Access denied: BPL turns to the home network

Broadband over Power Lines not an ideal access technology, shows promise in high-def oriented home networks

According to opponents and proponents of Broadband over Power Lines, the technology is unlikely to gain a foothold in the commercial access space but is finding a niche as a networking technology inside the home.

Several years ago, Aurora energy, Country Energy, SP Ausnet, TransACT and others all trialed BPL access technology across Australian states as an alternative to copper and fibre-based netowrks.

Despite being touted for high speeds and widespread commercialization, claims of unacceptable levels of interference by wireless operators, stiff competition from other technologies such as wireless access, and reluctance of utilities providers to move into the telco space have been some of the obstacles BPL has faced.

"[BPL is] certainly looking very shaky as far as access technology is concerned, there is no doubt about that" said Phil Waits, director of the Wireless Institute of Australia, a chief opponent of BPL.

"I think at the end of the day it just became too expensive, there were too many problems to use it successfully as an access technology."

Waits said that from a technical point-of-view most of the WIA's objections stemmed from the belief that BPL access technology is flawed because of interference with other sensitive electronic devices.

While BPL modems in the home can also have problems of interference with other devices, he agrees that there are some very good applications for the technology. "BPL is certainly one in a whole basket of technologies that can provide connectivity through a home, where you have a home with smart appliances and smart [electricity] meters, and all the appliances talk to the meters. BPL is just one in a range of technologies people can use," Waits said.

But Waits believes using BPL in the home to communicate between smart meters and appliances would be akin to "cracking a walnut with an elephant," and that mobile wireless technology such as GPRS is a much simpler, cheaper, established and less problematic method of doing so.

"I think in some ways it's a product looking for an application, an industry looking for a reason to be. Wireless technology has passed it by," he said.

Waits concedes that there are "very good applications for BPL" in specialised markets, but believes the technology will remain a niche application.

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Andrew Hendry

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