December 19, 2005 11:34 AM PST

Texas to get broadband over its power lines

Two Texas companies have announced a plan to offer high-speed Internet service over the power grid.

The plan was announced on Monday by Current Communications Group, a service provider that specializes in broadband service over power lines (BPL), and TXU Electric Delivery, the largest electric company in Texas.

The companies estimate that roughly 2 million homes and businesses in northern Texas will be able to subscribe to the new service when the network is complete. Current Communications--which has built a similar network over Cincinnati's power lines with local utility company Cinergy--will design, build and operate the new broadband network. Deployments will begin in 2006, the companies said.

The purpose of the new network is twofold. First, it will allow TXU to monitor the health of its power network. If an outage occurs, the network, which is based on Internet Protocol, can send alerts immediately. Eventually, the utility could even use the network to remotely read meters and switch power on or off.

Secondly, BPL will enable TXU to develop a new revenue stream. The broadband network will be laid on top of the existing power infrastructure, and TXU will then lease this infrastructure to broadband providers such as Current.

"This agreement is a milestone for Current as well as for BPL and illustrates the economic advantages of driving multiple applications across a single large-scale network deployment," William Berkman, chairman and co-founder of Current, said in a statement.

Service speeds and pricing details haven't been released, but Current said the network will have enough capacity to offer customers a "triple play" package, which would include telephony, TV service and high-speed Internet access. Users will be able to access the high-speed broadband network by plugging a device into an electrical outlet in the wall.

BPL is not a new technology. People have been experimenting with building communication networks over power lines since the 1950s. But it hasn't caught on due to its low speed, low functionality and high development cost.

Adoption has also been slowed by technical hurdles. For example, the technology has interfered with local emergency radios and Ham radios. But experts say these issues have been worked out and that interference is no longer a problem.

As a result, BPL is finally beginning to catch on. More than 50 utilities across the country are looking into it. Duke Power and Progress Energy in North Carolina, as well as Con Edison in New York, are testing the technology with Internet service provider EarthLink. Current is already offering service to about 50,000 customers in Ohio using power lines from Cinergy. And Chantilly, Va.-based broadband service provider Communication Technologies is offering BPL service in Manassas, Va.

The technology has also caught the eye of large investors. Earlier this year, search giant Google, media conglomerate Hearst and bankers at Goldman Sachs invested in Current.

The emergence of BPL as a viable alternative to DSL and cable modem service comes at a time when the nation's cable operators and phone companies are spending billions of dollars to upgrade their networks. The battle for control of the broadband pipe into the home has intensified: telephone companies are moving into the TV business, and cable operators are offering voice service.

Although many people have access to two broadband options, some consumers have said they still want more choices. BPL could provide that third alternative. The sheer ubiquity of power lines makes it a promising option. But the equipment and semiconductors needed to build these networks are still expensive, which could prevent large-scale deployments. Still, some experts hope that BPL will eventually become a standard alternative to DSL or cable Internet service for consumers and businesses.

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Author missed an important point
The author failed to mention that BPL is convtroversial in that it causes interference with many other services, such as amateur radio. BPL is noisy and does cause interference to other applications that are RF sensitive. One website to mention: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/HTML/plc/index.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.arrl.org/tis/info/HTML/plc/index.html</a>
Posted by kb5tbb (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
No, not really...
"Adoption has also been slowed by technical hurdles. For example, the technology has interfered with local emergency radios and Ham radios. But experts say these issues have been worked out and that interference is no longer a problem."

It's right there, read the article again. Emergency radio I can understand, that has to be dealt with. But HAM? Gimme a break. HAM has been obsoleted by the Internet.
Posted by (28 comments )
Link Flag
BPL a problematical solution
There are a few implemenations of BPL that don't have RFI problems, but more do than don't. Public safety radio, law enforcement, amateur radio, and others are licensed users of spectrum is specific parts of it, emphasis on licensed. BPL must operate under part 15 of the FCC rules, while states unequivocally that it must not cause interference with any other device or service. FCC rules say that a part 15 device that does cause interference to a licensed device or service must immediately be shut down. Yet in city after city where BPL trials have gone on, local fire departments, DPW's, or hams have informed the BPL operators and the FCC of flagrant violations, of being utterly blanketed by static, to no avail. One can only hope that the new FCC head commissioner will take his role as guardian of this limited resource (RF spectrum) seriously, intead of being a cheerleader for BPL like the previous one was.

