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Broadband Over Power Lines

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18

Apr, 2017

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Internet has become a very important part of our everyday lives. Demand for dependable, high speed internet is increasing day by day. Cisco recently announced that data traffic has grown 63% in 2016, from 4.4 exabytes per month to 7.2 exabytes per. This is good news for everyone, however the infrastructure required for dependable high speed internet is not available in most of the areas, especially in rural areas. Fiber doesn’t reach entire population and wireless technologies are still evolving. For countries with most of their population still living in rural areas, providing them with the same level of service and network, as provided to people living in urban areas is challenging and very expensive for the service providers. One of the possible solutions for this is Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) or also known as Ethernet Over Power (EPL). So what exactly is BPL/EPL and how can it help?

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What is it?

Broadband Internet works by splitting the ordinary telephone line into a number of separate channels. Some carry phone calls, some carry downloads and while others handle uploads. Broadband uses low-frequency electric signals to carry ordinary phone calls and higher-frequency signals to carry Internet data. Let us use a real life example to understand this. When we are surrounded by people we tune in on different conversations. The air in the room is like a giant pipe carrying many different sounds to your ears. But, using something called selective attention, your brain can tune into one conversation or another depending on who you find most interesting. Broadband Internet works a bit like this too. A single piece of telephone cable carries both phone calls and Internet data. Your telephone listens just to the calls; your modem listens only to the data. The same principle is used to send Broadband Internet over power Lines.

To use BPL at home, you need to have slightly modified power outlets with an extra computer socket. Plug in a special BPL modem, plug that into your computer and your broadband is up and running in no time. Another use of BPL is with traditional telephone or cable broadband to bring Internet access to all the different rooms in your home which is also referred as In-house BPL. One has to plug the Ethernet lead from the regular modem into a special adapter that fits into one of the power outlets. By doing so the home electric circuit takes the Broadband, as a superimposed high frequency signal on the power supply, to each and every room of your house.

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Situation so far

The BPL technology was talked about 15 years ago. Initially there was a lot of hype about using the existing power lines to supply Broadband services to homes & offices. Countries like Australia, UK & USA carried out trials to provide Broadband services via power lines between 2004 and 2007. However, the hype did not last long due to product delays, high prices & low field performance. Few other factors that contributed to the fall of BPL were: High interference in the signal, inconsistent network & competition from wireless technology like HSPA, LTE etc.

Irrespective of the above mentioned limitation to the technology industry watchers agreed that BPL will not fade away & believe that BPL has a good chance of making a comeback.

In September 2016, AT&T announced they have developed a new way to offer Broadband services over power lines. AT&T further said it would soon undertake market trials of the system, called Project AirGig, with commercial deployment about three to five years away. Recently, AT&T announced that they will be starting field trial this fall and are in talks with different power companies to test this technology in USA & abroad.

Advantages

  • BPL will be quicker, cheaper, and simpler to deploy in rural areas as compared to the higher cost, high-speed broadband over telephone lines or cable.
  • BPL technology is relatively simple.
  • Power companies use this technology to provide inexpensive broadband to existing customers over the same lines, which could help to push down the cost of broadband across the board.
  • In-house BPL is perfectly compatible with Wi-Fi and helps to overcome distance and reliability limitations in existing wired and wireless networks.

Disadvantages

  • Access BPL is still relatively uncommon and yet to widely adopted. In-house BPL is much more popular.
  • Only low and medium voltage power cables can be used for access BPL.
  • Different countries use different power voltages, which would make it harder to sell equipment internationally and push up the cost.
  • Signals need booster equipment to make them travel long distances. Transformers, circuit breakers, and surge protectors can interfere with broadband signals.
  • Most people already use DSL or wireless systems and own routers, modems, and other equipment compatible with it. They’ll be reluctant to buy new equipment unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.

As mentioned above this technology has advantages & disadvantages. It is still to be seen if it gets adopted commercially and if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Conclusion

If successful, Broadband over power lines will result in faster and cost effective rollout of internet access to masses. This has huge potential of transforming human life and big opportunity for local business.

By : Anurag Bose

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