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The power to communicate

Despite 10 years of stop/go, broadband over powerlines could be an ‘emerging market’. By John Walko.

It may seem strange to classify the provision of broadband over powerlines as an emerging market: the idea is hardly new and has been a ‘dark horse’ data access option for more than a decade.
But recent progress in standardisation, regulation and technology are prompting some observers to believe the approach – maybe even the economics – is finally coming right.
Others contend the power grid will never be a viable, safe, and cost effective way of delivering internet access, forgetting there are numerous trials and some small commercial deployments in Europe and the US.
The idea is also getting a boost from the separate, but related, efforts of suppliers and trade groups – not least the HomePlug Power Alliance (HPA) – to establish networking in the home by plugging into the mains, rather than using coax cables or wireless routers.
Architecturally, broadband over powerlines (BPL) is a shared medium distribution system, but with some specific requirements. The equivalent of a dynamic host configuration protocol router is positioned on a pole next to a transformer, serving five to eight homes with a shared medium service. No IP addressable node is necessary between this unit and a platform in the home with an IP address, such as a computer or a WiFi router. Consequently, the most popular architecture for embedding MAC and PHY in first generation systems is an Ethernet adapter in a wall socket that provides pass through service to a pc or router.
Commercially, Google caused a buzz last year when it joined with other companies to invest a reported $100million in – and back a project with – US utility Current Communications. Meanwhile, IBM signed a deal with a Texas based power provider CenterPoint Energy to test BPL based last mile access technologies.

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Vanessa Knivett

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