The WIA BPL Working Group
What Is BPL ?
Broadband over power lines (BPL), also known as power-line Internet or Powerband, uses ordinary power lines to provide broadband Internet access to home users. A home internet user would simply connect his computer to a BPL "modem" then into any power outlet in the BPL enabled area to have instant Internet access through the powerlines.
BPL seems, at first glance, to offer benefits relative to regular cable or DSL connections: the extensive infrastructure already available would appear to allow people in remote locations to have access to the Internet with relatively little equipment investment by the utility. Also, such ubiquitous availability would make it much easier for other electronics, such as televisions or sound systems, to hook up.
However, variations in the physical characteristics of the electricity network and the current lack of IEEE standards mean that provisioning of the service is far from being a standardized, repeatable process, and the amount of bandwidth a BPL system can provide compared to cable and wireless is in question. Some industry observers believe the prospect of BPL will motivate DSL and cable operators to more quickly serve rural communities.
So What's The Problem ?
PLC modems transmit in medium and high frequency (1.6 to 80 MHz electric carrier). The asymmetric speed in the modem is generally from 256 kbit/s to 2.7 Mbit/s. In the repeater situated in the meter room the speed is up to 45 Mbit/s and can be connected to 256 PLC modems. In the medium voltage stations, the speed from the head ends to the Internet is up to 135 Mbit/s. To connect to the Internet, utilities can use optical fiber backbone or wireless link.
The system has a number of complex issues, the major issue is signal strength and operating frequency. The systems typically use frequencies in the 10 to 30 MHz range, which has been used for many decades by amateur radio operators, as well as international shortwave broadcasters and a variety of communications systems (military, aeronautical, etc.). Power lines are unshielded and will act as antennas for the signals they carry, and have the potential to interfere with shortwave radio communications.
A second issue for BPL is that power lines are inherently a very noisy environment. Every time a device turns on or off, it introduces a pop or click into the line. Energy-saving devices often introduce noisy harmonics into the line.
What Are We Doing About It
The WIA are not apposed to BPL technology itself, but rather the very significant and harmful interference that is generated by the technology. The WIA has a BPL working group who actively working with the ACMA and other parties conducting field strength measurement tests and documenting the results. The WIA BPL working group attend BPL industry technology seminars and give presentations to industry groups highlighting the harmful interference effects of the technology.
We are currently building a new set of informative web pages on BPL with information on past and present BPL activities and hope to have them up shortly.
BPL Working Group Chairman
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