73 de N9QQB
Posted by tpeters (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Additional Expanded Advantages of PowerGrid Broadband
Advantages of this technology are not restricted to those defined in this article. The most impressive advantage is that when implemented, it will immediately support &#8220;smart&#8221; home appliances and commercial devices that can easily communicate interactively through their power supply. Consumer product companies could send interactive operation instructions to devices or display menus on microwaves and other home appliances. Service and application companies could remotely control or monitor devices from a central location. This along with an unlimited variety of other new and developing technologies provides a path to our technological future.

The unlimited potentials of this technology will undoubtedly push the technology beyond any constraints, either technical or legal. The only real issue is how long other existing Internet Provider technologies can lobby their state governments to postpone implementation with regulatory restrictions or other means, for pricing will certainly not be a long-term issue to the well-established power grid.

What a new world we live in&#8230;
Posted by Solarust (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Correction to Additional Advantages Comment
Advantages of this technology are not restricted to those defined in this article. The most impressive advantage is that when implemented, it will immediately support smart home appliances and commercial devices that can easily communicate interactively through their power supply. Consumer product companies could send interactive operation instructions to devices or display menus on microwaves and other home appliances. Service and application companies could remotely control or monitor devices from a central location. This along with an unlimited variety of other new and developing technologies provides a path to our technological future.

The unlimited potentials of this technology will undoubtedly push the technology beyond any constraints, either technical or legal. The only real issue is how long other existing Internet Provider technologies can lobby their state governments to postpone implementation with regulatory restrictions or other means, for pricing will certainly not be a long-term issue to the well-established power grid.

What a new world we live in.

Note: I apologize for the typographical errors in my earlier comment. The C/Net editor system interprets apostrophes and triple-dots as code.
Posted by Solarust (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Advantages but also intrusion...
Yes, the advantages seem exciting but so do the privacy issues... disturbingly. With other broadband we have firewalls, masking, some means of some obscurity. Yikes, no privacy whatsoever? What if you have a camara system? Could someone override it to take pictures of you? You might say the telephone doesn't provide privacy, but I say we don't have to have a telephone. Electricity? Hmmmmmm...
Posted by dbatchle (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
re: privacy issues
In my opinion privacy is not an issue. This is like saying if you have windows in your house people will be able to look in at anytime and see what you are doing.

You can put security in place and unplug/switch off devices you are not using. No more problem.
Posted by Slapmonkey (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
about BPL
slapmonkey? How apt! You haven't been hacked through BPL as I've been hacked for over a year now and no police agency can or will help me. Perhaps it's becauise they're the ones doing it and I'm not doing anything illegal. Only trying to port a financial database to the Internet to help retail investors do their own research on stocks and avoid the 'buy &#38; hold (my bag of excrement)' inducements of stockbrokers. Slap yourself for me, monkey!
Posted by shallyv2 (1 comment )
Link Flag
What about the rest of us
Once again someone comes along offering broadband to the masses. No mention of the rural folk. Why on God's Green Earth would someone with access to dsl, cable or wireless even look at BPL?
What about the millions of folks that are stuck with antiquated analog dialup? Gimme a break.
Develop something with the rural folk in mind.
Big Brother is watching you. That's the biggest copout of the century. If they want to check up on you they will with any means necessary.
Posted by domcelyea (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Interference no longer a problem...
...Suuuure it's not- Move to within 100 feet of any power cable with broadband pumped through it and try to do -anything- with any Ham radio band.

With 1500 watts of rf moving through an un-shielded cable, you'll love the effect on cordless devices as well- Everything from wireless mice to cordless phones.

The next disaster, you better hope that the power lines fail completely if you need Ham radio operators' help.
Posted by ccotten (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
It's Not a Problem According to This
It's not a problem. Check out this website for more info:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0405_4_pf.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0405_4_pf.html</a>

The key paragraphs are:
----------
Al Richenbacher of PPL reported on the experience gained from its extensive BPL trial in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He said that PPL's BPL system now passes 6000 homes, and over more than a year they have received complaints from only four hams.

