Report: ‘cheaper, faster’ broadband Internet over power lines coming to U.S. homes in 2006

“Call it a dark horse in the race to bring Internet connections to America’s homes. The electric utility industry wants to bring us Internet connections as well,” Dean Takahashi reports for The Mercury News. “Consumers already have cable TV and phone companies vying to sign them up for high-speed Internet service. The power companies would be new contenders in this race.”

“It may sound crazy that the people who have brought us outages and brownouts are promising round-the-clock high-speed Internet access. But after years of incubation, industry observers say it’s ready to happen. Trials have begun, and big rollouts are expected in 2006,” Takahashi reports. “The service, called BPL for broadband over power lines, could be cheaper and faster than DSL service over phone lines or cable-TV that now supply Internet connections to most U.S. households.”

Full article here.

38 Comments

  1. I dunno… The power companies already have a wire running to virtually every permanent freestanding structure in the USA, so if they could pull it off, they would have a distinct advantage over cable and DSL.

    On the other hand, I don’t know about your town, but there’s only one electricity provider where I live. A lack of competition in a market that falls outside of the primary purpose for the company… where have I heard of that before?

  2. A few years ago, I lived in a town that was testing this exact concept by the power company. In our situation, the power company set up Wi-fi on just about every other street light. Unfortunately, only a few people were selected as test users. I wasn’t one and I didn’t know anyone. I left before hearing the results.

    In very small rural towns and secluded homes (farms), BPL may be the only way to get high speed being that they have no cable or DSL.

    Perhaps Apple will be announcing this as their new way to access the internet. They can have 1kbps, thus making streaming and downloading HD video a real possibility. They can call it “Apple on Power Lines” – APoL.

    So for Wednesday, they will announce…

    1. New high speed APoL.
    2. Downloadable and streamable video via new iTunes.
    3. Translucent Macs with a glowing speedometer indicating the users current download speeds – an awesome way to advertise how fast their connections are (and how slow your old DSL and cable are).
    4. Inter-home networking via the home’s power lines for data, music and video.
    5. New Apple media center; a device not much larger than a Mac mini.

  3. If power lines are everywhere, what about security concerns with labs, military installations, etc.

    I’m not up on this type of technology, but with power lines in every building, isn’t it possible to cut in almost anywhere and tap information?

  4. News Item:

    M$, meanwhile, backs the Broadband initiative by the Natural Gas providers. It seems this innovation was released by Mr. Steve Ballmer, CEO, after a large lunch at Taco Bell. Mr. Ballmer touted this idea as another in the series of innovations in M$’ pipeline of products.

  5. “The only problem with BPL is that it DESTROYS citizens band radio. The interference makes that form of broadasting virtually impossible.”

    Hey Good Buddy… Breaker, Breaker, It’s the f’ing 21st Century…

    What kind of loser cares about CB radio anymore? 10-4?

  6. clearly…the value of HAM radio and Citizens Band radio is under publicized.There are over 700,000 HAM operators across the nation who can broadcast when others cannot. The idea of CB’s in trucks is from the 70’s and not reflective of their real value. They were active after the recent Hurricanes in the Gulf Coast and have proven themselves many times in disasters for the last few decades. Read this page…

    http://www.spacetoday.org/k3rxk/EmergencyComms.html

  7. More background on this story:

    Internet noise threatens emergency radio
    10:31 14 January 2005
    Exclusive from New Scientist Print Edition
    Barry Fox

    Enlarge image
    Short-wave interference
    After the tsunami hit Sri Lanka on 26 December, Victor Goonetilleke, head of the island’s amateur radio society, delivered a short-wave radio set and two 12-volt car batteries to the prime minister’s emergency headquarters in Colombo. At the same time, three of his friends drove through the devastation to Hambantota, on the hard-hit south-east coast, where they set up another battery-powered short-wave radio.

    For two days, while the military struggled to restore electricity supplies and phone lines, the prime minister was able to use the short-wave link to talk to staff on the ground.

    Short-wave signals from Sri Lanka, the Andaman Islands and mainland India also helped to spread news of the disaster around the world. The same happened after the 9/11 attacks and last year’s hurricanes in the Caribbean. When phones and mains electricity are down, making the internet unusable, short-wave radio enthusiasts are able to maintain emergency communications.

    But not, perhaps, for much longer. Plans to deliver broadband internet signals to homes and businesses down mains electricity cables, rather than telephone lines, could cause interference that will drown out the faint signals from distant short-wave transmitters.

    Unshielded cables

    Power companies in the US and Europe are pressing ahead with the technology, with the aim of setting up in competition to existing phone-based services. The downside is that the packets of internet data pulsing down unshielded mains cables makes the cables behave like aerials that send short-wave interference beaming out over a wide area.

    Unless interference of this kind is tightly controlled, it could spell the end for emergency short-wave communications. “A few extra decibels of interference from future networks and I would not have been able to hear the news from amateurs in Sri Lanka, India and the Andaman Islands,” says Hilary Claytonsmith of the International Amateur Radio Union’s UKbranch.

    The threat began when the US government gave the go-ahead to broadband over power line (BPL) technology in October. And the European Commission (EC) is close to approving its own version, called power-line communications (PLC). The names are different but the technology is the same: broadband data is sent into people’s homes as a high-frequency signal piggybacked on the 50 or 60-hertz mains supply.

    Unhappy coincidence

    Because the mains is a noisy environment with ever-changing patterns of interference from sockets, switches, control circuits and electric motors in appliances, the power-line data must be spread over many high-frequency carrier signals if it is to be delivered at the 5 to 10 megabits per second that these services are aiming for.

    The carrier frequencies used range up to 30 megahertz – which by unhappy coincidence is the radio band that travels best around the world. It is used for amateur radio, short-wave broadcasting (such as the BBC World Service and Deutsche Welle) and includes several dedicated emergency frequencies (see graphic). Because these frequencies bounce off the ionosphere, they carry long distances, which makes them ideal for long-range intercontinental broadcasting.

    When the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave the go-ahead to BPL, it ruled that at frequencies up to 80 megahertz service providers must use filters on their household equipment. These could be set by a service engineer to chop out any internet transmission frequencies shown to be causing interference to any short-wave radio receivers nearby. The EC and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC) are trying to set similar filtering rules.

    Deciding on importance

    But radio amateurs fear that the rules will allow the filtering to be lifted if it is having a serious effect on internet access speeds. The EC says it wants firm rules that balance “technical, social and economic” factors against the “importance” of services which suffer interference. But who is to decide what is more important, and on what grounds, the radio amateurs ask.

    Michael Copps, the one FCC commissioner who opposed BPL, believes the organisation has made a rod for its own back. It is going to have to “work hard to monitor, investigate and take quick action” over any power-line internet interference to radio amateurs and others, he says.

    Some technical fixes may be in the works though. The BBC, for instance, is developing a PLC modem that makes use of the fact that the short-wave frequencies for broadcast radio change throughout the day, as ionospheric conditions dictate. The BBC modem detects which frequency bands are in use at any one time – and filters them out. Such technology is not part of any PLC or BPL system currently in trials, however.

  8. Cinergy is running BPL trials in parts of Cincinnati. If they release it, it will be $29 for minimum 3mb, down and up. Roadrunner is $45 for minimum 3mb down and 300kb (if you’re lucky) up. This bites big time when you are trying to share photo and video files.

    Let’s see… if BPL comes to Cincy, will I buy??
    U Betcha!

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