400Mbps Powerline ushers in the digital home

Networking manufacturer Comtrend has announced that it will be the first company to offer 400Mbps data streaming over your home's power cabling. That's double the current 200Mbps speeds.

Using the DS2 Powerline standard, Comtrend's new PowerGrid 904 adapters use your home's electrical wiring as a data network. Connect one adapter to a broadband router and the other to a PC and you've got an instant connection between the two. It's plug, and quite literally, play. The new technology could easily give the long-delayed 802.11n Wi-Fi standard a run for its money.

The big selling point of a 400Mbps product will be its ability to pipe HD content from A to B without breaking a sweat. With a real-world speeds in excess of 100Mbps, DS2's technology is perfect for IPTV deployments like BT Vision (which already uses Comtrend's 200Mbps kit) or even a multi-room HD PVR system.

The breakthrough seems like great news for DS2. But the fact is the standard has had a rather rough time.

Standards at war

DS2 technology sits at the heart of the Universal Powerline Alliance (UPA) specification. The Spanish technology is a rival contender to the US-based 200Mbps HomePlug Alliance (HPA) standard, aka HomePlug AV. A recent IEEE vote came down in favour of the latter specification, winning it a provisional nod to become the de facto standard.

Hitting back, DS2 announced during October that it had developed its new 400Mbps product. Comtrend says it can support five simultaneous streams, though doesn't say how this actually works. Although the IEEE vote is fairly decisive, it's a new card for DS2 to play to stay in the game. The rival HPA doesn't yet have public plans for such a high bandwidth product.

HD TV around the home

"Reliable distribution of high speed data within a consumer's home is the key to a successful deployment of triple play services," said Harold Fitch, General Manager at Comtrend "With the advancement of high speed technologies over copper or fiber for carrier deployment the home network is the final frontier to deliver such services as HD TV to any room in a home."

The PowerGrid 904 will start shipping early next year and will be compatible with legacy DS2-derived kit rated at 200Mbps. Other 400Mbps products are expected soon from Buffalo, D-Link and Netgear.

A question worth asking is whether a 400Mbps Powerline product like this can provide an alternative to 802.11n?

Ideally, the two products will work together. Powerline will provide the piping for the home's fixed PC and AV equipment, like desktop PCs and media streamers. 802.11n, once it's finally ratified, will hook together our standalone equipment, like our laptops, Tablet PCs and VoIP phones.

If it all works, the digital home will be another step closer.


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site T3.com. Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.