Blog Post

Like Roaches, Broadband Over Powerline Doesn't Go Away

By now even I am tired of pointing out that broadband over power lines as a viable broadband option just doesn’t work. Many, including Google (s goog), have spent millions of dollars to make a go of this technology with microscopic success, but that doesn’t stop others from trying. My friend Karl Bode in October said that 2008 was the year BPL died. Apparently not. Now there is news that International Broadband Electric Communications, a startup working to sign up electric cooperatives in rural U.S. areas where there are no broadband options.

The technology involves sending data on the same wires that provide electricity. Every half a mile or so, a device clamped to the line perpetuates the signal…The key innovation introduced in the past few years, Blair said, is the ability to remotely control the devices fixed to power lines. That way it can be told to switch frequency when it meets interference.

IBEC has signed up IBM (s ibm), which is are going to get $9.6 million to provide and install the BPL equipment on a network that would reach 340,000 homes in Alabama, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. The venture’s promoter and CEO, Scott Lee, says the cost of the network would be as much as $70 million, an amount that they have received as $70 million in low-interest loans from the Department of Agriculture. I gotta be honest — this is going to be money down the drain.

8 Responses to “Like Roaches, Broadband Over Powerline Doesn't Go Away”

  1. I think there are two reasons: The cost of the project is covered by $70M from the Department of Agriculture – and that is not even rounding error in today’s subsidization world. Secondly, IBM is a services business. If you wanted the study the practicality of Tesla Coils driven by computerized Solar Collectors, IBM would help you study it for $9.6M.

    If you were really smart, you would call it Banking Over PowerLine (BPL) and move the decimal two places. On second thought even $7Billion is a footnote. Need another zero. Is IBM up to the task ?

  2. Failures across the board, not to mention the BROADCAST violations the FCC would levy.

    An Amateur Radio General Class I know, he points out that those them thar wires are just gonna be one BIG transmitter and blow out nearly everything locally.

    Think about when you used to travel under wires going over roads and listening to AM radio, remember how the radio turned to White Noise? It’ll be far worse for BPL and the people living around those wires.

  3. Om, you made my father-in-law crack a smile for the 1st time since the market began to plummet. He used to work for Anaconda and every time this topic comes up he rattles off the list of R&D failures in this field – among his old customers.

  4. I would have to agree that 2008 was the death of BPL. Having worked as a engineering director in that industry for 4 years, I can honestly say that delivery of a BPL signal over an unshielded power line can be done, but not cost effectively. The issue is in providing a robust signal in an operating environment that brings a whole new meaning to ingress noise. Repeating the signal every half or mile as the article states only works where line signal traversal is not obstructed by electrical primary equipment (switches, cap banks, dead end bridges, etc..) and where the line is relatively straight minimizing RF directional loss. Sorry I don’t believe the story that this still has legs with a real life business case.