shipping in January 2005, and volume production began in April 2005. The chief difference cited between UPA and the other two technologies is a feature that
The theoretical speed of the units is 190Mbit/sec. for streaming. However. UPA has been collaborating with CEPCA on proposed interoperability specifications for the P1901 Working Group. The units use 128-bit AES encryption. based on proprietary technology including Panasonic chips. For encryption they use 168-bit DES. There are about 15 vendors shipping UPA products. to 45Mbit/sec. which is working to define an industrywide data-over-powerline technology. Panasonic has recently agreed to partner with the HomePlug Alliance and submit a joint specification to the IEEE P1901 Working Group. The continued involvement by the UPA. by pressing buttons on the master unit.allows an adapter to be placed in a long wire run to boost the signal between one end and the other. for file transfers and up to 80Mbit/sec. but some configurations are open-ended. and they can be set to use a new random key. One unit in an HD-PLC network is designated the master by setting a switch. where lost bits are immaterial. Throughput can reach 95Mbit/sec. Sixteen adapters can take part in one network. users could expect a throughput of 40Mbit/sec. he added. . he said. Panasonic HD-PLC The third technology is Panasonic Corporation of North America's HD-PLC. Thirty-three adapters can be used in a home network. leaves open the possibility of three-way interoperability with a future specification. without software.. Panasonic has also promoted the concept of interoperability between the different powerline adapter technologies through its involvement in a consortium called the Consumer Electronics Powerline Communication Alliance (CEPCA).