IBM on the BPL Bandwagon


Back in 2000, Sun Microsystems and other technology leaders happily jumped on stage with Enron executives to proclaim a brave new fiber world. IBM, and others are doing the same with BPL. According to NYTimes, IBM has established a partnership with CenterPoint Energy, a utlity based in Houston for a BPL service. This comes close on the heels of a Google-Goldman Sachs-Hearst (dis)investment in Current Communications, a BPL equipment provider. CenterPoint claims that is trials will use new equipment and new chips that triple the speed of the connections to 7 megabits per second. From last time I checked, the BPL trials were stuck in the 256 KBPS range, and that is when not many households were online. How things have changed to boost speeds to 7 megabit per second, I am not sure. Washington Post reports that one of the writers tested the service in city of Manassas. It topped out around 116 kbps before a repeater was installed outside the house. After that the speed went up to 200 kbps. These trials or many as they will come, will be a day late and dollar short. If and when commercial deployments do happen, the 7 mbps connections would seem asthmatic when compared to 20+ megabits/second on FTTx/FTTP/Cable connections. In the end like other over hyped technology, WiMAX, BPL will find a niche, and possibly lucrative role – of reading meters remotely and identifying network outages on the power grid in real time.


Jesse Kopelman

You might be right about the overhyped part, but I wouldn’t lump BPL in with WiMax. BPL is a technically flawed concept and US-centric to boot. WiMax is just as good as 3G (although one could argue that since one is as good as the other, why not just use 3G) and has its greatest potential outside the US.



You are certainly right that Current BPL speeds do leave a lot to be desired but your post entitled “BPL, a technology whose time has come and gone?” from a month or ago seems to me to be a bit short-sighted. The report you cited missed the biggest U.S. implementation to date which is Cinergy in Ohio with around 50,000 subscribers. Also missed is the fact that the primary motivation for BPL is not broadband delivery but its to monitor , control automate deep inside the electrical grid. Broadband delivery essentially an add on and utilities would likely sell this access to a partner ISP CLEC etc or other content providers. I believe this is why Google would be interested in this.

The upcoming HomePlug AV standard targeted to support 200 Mb/s which can support HDTV and IPTV.BPL makes sense in other ways too. BPL is a very appealing way to bring data services to a home BPL utilizes the existing home electrical wiring which in turn lowers the cost of deployment and subscription pricing. Grandma knows what a wall outlet and electrical plug is but doesnt have a clue what Cat5 is. By utilizing the existing electrical wiring distribution and standard AC plugs around the a lot of the house a lot of wiring hodgepodge issues are eliminated. The telco’s who are moving into IPTV and RF delivery are finding that the house wiring distribution issue can be a big problem. BPL also could opens the door to entire new the “Smart applianceâ€? marketplace.

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