For several years, people have thought that BPL could allow electric companies to become a viable third alternative to the cable and telephone companies providing high-speed access to the Internet. But technical issues have kept the technology from being deployed widely. What’s more, critics say turning electric utilities into consumer broadband providers will cost the industry billions of dollars because of the need to upgrade existing electrical grids.
But there has been renewed interest in the technology as companies such as Google make significant investments in companies delivering BPL service. Supporters of the technology also say consumer broadband service is only one application that energy companies such as CenterPoint are considering as they look to deploy BPL technology.
“A lot of people have been focusing on BPL as the third competitive leg in the broadband market,” said Raymond Blair, vice president for IBM’s Broadband Over Powerlines initiatives. “But that is only the tip of the iceberg. The main reason utilities want BPL is to manage their businesses better.”
Because BPL essentially turns the electrical grid into an Internet-based network, every device attached to the grid will be able to communicate with other devices on it. This means BPL technology has the potential to develop a “smart grid,” which could allow for such services as automated meter reading, real-time system monitoring, preventive maintenance and diagnostics, outage detection and restoration, as well as other potential applications.
Alan Mutter provides additional context:
While cable and telephone companies long have scrambled with varying degrees of success to become full-service, triple-play providers of video, Internet and voice services, the third line into every home, the power line, has been quietly buzzing along and largely overlooked. Not any more.
Google, Hearst Corp. and Goldman Sachs have put $100 million into a private company called Current Communications Group, which says it can send and receive high-speed Internet signals to homes and businesses via the existing electric grid. The tres unlikely amigos are teaming up at Current Comm with earlier investor John Malone, the man who built Tele-Communications Inc. into a cable TV behemoth before he sold it to AT&T at the peak of ripeness in 1999.
Several small broadband power line (BPL) start-ups have spent a long time trying, without much technical or commercial success, to safely coax satisfactory Internet-protocol signals through electric lines. The plan was to provide an electrifying alternative to the enviable businesses of the high-priced cable guys and the low-tech telephone companies. To date, various flavors of BPL have moved out of the lab and onto a few hundred utility poles in a small number of experiments.
But the evident success of a 50,000-home pilot in Cincinnati has turned Current Comm into Googles preferred partner in what appears to be no less an effort than delivering unlimited video on demand (VOD) to any home, shop or office with access to electricity.
BPL is an emerging technology which could potentially be the dark horse in the race to deliver broadband to the home.
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