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First Large BPL Network Powers Up

In the year since the FCC gave broadband over power line (BPL) technology the nod, it has had mixed results. Today, it got its first commercial city-wide deployment in the United States. (See Powerline Ethernet Gets the Nod.)

Manassas, Va., is the first U.S. municipality to cover its entire city with BPL. (See Comtek Succeeds at BPS.) The 37,000-person suburb of Washington, D.C., turned on service this week, according to Walt Adams, VP of Communication Technologies Inc. (COMTek), the company that operates the network.

In a public-private partnership, COMTek and the city of Manassas shared the costs to deploy the service, and they will share the revenues as well. "The city is a landlord, as well as a services vendor to us," Adams tells Light Reading.

The city hangs COMTek's BPL devices from power poles. In exchange for that -- and the network itself -- COMTek gives the city a 10.5 percent cut of all residential revenues and a 21 percent cut of all commercial broadband business it generates. "Those percentages slide up as penetration increases," Adams says.

The Manassas network so far has passed 12,500 households. It has 700 subscribers, and Adams says COMTek is on pace to add about 100 each month. Those subscribers are getting anywhere from 300 to 800 kbit/s of data-only bandwidth for about $29 a month.

COMTek is negotiating to deliver BPL services for nine other investor-owned utilities, municipal-owned utilities, and other entities. The company is close to providing VOIP over BPL soon. And Adams says that speeds up to 1 Gbit/s could be possible over BPL in the next few years, which would enable IPTV and other services.

Elsewhere on the BPL front, however, the signals are decidedly mixed. In the past 90 days, one BPL equipment firm has received a load of funding from big investors, one major market BPL trial was called off, and one industry consortium held out new hope for technology standards.

All BPL networks are different, and power grids vary widely in regards to throughput, equipment required, and other factors. In the Manassas network, it costs COMTek, which uses equipment from Main.net Communications Ltd., between $65 and $100 to pass a home and anywhere from $275 to $1,000 to service one.

One large barrier to the development of the market is a lack of clear standards. Without technology standards in place, there's very little unity in the BPL equipment provider universe, Adams says, and providers "don't have mass-market economics working in their favor when they buy equipment."

Those factors appear to explain why PPL Telcom LLC is ending its Lehigh Valley, Pa., BPL trial on October 31. "While our market trials indicate that BPL technology is promising, the combination of a competitive marketplace and the need for significant scale has led us to the decision not to proceed as a retail communications service provider," said David Kelley, PPL's president, in a statement. (See BPL on Trial.)

That scale problem is on its way to being addressed as the HomePlug Powerline Alliance recently boasted that it now has 50 member companies and is broadening its scope to work towards some kind of interoperability among the different kinds of BPL gear out there.

There are fewer than 10 working commercial BPL deployments in the U.S., and those are all small operations, covering only certain neighborhoods or business districts. And there's apparently been little in the way of financial success.

Regardless, investment is still flowing into the BPL equipment sector. Just over a month ago, BPL gear maker Intellon Corp. raised $24.5 million in new funding from several investors, including BCE Capital, Goldman Sachs, Intel Capital, and Motorola Ventures.

Current Communications Group LLC also announced new funding from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and The Hearst Corporation. (See Google Backs Powerline Carrier.)

Ultimately, though, BPL faces a quandary common to other broadband methods, and its critics have been a vocal bunch. (See Cisco CTO Whips WiMax and BPL's Parmenides Fallacy.) Because it typically requires packet regeneration every three-quarters of a mile, according to Adams, the ideal neighborhoods for BPL are upscale suburbs, the ones most likely to already be blanketed by DSL coverage and targeted for fiber-to-the-home build-outs.

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading

outtatelecom 12/5/2012 | 2:58:17 AM
re: First Large BPL Network Powers Up
Notably missing from this article is any
discussion of the radio frequency interference
being caused by BPL trials all over the country.
While BPL vendors claim their equipment doesn't
cause interference, the laws of physics have
shown otherwise. This has resulted in curtailed
trials.

Most forms of today's BPL technology causes
interference. This is the dirty little secret
your favorite BPL vendor doesn't want to admit
to.

If the economics doesn't kill BPL, the illegal
inteference will.
sgamble 12/5/2012 | 2:58:17 AM
re: First Large BPL Network Powers Up Like most new technologies, the costs and lack of competition in the space in terms of vendors means the prices for the equipment are insane.

As some of you know I work at a MUNI up in Ottawa, Canada. We have trialed the technology on a much smaller scale at a Ramada Hotel in Cornwall with success using fibre in the basement and hooking up the building.

We are now trying this in a neighborhood and are looking at the costs for regenerating the signal back to the sub-stations. YIKES! Because of the distance limits and the amount of kit required for regen, the costs for doing this kill the entire model (at current vendor pricing).

Then the question came up - ok fibre large building/condos and offer the service in those areas. But wait - the landlord wants to pick our back pockets for being in the building and tinkering with their stuff (hey I would too in this scenario).

It's going to be awhile before a cost model will work here... Too bad. Neat technology.


Steve.
opticalwatcher 12/5/2012 | 2:58:16 AM
re: First Large BPL Network Powers Up Considering that Police/Fire and emergency services have often complained about BPL interference, it seems strange that the first large scale deployment is right next to our nation's capital.

Lightreading had an article a year ago that started a big debate about this interference
http://www.lightreading.com/do...

In the message board, I mentioned the one company I had heard of that doesn't seem to interfere much http://www.corridor.biz/

What frequencies does this main.net Communications use to transmit on the lines?

thenight62 12/5/2012 | 2:58:16 AM
re: First Large BPL Network Powers Up Google wouldn't be investing in a company for no reason. What is unique about Current Tech? What 'Current Technology' are they using that makes them special?
pinny 12/5/2012 | 2:58:14 AM
re: First Large BPL Network Powers Up Still, MainNet (the company that provided the equipment for the trial) has a working deployment in Germany with 25,000-30,000 paying customers for the last 3 years!
This indicates these guys know their business (interference wise) since we have to assume the Germans are equally strict about interference.

Cost wise people are only partially right - cost is high now because volume is low. The experience from the Cable Modem and xDSL world shows that cost tends to nose dive once there is real volume so my take is that deploying BPL will not differ much from deploying DSL and may even be more PnP.

The real problem there is bandwidth but, for example, as a complement to DBS operators, this could be a killer.
dbadidas8 12/5/2012 | 2:57:43 AM
re: First Large BPL Network Powers Up The only company I know of that has had no interference problems because of their coupler patent is Telkontet. Ticker Symbol: TKO. They are going to play a crucial role in the last mile of BPL products.

Here look at this:
http://p1k.arrl.org/~ehare/bpl...

PATENT: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi... l/search-bool.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=ptxt&s1=telkonet&OS=telkonet&RS=telkon et


outtatelecom 12/5/2012 | 2:57:20 AM
re: First Large BPL Network Powers Up
More evidence of BPL interference:

http://www.arrl.org/news/stori...

The smart money will avoid investing in this
technology.

dbadidas8 12/5/2012 | 2:57:16 AM
re: First Large BPL Network Powers Up I believe you missed the point of my post.

Telkonet is currently one of the only companies that has never had radio interference problems, because of patents they have on their hardware.

So essentially smart money will be investing in telkonet soon, once a lofty government contract comes into play. Not too mention they have been spreading furiously internationally with their VARS. Look into it. Or just keep lobbying for wireless internet.
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