Parks Associates Blog

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Questions About BPL Technology

Since the release of the Parks Associates report FTTx and BPL: Analysis and Outlook, we have received some interesting questions about the technological feasibility of BPL. While many of these concerns are valid, it is important to note that many of the technological issues that have plagued BPL deployment in the past are being addressed and with some success. Some the most interesting statements we received were...

BPL will not be a rural broadband solution because of its high signal attenuation. Physics and regulated maximum signal levels by the FCC will limit BPL's signal reach.

This is a valid issue for many BPL providers. It is true that the BPL signal can degrade after a couple of miles. However, this issue is based on the use of analog repeaters. Some BPL vendors are addressing this problem through the utilization of digital filters. Companies like IBEC have developed solutions that use digital regenerators. This equipment filters the signal digitally and recreates the entire signal. An exact replica of the original signal is then sent out. This allows the signal to be regenerated every half-mile down the power as far as it is needed. In some areas, IBEC has been able to send the signal up to 13 miles.

Because the power grid is not static, some BPL customers may not be reached after the power is re-routed or experience a diminished quality of service.

In most cases, when utilities re-route power through the grid, consumers still receive service. As long as a back-feed or alternate path is provided to the consumer, BPL vendors believe the development of signaling schemes using IP packets will ensure that the signal reaches the consumer. If the power is directly cut off to the consumer, yes, they will not receive a broadband signal. However, if you do not have power, are you really worried you can't get on YouTube?

BPL systems are limited in the amount of bandwidth it can provide. (1-2 Mb/s) BPL will never be able to provide the enhanced data, voice and video services that cable and FTTH can today.

The best broadband service in terms of speed and bandwidth is FTTH. In a perfect world, everyone would have access to this type of technology. However, it will be decades before telcos and cable providers expand these high-speed services to rural areas. Today, most BPL suppliers and vendors support 200 Mb/s data rates on the backbone and 80 Mb/s of customer throughput. While this technology will still need to improve, most BPL providers believe they will have the ability to supply triple-play services to rural customers. However, the demand for basic broadband services (i.e. Internet access) in rural areas should not be dismissed. Parks Associates research has found that a significant percentage of rural residents demand broadband services. While enhanced data, voice and video may be a few years away, it is likely many BPL providers will still be able to capture customers by providing faster data rates than the current dial-up/narrowband service available.

BPL will never be a mainstream broadband option like DSL, Cable or FTTx. However, it has gained enough attention that companies like Google and Earthlink have invested millions of dollars in the potential of this alternative broadband access method. Additionally, the impact of BPL on how utilities manage the power grid can not be discounted. The ability for utilities to perform functions such as automated meter reading, remote connect and disconnect of service and overall grid management will be the main drivers of BPL growth over the next few years.

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