Is it Lights Out for Broadband Over Powerline?

Carl Weinschenk

Broadband over powerline (BPL) always has been intriguing, despite the fact that even its staunchest proponents understand that the data rates it provides don't hold a candle to other broadband conduits.


There are three reasons to like BPL: It is as ubiquitous as home and business electrical wiring and it has a good potential market of folks in rural and exurban areas who are happy for even the limited speeds. Finally, the ROI calculations in justifying projects are more forgiving since many projects are dual-use scenarios in which the network also is reading meters monitoring grids.


In the final analysis, BPL is best positioned for areas in which residents have few options. For example, earlier this month BPL Global Ltd. said that its trial in Petare, a community on the east side of Caracas, Venezuela, has been termed a success by La Nueva Electricidad de Caracas. The project is now set to expand.


For the most part, however, BPL has been a disappointment. The lowered cost of broadband and the ability of dial-up to satisfy very basic users is squeezing BPL from both directions. From the technical standpoint, sending sensitive signals along with all that electricity is the equivalent of debutantes carpooling with professional wrestlers. Ham radio operators have consistently opposed projects because of interference issues.


In a major setback to BPL, one of the most noteworthy projects is being turned off. The Associated Press reports that Oncor Electric Delivery Co., which is described as the distribution arm of the former TXU Corp., is buying a Texas BPL network from Current Group. The initial high-profile plan was for the network to provide broadband service to as many as 2 million electricity customers. Now, executives say, the gear will be used only to monitor the electrical grid, not provide broadband.


It seems that BPL is losing ground on the legal front as well. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that the Federal Communications Commission erred in not making public all five reports it used to determine whether BPL signals cause harmful interference. The three-judge panel in the case -- which was brought by The American Radio Relay League, a group of ham radio operators -- ruled that the full reports must be made public. Ars Technica says that the FCC could adopt the same set of rules again. Though this is a setback, the writer is right to comment that it a lack of investment, not court decisions, that is slowing BPL.


This is a good overview of BPL from a proponent's point of view. The piece was written before the Texas deployment was canceled, so that element can be ignored. Nonetheless, the writer does a good job of explaining why proponents are excited by the technology. Though the sector undoubtedly is on its heels, it is possible that the price of power and the new attention to anything green could provide BPL with renewed life in the longer term as utilities see broadband as a way to partially mitigate the costs of deploying sophisticated grid-management systems.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 9, 2008 7:39 AM Jerry Jerry  says:
Theycould move BPL to the 800 mhz band. That would take care of the problem. Reply

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