BROADBAND INTERNET flowing from every electrical outlet? The technology exists. But the power line broadband industry still faces implementation, regulatory and marketing hurdles before it competes for customers with cable, DSL and satellite companies.
Power line communications uses the existing electrical grid as a distribution medium by connecting computer, network or telecommunications devices to standard AC outlets. The data stream then travels through aggregation points on the grid at up to 14Mbps.The benefits are obvious. The electrical grid connects many homes not serviced by DSL or cable television. And even countries with minimal telecommunications infrastructure often have electric utilities.
Pilots are already under way at utilities in Missouri and Pennsylvania, as well as in several non-U.S. countries. Federal regulators have given a preliminary blessing to the technology (though the Federal Communications Commission is still investigating whether power line communications could cause radio interference). And utilities and ISPs such as Earthlink have shown interest. Larger scale commercial rollouts should begin later this year. Success, however, isn’t a guarantee.
John Joyce, CEO of Ambient, a maker of power line communications equipment that has development deals with utilities ConEdison and Southern Co., says the business model for power line broadband is still being hammered out. Rather than shouldering the whole load for necessary infrastructure upgrades, for instance, utilities are looking for partners such as ISPs to cover some of the costs. Pricing will also be a key issue. “The number that’s thrown out is $29.95 [per month],” Joyce says, compared with around $50 a month for cable or DSL service.
At that price, the outlet in your wall may become your latest window on the world. More information is available from the United Powerline Council (www.uplc.utc.org) and the Power Line Communications Association (www.plca.net).