Back in the early days of home internet, residential internet connections were confined to relatively low data rates, consisting of no more than a few tens of megabits per second (Mbps). Typical home wireless networks were not capable of real data speeds more than 20 Mbps. For most people, this was more than adequate for normal email and web browsing tasks.
Of course, this is no longer the case. Speed is the name of the game, creating a paradigm shift for home networking appliances, such as gateways and set top boxes. While the primary function of these devices – routing data to and from the various network devices and the service provider network, and maintaining appropriate quality of service and security for the different data streams – remains unchanged, these devices must now perform their function at gigabit, rather than megabit, speeds.
One major trend that has driven this shift is the growing popularity of streaming video. Combined with the growth of HDTV and now UHDTV (ultrahigh definition TV), this requires both speed and bandwidth in order to stream Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and all the other TV, movies, music and other multimedia content that we love. The old home networks are simply not up to the task. In addition, many of us are utilizing network attached storage – a large storage device attached to the home network – to back up our data and to serve as a resource for local devices to access. But accessing this storage repository takes bandwidth, placing even more load on the home wireless network.
At the same time, the number of devices and form factors that we want to connect to our home networks has rapidly increased and that trend doesn’t show any signs of stopping. From smartphones and tablets to wearables and the smart “things” we want to bring into our homes, we want these devices to be able to communicate with us and each other constantly. This has also created an increased need for private cloud computing. The data these connected devices gather is largely stored in the cloud and we need to be able to access it anytime, anywhere, instantly.
Thankfully, we are seeing some new connectivity technologies that are delivering the speeds critical to enabling a successful shift in the home network paradigm. FTTH – also known as Fiber to the Home –is starting to be more broadly deployed. While traditional copper cable can deliver a few hundred megabits per second (up to 1Gbps in exceptional circumstances) , it can only do so over very limited distances – about 300 feet or less, making it an impractical solution to the speed conundrum. Fiber cables, on the other hand, are able to deliver 1 Gbps speed over a much larger distance, upwards of ten miles. By running fiber cabling from a service provide to a home or office, those speeds can be brought directly to the home network. Here in Austin, you can’t go anywhere without hearing about Google Fiber, which is bringing this technology (and speed) to Austin.
We will also begin to see the rollout of 802.11ac wave 2. This will enable the easy wireless distribution of data at gigabit speeds. Within a few years, the majority of network equipment will utilize the new 802.11ac standard and we will see these fast speeds throughout most home networks. The combination of Gigabit downlinks and high-speed WiFi will also drive the need for multi-core network communication processors based home gateways capable of distributing the various data streams around the home.
Some of these trends will take years to fully materialize, others are already impacting the performance of home networks (and the frustration levels of the consumers who utilize those networks).
This change in paradigm plays to the strengths of Digital Networking group that has the number one position in wired and wireless markets1. Delivering high-speed networking with optimum performance and power consumption is what we do. To further strengthen our position in broadband residential networking, we acquired Mindspeed’s Comcerto CPE Communication Processors business earlier this year, including multicore SoCs that have already gained significant residential networking design, notably in the Western Digital MyCloud™ NAS box (click here to view commercial), the Ooma® Telo VoIP gateway and in leading FTTH operators.
As the broadband gateway market continues to expand, we are looking forward to enabling many more Gbit home networks in the future.
(1) Gartner, Apr 2014, Market Share: Semiconductor Applications, Worldwide, 2013, “Total Microprocessor Embedded in Wired + Wireless Communications” (excludes DSP)