Is BPL about to turn the corner?

For years now we have heard predictions about how broadband over powerline (BPL) is just around the corner. It is an interesting approach to broadband delivery, but has so far failed to gain much traction. One of the main reasons is that for BPL to succeed, it must be pushed by the power companies. The trouble is, when it comes to launching into new markets, power companies make the Amazon sloth look nimble and fast-paced.

Things may be changing. Here are six indications:

* Two years ago, in October 2004, the FCC adopted rules to facilitate the deployment of Access BPL, that is, the use of BPL to deliver broadband service to homes and businesses.

* In October 2005, the city of Manassas, Virginia, began the first wide-scale deployment of BPL service in the U.S., offering 10 Mbps service for under $30 per month to the 35,000 city residents (note that in June 2006, the FCC instructed the city to resolve interference problems).

* In April 2006, a group of investors put $130 million into Current Communication Group, a Germantown, MD-based BPL company.

* Also in April, California approved a plan allowing high-speed internet providers to begin testing delivery of online access using power lines

* On August 8, 2006, the FCC adopted a memorandum opinion and order on BPL, giving the go-ahead to the technology. Note that the FCC brushed aside objections from aviation, business, commercial, amateur radio, and other spectrum users, who called for limiting or prohibiting BPL deployment until more studies are done, especially on the issue of interference.

* The Microsoft EMEA event will be held in Munich, Germany, from November 6th-8th and unless we are mistaken, for the first time in EMEA history, Motorola will demonstrate its powerline MU gateway and modem, a broadband over powerline (BPL) solution designed for multi-dwelling units.

What may also help BPL is that a newly discovered surface wave propagation mechanism would allow higher speed transmissions using microwave frequencies. In tests using only a single power line conductor, these systems have shown the potential for symmetric and full duplex communication to be in excess of 1 Gbps in each direction. Other tests demonstrated multiple WiFi channels and simultaneous analog television in the 2.4 and 5.3 GHz unlicensed bands operating over medium voltage lines. Note that since the technology can operate anywhere in the 100 MHz to 10 GHz region, the interference problem associated with sharing spectrum can be completely avoided.

For more on BPL
- see Motorola's Web site
For more on the investment in Current Communication:
- see company's press release
For more on Convergence EMEA:
- see the event Web site