Power Line Broadband Has Arrived
By Dana Greenlee,
Co-host WebTalk Radio
Monday, March 08, 2004; 5:00pm EST
Promises easier and more convenient access to the Internet,
although some critics note it could cause radio interference problems.
Broadband connectivity over power lines has been in development for
years with the promise of easy and convenient Internet access. A
recent announcement this month proclaimed the first large-scale
deployment of broadband over power line (BPL) technology to millions
of Cinergy power customers in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
Luke Stewart, CEO of Media Fusion�s HyperWires.com thinks �broadband
over power lines� is an idea whose time has come. The goal is to
enable everyday net user�s access to the Internet simply by plugging
their Internet appliance, laptop, media center or desktop PC into an
electrical outlet in their house and get cable and DSL speeds.
BPL is not without its detractors. A member of the National
Association of Amateur Radio e-mailed me a few days after my interview
with Stewart was broadcast on the radio. He said, �The negative
aspects of power line broadband are potential interference problems.�
The Amateur Radio Relay League CEO David Sumner posted this on their
organization�s Website: �Any listing of the pros and cons of using
power lines to deliver broadband services must mention its major
disadvantage: It pollutes the radio spectrum, interfering with nearby
radio receivers. The frequencies in question are used by public safety
agencies, the military, aeronautical and maritime services,
broadcasters, radio astronomers, radio amateurs, and others.�
Solutions are in the works, however. Massachusetts-based Ambient
states that it is possible to avoid interference to nearby
The Federal Communication Commission wants filter technology used
whenever BPL is deployed. The FCC's proposed amendment for
requirements and guidelines on this issue says "Ambient states that if
a sub-band is being used by a nearby transceiver, the BPL modem
transmitter can be programmed to avoid transmitting on that sub-band,
or "notch" it out."
Stewart took a few minutes to elaborate on the new BPL development.
Q: Broadband over power lines has been in development for many
years. Give us a little description of what the technology does and
how it works.
Stewart: Inductive couplers are used to put a signal onto the actual
electrical wire that generally brings power to your home. These
couplers are excited in such a way as to put a signal in parallel
streaming with your electricity, carrying either content or opening a
channel for communication much like your home phone line would. Many
of the companies use different coupling and encoding technology, but
it all does basically the same thing where you have the coupler that
puts the signal on the wire, then you have a set of repeaters that
carries the signal for some distance and then you have something that
looks like a plug that goes into your outlet that you can plug your
computer into and get Internet capability.
Q: It�s a cool idea to plug in your laptop to any outlet in your
house and get on the Internet. What type of hardware do you have to
have in order to make that connection happen in your home?
Stewart: You just need to have the modem and you need to be in the
service area where one of the BPL providers has put it on the grid.
Q: Why will broadband over power lines catch on in the marketplace
where we already have DSL and cable and growing wireless access? What
differentiates BPL so it can compete, or will it just be a
Stewart: I would like the ease of going to any place in my home or
large building and access my own electronic data spaces by moving from
plug to plug or by putting any number of people online by plugging
them in. It�s a very novel notion.
Besides the convenience, look at the way technology has improved. For
instance, when the cellular business first came out, it had spotty
services, dropped calls and not very good coverage. Now you have
nationwide coverage. The wireless industry has proved to be very
In the beginning, BPL may look similar because it may only appear in
certain areas. But as the technology is more integrated within the
electrical systems, not only will the technology become more robust
and available at lower costs, but the acceleration of putting content
to your home through the wall outlet will occur in parallel.
Q: Is this option a threat to the Baby Bells and ISP providers?
Stewart: The two things that drive the industry are costs and consumer
confidence. If the phone companies decided it would make more sense to
incorporate additional technologies including broadband over power
lines, I don�t think they would find it such a threat. When you try to
segregate your technology and force the federal government to go under
deregulation and special regulatory practices, that sets the stage
that threatens those entities far worse than any new technology. From
the consumers point of view, any way he can get services that are
cheaper and more reliable is a benefit to him. The battlefield isn�t
really between technology issues, but business practice issues.
Q: One of the concepts that your company is pushing is what you�re
referring to as a hybrid version. It uses existing optical fiber
networks in conjunction with power lines?
Stewart: Absolutely. We know a lot of utilities not only have
electrical infrastructures but have large amounts of fiber that are
pulled in various service territories. In order to bring speedier
access - or hyper access, as we like to talk about it - a customer
would be able to take advantage of both the current technology of DSL
speeds and, by putting this link with the fiber to the first injection
where you put your signals on the wire to the home, you open up the
back end for interoperability - we call it making it upward compatible
- so you can now start delivering other types of content because you
have a fiber connection point directly to it. We think that�s the best
scenario. We think people are really going to like getting 450
channels out of the wall plug!
Q: Sounds great. What can we do to encourage this next up?
Stewart: Talk to your local power coordinators. Maybe talk to people
in the utility industry. It�s certainly good to let the FCC and your
local representatives, Senators and Congressman know that there is an
interest because all the effort translates to grass root changes. I
always think about all the consumers who get this ability to move
around in their home to get Internet access, but it�s also really neat
that schools get the capability to let everybody plug in wherever they
want. Hospitals and other large structures can benefit a great deal as
Information about broadband over power lines is available at
www.hyperwires.com. For more conversation with Luke Stewart, the full
interview is available at WebTalkRadio.com.
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