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MoCA Launches High Speed Access Specification for Ultra HD Delivery Over Coax

MoCA access is the latest in a line of multimedia over coax standards dating back to 2005.

The latest version of the MoCA (Multimedia over Coaxial Alliance) specifications for data over coaxial cable is pitched as an alternative to DOCSIS 3.1 for in-building distribution of premium video services, especially Ultra HD (UHD). It is also being offered as a high-speed backbone to ensure performance and reliability of Wi-Fi home networks, especially in buildings where coax is already installed.

That is most often the case in North America, but also in some continental European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, where coax is quite widely used for distribution of TV signals within medium sized Multi Dwelling Units (MDUs).

The latest specification called MoCA Access is based on the MoCA 2.5 standard and is capable of 2.5 Gbps data rates downstream and 2 Gbps upstream, utilizing existing in-building coaxial cabling. Available from June 13th 2017, MoCA Access delivers signals point-to-multipoint serving up to 63 clients and co-exists with legacy services including cellular (4G/5G) technologies as well DOCSIS. With an operating frequency range 400MHz - 1675MHz, it has been designed to avoid interference with DOCSIS, even when the latter is operating in extended spectrum above 1 GHz.

With these improvements, MoCA has a number of use cases, firstly being pitched as a lower cost fiber extension alternative not just to DOCSIS 3.1, but also to G. Fast for Telcos looking for high speed distribution in MDUs served with fiber to the basement. G.Fast is a DSL protocol for local copper loops shorter than 500 m, with performance targets between 150 Mbps and 1 Gbps, depending on loop length. MoCA Access is also being promoted as a wired backhaul technology for forthcoming 5G cellular services, where its low latency of 5 ms or less will be an attractive feature.

The primary focus though is for home networks and in-building services, according to Helge Tianen, chair of the MoCA Access working group. He pointed out how the backbone mesh elements of the MoCA 2.5 specification for home networking had been removed while features for QoS had been added to enhance premium video distribution. “It supports up to 8 different traffic classes, with priority 7 the highest for time sensitive services like premium TV,” said Tianen. “The highest priority data goes first.”

An interesting question is how this positions MoCA against on the one hand other wired alternatives like HomePlug operating over power cables and also G.Hn, which can operate over coax and telephone wiring as well. As analyst group Rethink Technology Research pointed out, it will be harder for these to compete against MoCA access given the latter’s greater performance at reasonably low cost.

When it comes to Wi-Fi there is a tradeoff between performance and cost or convenience. Even providers of intelligent Wi-Fi mesh technology designed for in-home distribution of premium services including video admit that MoCA coaxial backbones reinforcing Wi-Fi through MoCA-to-Wi-Fi adapters can provide the best performance.

“MoCA to dual band Wi-Fi adaptors provide higher speed to Wi-Fi end-points by utilizing high speed MoCA backhaul capability,” conceded Metin Taskin, CTO of Turkey based AirTies, one of the leading providers of home Wi-Fi technology with a number of pay TV operators as customers. But Taskin had a sting in his tail for MoCA proponents. “These adaptors are more expensive than dual band Wi-Fi Mesh Extenders and they require professional installation for most customers. Wi-Fi-only Mesh Extenders deliver less throughput compared to MoCA to Wi-Fi adaptors, but at a much lower product price and installation cost. Then Tri-Band Mesh Extenders provide throughput levels close to MoCA to Wi-Fi adaptors, at a similar cost, and without the need of professional installation.”

Taskin argued that as a result of convenience, combined with a continuing narrowing in the performance gap between Wi-Fi-only networks and those with MoCA backbones, operators were swinging towards the former. “Most of the ISPs that deployed MoCA devices now prefer wireless only products because of high installation and servicing cost of MoCA technology,” said Taskin.

Having said that, Taskin did admit that for now MoCA backbones still made sense in some situations, presumably homes that are large or have especially challenging RF (Radio Frequency) conditions as a result of thickness or composition of building walls. “Some ISPs still prefer MoCA and to send professional installers to every customer,” he agreed.

Indeed AirTies itself has some pay TV operator customers combining Wi-Fi with a wired backbone, not necessarily MoCA. One of these is Sky, Europe’s second largest pay TV operator, which has deployed MoCA alongside Powerline using the HomePlug AV2 specification, which operates not as a backbone but as an additional channel alongside the two Wi-Fi channels at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, providing extra resiliency and throughput for HD video and eventually UHD. This makes sense in the UK where few homes are cabled with coax, while suitable power cables are usually available. MoCA/Wi-Fi hybrids will be confined to either new homes cabled for coax or existing ones where it has already been installed.

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