A big shortcoming of powerline adapters is the fact that they tend not to interoperate across vendors. For example, the adapters made by Cisco are unlikely to work with products made by Netgear. This is because the powerline market has been fragmented and does not have a common standard. However, this is about to change.
The HomePlug Powerline Alliance announced Tuesday that an initial sponsor ballot was passed for the IEEE P1901, the working group that develops the global standard for high-speed powerline communications. This is an important step toward establishing a global standard for powerline (PLC) networking.
According to the Alliance, the ballot was passed with over 80 percent of affirmative votes, demonstrating the overwhelming industry support behind 1901. Final ratification of the standard is expected in the third quarter of 2010. For general consumers, the fact that PLC is going to be an internationally recognized IEEE standard means manufacturers can provide the assurance of product interoperability. This is much like the ratification of the IEEE 802.11N wireless standard (also known as Wireless-N) last September.
Currently, due to the maturity of the draft standard, the P1901 specification is only available via purchase through the IEEE's online store. The draft standard gives interested parties the ability to start developing smart-grid applications as well as next-generation broadband solutions that comply with P1901. The HomePlug Alliance says that it is also finalizing the new HomePlug "Green PHY" specification as part of the IEEE 1901. This specification will provide a low-power smart energy/smart grid standard, meeting the IP networking requirements of utility companies and appliance manufacturers.
According to the organization, the HomePlug AV standard, which has been widely followed by many powerline vendors, was used as the baseline technology for the IEEE 1901 powerline networking standard. This means future products that are compliant to 1901 could be interoperable with millions of HomePlug AV products in the market today. The HomePlug Powerline Alliance will serve as the certification body for IEEE 1901 devices in a similar way as the Wi-Fi Alliance certifies IEEE 802.11 wireless networking devices.