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Austin Testing BPL… Why?

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BPL, the technology that could work, or not is getting another test, this time in Austin, Texas. The Austin City Council is planning to spend around $317,500 just to test the technology, though there are no plans at present to bring this to the city dwellers. The money will be spent to see if Austin Energy’s gear is good for carrying broadband.

“Everyone is saying how great this is,” Peter Collins, the city’s chief information officer told The Statesman. “All we want to know is, what does this really do? I don’t like to jump on a new technology just because everyone else is jumping on it. This is an education pilot program for us.”

Will Collins come to the same conclusions some of my readers have, after spending the tax dollars? Chances are yes! As Jesse Kopelman says, “BPL is like LEO satellite service — I wouldn’t say there is no hope that it will become economically viable, but it is still likely decades away.”

6 Responses to “Austin Testing BPL… Why?”

  1. While I appreciate the effort to get broadband out to any area, BPL will pollute the HF radio spectrum, and will intefere with all sorts of folks, not just ham radio operators, but government users and anyone else who use the HF spectrum. You’re sending a signal over bare wires, that will just radiate all over the place…

  2. Jesse Kopelman

    Glenn, “smart grid” is a good arguement for power companies deploying networking on their grid. My dispute is whether BPL is actually the right way to do this. It turns out you can overlay fiber on above-ground wiring very inexpensibly. Then there is all the dark fiber running along many of the same right of ways to consider. Even if BPL can handle 10 Mbps, that is a lot slower than ADSL2, DOCSYS 2 and especially DOCSYS 3, and let’s not forget fiber and its capabilities. It may be faster than Mesh WiFi, but it has no support for outdoor coverage let alone mobility. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with BPL, it is just that it is very immature compared with the competition and there is no economic arguement to be made for deploying it at present.

    Now broadband over wiring (i.e. BPL from the pole to and inside the home) is another story completely and well worth considering. A hybrid network that was fiber to the pole/curb and then went onto the electric wiring to get into the home makes great sense. Why power companies aren’t exploring this more closely is a question that begs further analysis.

  3. Quick update from the broadband testbed that is otherwise known as Moscow. There is a small start-up here in Moscow going by the name of ElectroCom (I can’t find its website at the moment) which is delivering up to 10Mbps to a smallish number of subscribers in the Moscow spalny raion (sleeping regions) – v. high density apartment blocks. I am told that their cost of a home (apartment) passed is $12, which compares well with the mass of home Ethernet businesses which are building networks at around $12-15/HH.

    What I don’t know, and can’t find out, is how robust these networks are and more importantly what the long-term opex costs are. Electrocom is currently only offering broadband interenet, its clear that there are significant extra network management costs for running IPTV/VOD, which will be essential add-on services in the very near future in Moscow.

  4. As an Austin resident, my problem is not necessarily the City testing BPL, but rather the choice of firms to implement the test.
    The headline of a April 14, 2006 Washington Post article was “GTSI’s Struggles Lead Ernst & Young to Doubt Firm’s Ability to Survive”.

    The article talks about the company losing many senior executives and how the company only recently changed business models from a computer reseller to a government consulting company. You can read my full post here:

    So if this trial fails it might not necessarily have been caused by any technical or business model challenges of BPL.

  5. I’d disagree with these sentiments. BPL is a one-two punch. By deploying broadband, you can then layer whatever applications you want on the grid, ones far beyond simple control signals, which wouldn’t justify that investment for the return. For instance, putting tiny IP video cameras on all the transformers to allow remote checking when power outages occur. Every piece of additional information assists in reducing outage time, which has a huge per-hour cost for business, and a huge outrage cost for users.

    Because deploying just control structures isn’t cost effective, you have to have the broadband service on top of it. Even with a relatively low uptake versus cable and DSL, the benefits can still be there because utilities want the smart grid features.

    I don’t know where someone got the 1 Mbps rate for Current. They told me recently that they can deliver up to 10 Mbps to the home. There are trial deployments all over that are delivering several Mbps or faster.