Thursday, February 17, 2011 Silicon Emerges from Vaporware Territory

Powerline networking products are quite popular in the European and Asian markets compared to the US. The Western Digital Livewire product was the first powerline product reviewed by AnandTech. In that piece, I had covered the various powerline networking standards currently in existence. The initiatives of the HomePlug consortium resulted in the IEEE P1901 standard and HomeGrid's efforts have led to the ITU specifications.
In the WD Livewire coverage, I had noted the lack of working silicon from any of the supporters as the prime reason for its struggles.

Over the last few years, many of the small powerline communication companies have ended up getting acquired by bigger corporations. Intellon was the pioneer of the HomePlug initiative, and Atheros bought them in December 2009 to augment their networking product portfolio. The powerline networking division of Conexant was purchased by CopperGate, who themselves were bought by Sigma Designs in October 2009. Gigle Networks was taken over by Broadcom, while DS2 found itself in Marvell's hands. ST Microlectronics has agreed to take over Arkados, and the only remaining player of note seems to be Spidcom. The powerline networking market is too small to support a lot of players, and it makes sense to bundle the technology with other networking offerings.

Atheros got hold of Intellon to create a hybrid networking platform. This is evidenced by the combo reference design (wi-fi router + powerline adapter) which has been adopted by Netgear and D-Link. Their future outlook involves the IEEE P1905 which is the convergent digital home network working group.

Sigma Designs is a more interesting story. IPTV has been at the core of Sigma Designs. Sigma created a vision with the set top box as the hub to power the new digital home. They acquired Coppergate to shore up the powerline networking side and Z-Wave technology for wireless home control transceivers.
Broadcom, Marvell and ST probably plan to use their PLC purchases to act as a one-stop-shop for their networking gear customers.

While Atheros is categorical in putting its weight behind IEEE P1901, the lineup from Sigma Designs is more interesting. When I visited Sigma Designs in October, I was shown some working demonstrations of HomePlug silicon, while silicon was shown at CES 2011. We will discuss Sigma's lineup first.

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