PPL has tested several different BPL technologies. All provide capabilities to avoid the use of ham frequencies--either by moving specific bands in the spectrum, and/or by "notching" to avoid the use of those bands. By using these techniques, PPL stopped interference on the ham bands. After PPL made these changes, two of the four hams said they were "pleased" by PPL's response to their complaints -- and three of the four signed up for the BPL trial!

He observed that an electrical utility deploying BPL could take one of two approaches to avoiding interference with ham bands: responding to complaints by moving or notching specific bands, or by notching out all of the amateur bands in advance. PPL has chosen the latter proactive approach and does not expect to receive any complaints
----------

I'm sure that if garage doors, wireless mice, etc. were negatively affected, I think even the ham radio operators may have complained about that as well.

BPL sounds great to me, and I think it's only a matter of time before it gets widespread just as cable broadband took time. With some serious P.R., rumor control, less expensive equipment, and competitive rates, I think BPL is only headed for greatness.
Posted by PerryZol (7 comments )
Link Flag
Already Using This.
I am already using this technology. Bought Powerline Adapters for my home through CDW.com and it works very good. I have a cable broadband into the house, and then using one of these adapters, I can plug my desktop in any room without having wires or a signal problem like I have had with wireless in the past.

Glad to see they are making headway on this.
Posted by Randyabi (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Already Using This? Not Really.
What you describe (cable MODEM with adapters to feed the MODEM signal through your house) is not what is at issue. This small system contained inside your home is comparable to BPL like a childs model rocket is to the space shuttle.

BPL is carried on the service lines through your neighborhood. It operates at higher power levels than your home system. Since it typically operates in the HF frequency range, it also has more of a chance to find a resonate length of wire to act as a broadcast antenna. It can and does cause interference even with less than ideal lengths of wire. Since it is an FCC part 15 device, it "may not cause any harmful interference to any liscensed service" and furthermore must accept any interference from other sources including interference that causes undesired operation.

I urge you to do more research from the perspective of the Amateur Radio Operators (Hams) before lauding too much praise on this current version of BPL. That said, there are companies doing research on BPL using frequencies which cause litle or no disturbance to the frequency spectrum.
Posted by FireWatch (1 comment )
Link Flag
Rural Areas
Yes I hope they will expand BPL to Rural Areas who are left with no other alternative but Dial-Up(or Slow Expensive Satellite) before Areas with many options...

Although I live in Kentucky ,I hope they expand BPL here first since Cinergy provides service here(close to where I live in Kentucky anyways) and is based not far from here(Cincinnati, OH)...
Posted by Soul666 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
watch for tornadoes
I think a lot of storm spotters use ham radios to relay storm reports. So keep an eye on the sky. The hams may not care anymore. I really hope there can be a solution worked out that benefits everyone.
Posted by chris_d (195 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A HAM Radio Operators Perspective
Hi All,

I am a HAM Radio Operator (N0BIG) as well as a hardware design engineer specializing in telephony/communication design.

HAM radio traditionally was/is able to provide emergency communications in disaster situations where cellular and Internet based systems/infrastructure often fail.

What the WEB has done however is to greatly thin the ranks of HAM radio operators that are prepared to offer emergency communications in times of emergency. Being prepared for a disaster includes having generators etc. and other equipment that is getting scarcer and scarcer in the tool boxes of contemporary HAMs.

When I first got my HAM license (In the late 1970s) the social communication opportunities afforded by HAM Radio was a major factor that attracted people to the hobby. We were the original chat rooms were people of very diverse backgrounds could hang and socialize. Where else (at the time) could you converse with the King of Jordan (Who was an avid HAM Radio operator.)

We spend billons of dollars for homeland security. A little money directed to encourage HAM radio to be more prepared for disaster response, would be money (IMO) very well spent.

Finally, technological advances in Broadband over Power Line technology is moving towards making the interference issue go away as well.
Posted by SPasse (18 comments )
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