Blog Post

Why the Home Network Needs More Than Just Wi-Fi

Let’s be honest: When it comes to the networked home, most analysts, press and consumers mainly think Wi-Fi. This is for good reason, of course, as Wi-Fi has been phenomenally successful as a consumer technology. It’s ubiquitous in laptops and portable gaming devices, is fast becoming so in portable media players and mobile phones, and new devices like TVs and set-top boxes are seen as the next big growth markets for this technology.

However, while many view Wi-Fi as a jack-of-all-trades technology that can be shoehorned into virtually any use case, at ABI we see things a little differently. While we continue to forecast a bright future for Wi-Fi, we view the home network as a multilayered one made up of individual sub-networks that are defined by their own specific use cases and applications, some of which may not involve Wi-Fi at all.

We ultimately see five types of networks in the home:

    1. The consumer network for data and entertainment. Mainly Wi-Fi, with a mix of Ethernet and HomePlug as well. Where Linksys, Netgear and gateway vendors such as 2Wire dominate.

    2. Whole-home backbone. This is the network being driven by IPTV deployments and, in the near future, cable. MoCA, HomePlug AV and HomePNA 3.1 have seen strong traction here.

    3. High-speed, in-room video networks. Technology such as the new WirelessHD 60 GHz standard is specifically designed for this use case as it sends uncompressed video over high-speed wireless links to a TV.

    4. Home automation and control. Low-cost, lower-speed networks for command and control of home systems and as part of the home entertainment stack through integration into universal remotes.

    5. Personal area networks. Has been, and still largely is, defined by Bluetooth.

Of course, many of these networks use either the same underlying technologies or an offshoot of similar ones. UWB, for example, is being positioned as a solution for high-speed Bluetooth, as well as being used for whole-home backbone networks. Pulse~Link, in particular, has been pushing its UWB technology for a number of applications (and networks), seeing it as a candidate for UWB over coax as well as for high-speed, in-room video networks.

One of the most exciting and active areas for development today is the whole-home backbone. MoCA is being integrated into FiOS set-top boxes, while HomePlug AV (and to a lesser extent, UPA) powerline technology has been used for IPTV deployments in Europe and Asia.

But it is the in-room, high-speed video network that is both the newest and likely the one that will get much of the attention in coming years. And while some vendors may see Wi-Fi as a potential option here, the bandwidth needed for uncompressed HD video ranges from 3 to 5 Gbps. This is out of reach for Wi-Fi and where other technologies, such as the 60 GHz, UWB or proprietary implementations in 5GHz, are better suited.

We certainly expect that vendors such a Broadcom will continue to push Wi-Fi for applications such as whole-home video distribution. However, ABI Research believes that most pay-TV operators in the U.S. and Europe are more comfortable with the security and propagation capabilities of wires. To that end, many within the International Telecommunications Union have been working to develop a new standard that would succeed today’s coax, powerline and phoneline home backbone technologies:, a new triple-wire specification that ABI Research believes holds significant potential.

Michael Wolf is a research director focused on the digital home for ABI Research.

19 Responses to “Why the Home Network Needs More Than Just Wi-Fi”

  1. Hi Mike,

    I agree with Avner about the potential of the HPCCv1.0. The C&C will need to be a hybrid of PLC and wireless to reach both on the grid and off the grid items. ZigBee is good for jumping over walls to get to gas and water meters, and thermostats and digital displays. A fridge dosen’t need wireless, it’s not moving – hence powerline is the elegant design.


  2. We live in a development of yuppie apartments in London’s Docklands, and at last count, there are *26* wifi networks competing for spectrum around our house. We got HomePlug AV adapters which connect our router to the desktops, the NAS and the Mac Mini under the TV as wireless is hopeless in such a noisy environment. It is the only way we get bareable performance for video and music off the NAS.

    If a neighbour buys a new piece of kit and changes to a different channel for wifi, we have a nightmare – we have to play hunt-the-least-interference-bedevilled-channel until wifi becomes usable again.

    With my next home, I will probably wire the place with gigEthernet cabling. Unless you live in a lower density housing development, or can afford to adopt a technology like 802.11a/n that is less popular than the ubiquitous g, I can’t see the issues with wireless interference getting better.

    Has anyone invented Faraday Cage paint yet? I would happily paint all my perimeter walls with it :)

  3. Hi Mike,

    Many years ago we seemed to be talking about all the early variants of these technologies. Funnily enough, when it came time to do my home network I went with a simple ethernet backbone and WiFi. It has served me well for the last 8 years, and wasn’t that expensive to install at about $75/drop.


  4. Hi Mike,

    Good analysis, but I think your numbers on powerline market share for IPTV distribution are incorrect. UPA technology is the market leader in that segment (good examples are BT Vision, Telefonica Imagenio, Portugal Telecom Meo, etc), having shipped more devices that any other competing “200 Mbps” powerline technology.

    Many people confuse HomePlug and HomePlug AV (which are not interoperable which each other, by the way), and assume that shipments of HomePlug AV devices are as high as plain HomePlug (they are not).

  5. Wireless broadband technologies also include new services from companies such as Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T Mobility, which allow a more mobile version of this broadband access. Consumers can purchase a PC card, laptop card, or USB equipment to connect their PC or laptop to the Internet via cell phone towers. This type of connection would be stable in almost any area that could also receive a strong cell phone connection. These connections can cost more for portable convenience as well as having speed limitations in all but urban environments.

  6. WiFi is a great technology, but it doesn’t provide the throughput broadcast video requires. Today, carriers require over 50 Mbit/s to deliver IPTV inside consumer’s homes. In addition, carriers are working on new applications and services that will increase the requirements to 200 or even 300 Mbit/s in the next few years.

    That’s why CopperGate, the leading chip company for IPTV home networks is so bullish on While we are the leader in HomePNA (having shipped over 5 million units) AND are entering the HomePlug AV market, we ultimately see as THE universal, global wired home networking standard.

  7. I keep forgetting the majority of folks watching TV still think only in terms of streaming. Using a DVR for years – originally for timeshifting only – even 80211.g was adequate for storing HDTV in my AppleTV for an evening’s viewing.

    With 80211.n now the standard in our home, I still don’t even think about streaming video.

    Sitting here with a laptop with “n” built-in, surfing the Web with a home fibre connection at 6mbps, I don’t need anything faster because the Web isn’t going to be delivering anything faster than I already can handle.

  8. mjgraves

    I remain surprised that my home network has grown to encompass over 30 attached devices. Only three are served by wifi. At least in my experience wifi is a limited application network scheme that services portable devices, typically laptops, in my home. Most other network devices are on wired ethernet.

    Most of my wired ethernet has been migrated to gigabit ethernet now that switch costs have dropped. This is especially useful for large backups.