Best Buy Deal Shows BPL Potential

Carl Weinschenk

In an era in which cable operators and telephone companies are scheming 24/7 to increase the speeds of their networks, broadband over powerline isn't very exciting. It's relatively slow and rather ho-hum.

But BPL can handle some level of convergence. It also has a couple of powerful assets. One is that it is ubiquitous. It rides the electrical grid, right down to the wall sockets liberally sprinkled throughout every potential customer's home. On top of that, utilities use the platform to manage their infrastructure. This reduces the pressure on the data service to immediately produce profits. In essence, it becomes an attractive add-on instead of the main revenue generator.

BPL has been good enough to generate some interest from investors and companies, but clearly hasn't hit critical mass. That's why it's good to see that Best Buy For Business -- an arm of the Best Buy electronic retail chain -- offers BPL services. We say the surprise is pleasant simply because we applaud anything that increases available broadband services.

BPL won't explode into a mainline technology. However, it is a great idea -- along with satellite-delivered broadband -- for exurban and rural areas. The fact that a savvy company such as Best Buy sees the potential is good evidence that there is a marketable sector below the top tier of next-generation cable modems and telephone company fiber.

The next few years will be interesting as wired network architectures continue to sort themselves out. Dialup will continue to have a significant but eroding base of users. Next up the speed curve may well be BPL, followed by today's cable modems and digital subscriber line (DSL) services. Another step up the ladder will be cable modems that use the third iteration of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), perhaps abetted by some fiber or other capacity-expanding trick. The top of the heap will be the fiber-rich systems such as FiOS from Verizon and Lightspeed from AT&T.

The list above, of course, doesn't even count cellular and wireless choices, which will be a powerful overlay for mobility and, in many cases, an able replacement for wired networks altogether. We have entered a new and highly competitive phase in which consumers and businesses will be able to choose the broadband option that is best for their needs.

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