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Powerline Broadband Hits 400Mbps

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The FCC isn’t standing in the way of the local utility company rolling out broadband service over powerlines; state governments and the lobbying by competitors have obstructed this.

Powerline Broadband Hits 400Mbps
Powerline Broadband Hits 400Mbps

Ham radio operators have opposed broadband over powerlines (BPL) for a few years, as they cite interference from BPL with their hobby. Compared to the deep-pocketed cable and telecom industries, the hams are a small ripple in a multi-billion dollar pond.

Rather than celebrating the advances made in BPL, most recently demonstrated by the firm DS2, those who could benefit from the service will have to watch from the sidelines as the impact of lobbying against state governments has frozen deployment of the service.

An Ars Technica story on DS2′s latest demonstration of its BPL chipset that BPL can hit speeds of 400Mbps. Once other factors have been applied, their chipset can support hardware delivering 200Mbps, double that of 100-BaseT.

This useful commodity could be delivering true broadband service not only to underserved rural markets, but urban areas where rewiring a skyscraper for fiber would be a monumental expense. Big buildings and bucolic farmhouses have something in common: existing electrical wiring.

Since this would be a municipal operation, prices would be far less for service than existing competitors who won’t close the last mile to customers to provide service in the first place. That has the telecom industry lobbying against municipal BPL in several states, successfully in many cases.

It’s not just the telecoms who have reason to fear BPL finally fulfilling years of promise. Cable television can be delivered to a peering point and pushed over BPL; it’s just ones and zeroes like other data, but again, at a potentially much lower price than the local cable monopoly charges.

Interference with FCC-approved ham radios has been the major point of contention. The well-intentioned delays caused by the hams have allowed cable and telcos time to head off promising BPL initiatives long before they can be considered.

People shouldn’t put up with broadband service that underperforms alternatives, especially when considering just how much they pay for it. BPL needs a solid standard, which the IEEE has started to explore; that standard needs to consider how to protect ham radio frequencies.

Compared to the political problems and the money the entrenched interests can throw at politicians, we hope such a standard emerges quickly.

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Powerline Broadband Hits 400Mbps
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  • Lee Cooper

    David’s comments about both the future of BPL and about Ham Radio opposition are not quite accurate.

    First, Amateur Radio Operators are NOT opposed to BPL, only poorly designed systems that interfere with not only Ham Radio but potentially Public Safety (i.e. Police,Fire and Ambulances)radio systems. There ARE systems on the market that will function without interfering and any utility considering BPL that uses those systems have received nothing but support. Only when a utility insists on using a system KNOWN to create potential interference on Amateur and Public Safety radios have we objected. Ham Radio is not curtailing deployment, poor engineering is.

    Second, David had also conveniently ignored the fact that one after another, Public Utility companies that have run test programs with BPL have found them to be a non-starter. The costs to implement them FAR outweigh the costs to deploy other services (due to the quantity of repeaters needed)and the speed of the effective product is less than desired. Again, it is not lobbying by Telcoms or the ARRL that had killed these trials, but the reality of what BPL promises versus what it can actually deliver. The reports are out there David, read them for yourself.

    • David A. Utter

      Current has been running BPL with Cinergy in Ohio for quite some time now. Not quite the non-starter you’re claiming.

      Then there’s Glasgow, Kentucky, which provides all kinds of services city-wide through powerlines. No non-starter there either.

       

      I did also qualify what I wrote by saying filtering needs to be in place when a standard emerges to protect hams, as well. There’s no reason BPL should trample on these frequencies.

      Verizon was notorious for its lobbying against BPL in Pennsylvania. Similar efforts have happened in other states. I’m pretty sure Verizon et al aren’t concerned about ham frequencies.

      Summary: Lee = misleading. FAIL. Next?

  • Dave Flack

    BPL is old news. It was sunk the day Google announced TiSP. As a ham radio operator I support TiSP. Read the truth about the future of the ‘last mile’:
    http://www.google.com/tisp/

    • David A. Utter

      There’s no need to flush away any hopes of inexpensive broadband when TiSP can cut through all the crap. Nicely spotted, Mr. Flack.

  • Jeff

    David,

    You cite two cases where BPL has been deployed and has been “succesful”, I can show many more cases where it has been a disaster and has been scrapped, either because of unchecked interference to other users of the radio spectrum, or the lack of financial gain. You only need to look at Japan’s experiment with it to know ths dog won’t hunt.

    If BPL does gain a foothold, the deathknell of this technology will be when it is exposed as unsecure, because of the lack of shielding…it will be branded as a big open antenna, carrying everyones credit card numbers…whether it is true or not, at the very least in peoples minds, it will be an unacceptable risk.

    • David A. Utter

      Apollo 13 was unsuccessful after a couple of previous moon landings. NASA could have quit trying after that, but they didn’t.

      Failure is something to occupy the time between successes. Dismissing BPL out of hand because it does not have the shielding yet to keep it from interfering with ham hobbyists doesn’t look like the best course of action.

      I know I’m not the only person with a choice between one cable company and one telco for Internet access priced at a premium. I’d like to see the shielding issue addressed, and more municipalities evaluate what Glasgow and Current/Cinergy have accomplished before dismissing BPL out of hand, as you are doing.

      There’s a reason deep pocketed cablecos and telcos have been lobbying state governments hard to ban municipal governments from dabbling in BPL. It has nothing to do with ham radio, either. It’s all about preservation of a monstrously profitable duopoly.

      Japan isn’t a good example to bring up, namely because people pay a pittance there for the kind of bandwidth we can only dream of here. They don’t need BPL when they’ve got fiber everywhere. If 85 million households had fiber in the US today, as we were supposed to have, BPL might not be in the conversation.

      But we don’t, so we have to evaluate and improve alternatives, unless Congress suddenly decides fiber to the home needs to be a TVA-style government project on a national scale to get fiber to the home.

      I’m not holding my breath for that.

  • Robert Smits

    David, interference free BPL is a myth, along the same lines as the myth that Cable Operators can reuse over the air frequencies within the Cable system without affecting the users of over the air radio systems.

    The only way for BPL to not interfere with Amateur Radio, Shortwave Broadcasting, and other utilities using HF is not to use that spectrum for transmission via totally unshielded distribution wires.

    What BPL does is to cause unacceptable interference to HF communications wherever it rears its ugly head. We can only hope it gets killed off sooner rather than later, and that the FCC will actually do it’s job of preventing radio interference instead of encouraging it.

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