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EchoStar Plugs Into IPTV Via HomePlug Connections

Remember the noise a few years ago about the idea that Ethernet/data networking could be done via standard power receptacles? Heard about it lately?

At the HomePlug Powerline Technology Conference in Santa Clara, CA, hosted by the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, proponents are advocating the technology’s ability to carry audio and control, while others are advocating a new and improved technology that uses existing coaxial cables to achieve speeds of up to 175Mbps— with the ability to carry video and audio signals throughout the home.

"One of our challenges," says Will Beals, director of hardware systems architecture of EchoStar Technologies, which recently acquired place-shifting company Sling Media, "was getting HomePlug integrated into the main power supply on our set-top boxes, since we needed a way to interconnect the multiple devices."

"We have a need for two distinct networks," said Beals. "First, a low-speed data network that we use for command and control; second, an audio-video network. There are some common requirements for two networks, including a need for whole home coverage—with virtually no exceptions—no need for new wiring, automatic setup, and absolutely no customer intervention. Installation times aren’t increased with HomePlug; the increase is from the device that needs to be connected to the internet through the router."

"One thing that impressed us about the HomePlug/Powerline Alliance," continued Beals, "was that they’d be willing to roll out a multi-hundred home test and show us the results. We couldn’t get that out of the wireless technologies. Our average installation is above two set-top boxes per household so we needed a way to synchronize features between set-top boxes without requiring all devices to be directly connected to the internet."

Answering a question about competing technologies, Beals mentioned that not a lot of features EchoStar has built into the STBs have been turned on for customers yet. "We don’t sell one-off devices to the market, so we’ve been waiting for the critical mass to turn on features."

"Competing technologies like HomePlug and DS2 are exciting challenge," Beals said, obviously relishing the chance to see how competing technologies work with—or don’t work with—each other in the consumer’s real-world scenario. "We also don’t see MoCA [the Multimedia over Coax Alliance, intended to use existing coaxial throughout the house for audio/video and data networking] as competition, but rather a complementary technology."

When I spoke to Rob Gelphman, chairman of marketing work group for MOCA, after Beals’ presentation, the topic of competition came up.

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