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Summary:

Broadband over power lines (BPL) came roaring into view, backed by lots of venture money, in 2004 after the FCC pushed the approach as a viable competitor to cable and DSL. But the idea of getting broadband by plugging a modem into your electrical outlet never […]

Broadband over power lines (BPL) came roaring into view, backed by lots of venture money, in 2004 after the FCC pushed the approach as a viable competitor to cable and DSL. But the idea of getting broadband by plugging a modem into your electrical outlet never made it into the mainstream, and the allure of BPL for home broadband has languished. But BPL players now see another market: utilities trying to manage electricity demand.


The BPL industry has mostly switched from pushing broadband to providing demand response systems to electric utilities. The head of corporate planning at Con Edison in New York once told me that BPL was a boon for the utility because it allowed the company to know when problems in the grid occurred, sometimes before they caused outages. Prior to BPL, the system’s only feedback came in the form of angry phone calls from customers.

But even as late as 2006, a study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimated that just 6 percent of electric meters were enabled to provide real-time, two-way communication capabilities. Thanks to stresses on the electric grid and a demand for more power, utility operators are clamoring for demand-response, or smart grid technologies, and the former BPL guys are happy to oblige. Companies such as Current Communications, Telkonet and BPL Global have revamped their web sites to reflect their new focus. Already this month, BPL has purchased two companies to broaden its demand response capabilities.

But just as it did in the home networking environment, BPL is once again competing against Wi-Fi. The power industry may prefer a Wi-Fi network because of its ability to continue transmitting information during a power outage. In Texas, Current is still rolling out new smart grid deployments that seem to perform as advertised, while the City of Burbank in Calif. went with Wi-Fi. So far, the switch to green tech has served BPL well, but it may end up fighting the same market adoption battles as it did in the home.

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By Stacey Higginbotham
  1. BPL Global has also changed their name to ‘Better Power Line’ to reflect the fact that BPL is dead. The ‘green’ play for Broadband Powerline is a dying play for a technology that is not cost effective to find a home. BPL may have a best a narrow place on the mid-voltage line and not much else.

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  2. BPL is a “spectrum polluter” and should go the way of the Dodo bird. The noise generated from leaky “radiators” interferes with high frequency radio communications. VHF/UHF radio technologies for grid control are far easier for electric utilities to implement then BPL and the big ones like Southern California Edison are going that route.

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  3. Even in this area BPL (or any kind of communications of powerline) is trumped by GPRS. I recently heard from fieldtests in old towns in Europe, where it is hard to get the signal even to the local central electricity office over BPL. GPRS turned out to be more reliable.

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  4. Jesse Kopelman Monday, January 28, 2008

    The problem with GPRS, or any of its kin, is that you need licensed spectrum to use it. The idea behind BPL or WiFi for these smart grid systems is that they don’t require dealing with/paying wireless carriers for service.

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  5. While I appreciate this article it really misses the point. BPL Global has purchased two companies recently but 5 in total over the past 3 years all of which are to strengthen our position in the energy efficiency solutions space. Broadband over Powerlines technology is one tool of many needed to provide communications to various sensors and other devices needed to monitor the grid. We base our communications decisions on the performance required by the customer and the best possible economics. In the US that usually means some form of RF – 900MHz, 2.4GHz, even GPRS. BPL as a technology is used extensively in other countries where RF frequencies are not available due to licensing issues or other regulations. BPL as a technology is just one small part of a very broad solution.

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  6. Smart Grid to Play Essential Role in BPL Development
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    January 24, 2008

    Smart Grid to Play Essential Role in BPL Development

    Washington, D.C. – The future growth of Broadband over Power Line (BPL) is tied to Smart Grid development in the energy industry. The concept of Smart Grids is garnering huge interest from utilities and regulators alike, and was highlighted in the recently enacted Energy Act, one portion of which specifically promotes Smart Grid development.

    BPL likely will be a key technology in utility upgrades over the next decade or more.

    According to UTC’s latest report, New Directions for Broadband over Power Line: 2007, energy companies are expected to implement Smart Grid plans, BPL is a technology that most are expected to implement. BPL is uniquely positioned to support Smart Grid applications, since it touches the electric distribution infrastructure in ways that wireless technologies do not. For example, it can monitor and control sensors and switches in both overhead and underground environments, a key element in Smart Grid development. To prepare for this, the BPL industry is developing standards for interoperability and coexistence for BPL access (electric infrastructure)and in-home devices. As companies deploy BPL in support of Smart Grids, the overall industry will benefit from increased economies of scale for BPL roll-outs, lowering BPL equipment costs and promoting interoperability between BPL networks.

    UTC has been reporting on the status of BPL for the past decade, with the last report released in 2006. As a result, UTC is the recognized authority on the BPL industry and current developments.

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  7. Sometimes we are slow to accept new technology… really there is nothing not to like about BPL… it is at times 2-10 faster than DSL or cable at times topping 20-50MBs both ways. It provides electric utilities the ability to closely monitor their network… the so-called interference issues have been resolved by new technology and FCC approved so no issues there.

    BPL is not dead, it has just birthed. More and more deployments are cropping up, give us 5-10 years and BPl will be nation wide and will be THE internet for the average American.

    There are still huge spots in America cable, dsl and fiber optics will never reach… this is the only logical, affordable and realistic way of reaching them… it will happen but it may take time for everyone to realize its importance… Japan has implemented it very successfully, why are we behind the times?

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  8. Nothing not to like about BPL… how about $150M / 100k = $1,500 per HP and still not working?

    Only salesguys with no consciences and no belief in the afterlife or next lives are willing to trade their integrity. Get a real job and stop cheating hard working taxpayers out of their $.

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