Broadband over power starting to kick off

Written by Brett Thomas

August 16, 2005 // 5:45 p.m.

Tags: #blanco #bpl #broadband #broadband-over-power-lines #burnet #european-commission #fios #power #rural #weimar

Most of us know there are three major ways to connect to the internet: cable, DSL, satellite, but what about... your power outlet?

In what may be the death of dial-up even in the most rural of areas, a new technology called 'Broadband over Power Lines' (BPL) is beginning to make its mark. Using radio waves transmitted across the power lines, BPL can provide a data line similar to DSL or cable. According to 802.11-news three rural Texas communities have already started a pilot program that is garnering the attention of utility companies everywhere.

"The successful pilot projects were launched in mid-June in Blanco, Burnet and Weimar, Texas. According to Mike Steele, Burnet's city manager, the city has had great success with the initial pilot project and is expanding it to additional parts of the community."

The three pilot programs are the first real trial of the service for public consumption, though small tests were set up previously in the states of Virginia, Indiana, and Kentucky. Costing just $25 per month, BPL offers a 4 mbit/sec connection speed, which currently rivals most cable offerings that can cost nearly twice as much. The next generation of the technology will be rolling out within a year and is expected to hit a speed of 90 mbit/sec!

BPL technology is seen as a huge step forward in bringing rural areas into the world of always-on internet. Most cable companies refuse to run their services out to areas that are not inhabited enough to be profitable, and phone companies feel the same way about DSL technologies. There's always satellite technology, but it is very cost prohibitive and still requires the use of your phone line for any uploading of data. However, BPL can be run by any electricity provider with no upgrade to the power grids, meaning it can be run to the most rural of places. In fact, the more rural the location (at least in the US), the more likely that the power company is a co-op, meaning that the people of the area own it directly. This type of organization makes it easy for the public to choose to have the technology, as opposed to waiting for a big company to finally bring it to them.

The technology has more uses than just internet for the public, though...utility companies are excited about using it to find blown transformers, discover power line problems, and other tasks that were not possible before this. Overall, aside from a cheaper internet, it could even eventually lower the cost of electricity through better maintenance and diagnostic procedures.

Europe is jumping on the BPL bandwagon as well, with the European Commission issuing a recommendation for what will be called PLC ("power line communication") on that side of the pond. They have already urged utilities to remove any "unnecessary" roadblocks that prevent an easy implementation.

However, not everyone is excited about BPL. Amateur radio enthusiasts are worried about the fact that the amount of traffic will create interference for their operations, and cable and phone companies are worried about a cut to their exclusive revenue. Not that they don't have their own higher-speed offerings now, though. If BPL isn't quite your speed, there's always the new FIOS fiber-optic connection from Verizon, which is promising transfers of up to 30 mbit/sec in some areas.

So does BPL look like the future power of internet connectivity? Plug in to our forums and let us know your thoughts.
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