Powerline networking looks set to become an important supporting technology for the ubiquitous wireless coverage of Wi-Fi, but some in the industry believe there are issues that need to be investigated. We talk to AirTies founder Metin Taskin to find out his thoughts.
AirTies was started in 2004 by a group of Turkish nationals returning home from Silcon Valley with a passion for home networking and a wealth of experience under their belts. Since then, the company has spread into numerous markets around the world including the UK with a range of products aimed at distributing video and audio around the home.
Despite his company's focus on Wi-Fi, Taskin admits that the technology isn't perfect. "We've seen that video is becoming one of the main services in the home now," he explained to thinq_ during our interview, "and sending video over a home network is a big problem.
"That's why we're discussing powerline networking," he explained, referring to devices from groups such as the HomePlug Alliance which use a house's existing electrical wiring to network together multiple devices in various rooms. In terms of speed and convenience, powerline networking can often hold the edge over Wi-Fi. Taskin believes that there are unanswered questions, however.
"The technology - as of today - has some limitations, especially with usability," Taskin claimed. "You can never be sure that it's going to work. Sometimes it doesn't work, and there's no way to fix it. With things like multi-phase wiring, things like some interference happening on the power network that is basically stopping the powerline or degrading its performance."
It's not just performance that's at risk by in powerline technologies, however. Taskin believes that the technology, as it is used today, holds potentially higher security and safety risks than Wi-Fi.
"Powerline is even worse than Wi-Fi in terms of the signal spreading to other networks," Taskin claimed. "In Wi-Fi, it spreads, yes, because it's wireless, and it can go to your next-door neighbour and others - but it has natural limitations, it dies out as you get further. When you think about powerline, imagine yourself in a big high-rise apartment unit: somebody who's on the top floor, that signal can easily reach the bottom floor because the wiring inside the building is actually thicker between the floors between the units, so the signal that his devices put in to the powerline network actually goes to other floors easier than going to his other rooms."
Powerline's tendency to travel further than its users may intend has another problem, Taskin claims: interference. "When you use the power network to inject signals, it doesn't stay on the wire: it also gets radiated into the air. That actually can get in to other devices and start harming the functions of those devices," he claimed, describing the issue as a "big concern" for the future.
"It's operating in a frequency range which some other devices are also operating at - even a small leakage from there can affect electronic devices," he explained. It's something which his company, which produces devices for connecting IPTV routers to set-top boxes, is actively investigating, but which he claims is holding back the widespread adoption of powerline networking technologies.
With such concerns, you'd be forgiven for thinking that AirTies will be concentrating on wireless networking for the foreseeable future. Taskin, however, believes that powerline can solve some real problems. "When the problems are resolved I see powerline as being a supporting technology, but you will always need Wi-Fi, because today there are devices that don't have any wired connection - think about a tablet PC, a hand-held, even some laptops like the MacBook Air don't have any wired connection."
Any such solutions will need to come from the industry as a whole, however. "We would definitely leave it to the standards committees, as there are various solutions to the issues and it needs to be standardised so that everyone can benefit," he explained.
With wireless network growth showing no signs of slowing, and speeds rapidly reaching the point where multi-channel HD video streaming is just about possible, some may question whether powerline networking's time has passed. Taskin, however, is keeping his options open.