With internet traffic growing year on year and users continually expecting faster data speeds, one area that still causes issues is how to carry those bits and bytes around a building or home. If a premises doesn’t have cat5e or cat6 cable for Ethernet, retrofitting it can be an expensive and very time consuming process. Wireless can be a solution, but still can’t deliver the sorts of speed that Ethernet can, and installing a reliable high speed wireless network in a building still requires cabled access points if decent speeds are to be maintained. One solution to this problem is the HomePNA standard which allows data to be carried over existing copper or coax cable, completely avoiding the hassle of having to run Ethernet cable, and delivering speeds faster than wireless. The HomePNA 3.1 standard offers speeds of up to 200Mbps, support for 802.1Q VLAN tagging, fully transparent Quality of Service (QoS) using 802.1p, and supports cable runs up to around 1km. When deployed over coaxial cable the technology is referred to as HCNA (HPNA over Coax)
Late last year I trialled some Netsys NH310 units from Snappernet. These units allow existing TV coaxial cable to be used to carry Ethernet data, in much the same way cable modems work over the TelstraClear Cable TV network using the DOCSIS standard. By using different frequencies than the TV signals, both can be combined and run over a single coaxial cable. These units feature 100Mbps Fast Ethernet ports, and in real world testing deliver speeds of around 90Mbps – fairly typical for a 100Mbps device. Over the coaxal cable the HPNA protocol supports speeds of up to 200Mbps, so the 100Mbps fast Ethernet ports are in effect a bottleneck in the system. Up to 64 slave units may be connected to a single master unit, all of which will share the available bandwidth.
The Netsys HN310H Master unit features 5 Ethernet ports and 2 coax F connectors, one for the TV aerial input, and the other for HCNA out. The HN310C slave unit features 2 Ethernet ports, and 2 coax F connectors, one for the HCNA input, and the other a passthru port to connect into your existing TV or Set Top Box (STB). While setup of this hardware may look simple, some knowledge of MATV (master antenna TV) or SMATV (satellite master antenna TV) is essential to deliver the optimum performance from this hardware. 16dBM isolation is recommended between the master and slave units, with a minimum of 8dBm isolation required for these devices to function correctly. If your setup has isolation of between 8dBM and 16dBM and is also being used for TV distribution you may need to use of a high pass filter between the slave passthru port and TV/STB to avoid any interference to the TV signal. In many MATV or SMATV distribution networks 16dBM TAP’s are installed as standard so this is a perfect match. The HCNA standard uses frequencies between 15MHz and 40MHz so this hardware can happily co-exist with both terrestrial and satellite distribution networks.
One thing to be aware of is that most TV amplifiers sold in New Zealand and Australia used in MATV/SMATV distribution networks don’t support a return path, ie. they will block signals from travelling from the output port of the amplifier to the input port. This means that master and slave units must both be installed on the output side of the amplifier. If there are multiple amplifiers you’ll either need to install multiple master units, or replace the amplifiers with units that support a return path. Many splitters, diplexers and TAP’s sold in NZ also only support frequencies from 45MHz upwards, so these will also need to be reviewed and replaced with equipment that supports frequencies from 5MHz upwards.
Configuration is done using the web interface on the master unit. Once the master unit is configured and slave units hooked up to the coax network they appear in an access list with their MAC address, here they can be associated a plan speed if required, with a number of predefined speed options being available. Individual VLAN’s can be assigned to both of the RJ45 ports on the slave units from the web interface, and there are a number of diagnostic tests available to show signal level and network performance of each individual slave unit.
These units are a very cost effective way of delivering Ethernet to hotel or motel environments that will typically have coaxial cable for TV but no Ethernet cable. With Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) due to hit NZ this year, this hardware could also provide solutions to premises where retrofitting cat5e or cat6 cable for Ethernet is going to be costly. Other HPNA equipment also exists that runs over copper cable, so existing cat3 phone cable can also be utilised without needing to look at more expensive xDSL based solutions.
Overall the setup is relatively straight forward, and once installed the performance is brilliant. There are certainly plenty of small issues that could arise attempting to install these in an existing MATV/SATV setup, and if you have no knowledge of TV distribution networks, and I would highly recommend anybody thinking about this solution seek outside advice from somebody with knowledge of MATV/SMATV setups.
The real world performance of these units is awesome, and they were chosen for a large scale deployment in an apartment building here in Wellington delivering high speed symmetrical internet connections with VoIP services. The bonus of being future proofed for higher speeds in the future means that delivering a 100Mbps service to customers with a good CIR is totally within the capabilities of this product. Overall they’re a product that creates a fantastic solution and comes with with a great price point.
<shameless plug on> If anybody is interested in looking at these as a solution for a environment such as a hotel, motel, or apartment block I’m happy to provide consultancy advice or work with you on deploying a solution, my details are listed on the right. <shameless plug off>
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