Comcast, Ucentric Link for Trial

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Much of the focus in home networking these days has been on wireless 802.11 schemes, but Comcast Corp. will continue to explore wireline networks through an upcoming trial in Philadelphia.

Following up on an ongoing lab trial that began last year, the MSO will team with media-distribution software provider Ucentric Systems and chipmaker Broadcom Corp. to offer a select number of friendly Philadelphia customers a home-networking product based on Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HPNA) connections.

The system takes the HPNA scheme, originally developed for copper telephone lines, and adapts it to coaxial cable within the house. Broadcom will provide its HPNA iLine32TM chip for the physical layer connection and quality-of-service planks, while Ucentric's Home Media LAN will serve as the software platform.

A key question is whether HPNA over coax can provide a whole-house multimedia networking environment, said Ucentric CEO Michael Collette. While the system can theoretically provide up to 30 megabits per second of throughput, in lab trials Ucentric has seen sustained speeds of 22 mbps, he said.

"We really count on 19 (mbps)," Collette said. "What we know for our own uses is that will support four fully-loaded sessions — video-associated applications, display data and video working in trick mode. So you can do fast-forward and rewind on four TVs simultaneously in that multi-TV PVR application."

For now, HPNA over coax may be more realistic than flashier wireless options in shuttling multimedia between devices in a home.

"There is that gruesome gap between what I'd love to have someday and what I can work with today," Collette said. "And the reality is what we have today that works, that is completely sufficient for a major step forward in home networking is HPNA. It's cost-effective, it's stable and it has performance attributes we are looking for."

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