Broadband over Power Line (BPL)

Broadband over power line (BPL) is a technology that allows data to be transmitted over utility power lines. BPL is also sometimes called Internet over power line (IPL), power line communication (PLC) or power line telecommunication (PLT). The technology uses medium wave, short wave and low-band VHF frequencies and operates at speeds similar to those of digital subscriber line (DSL). BPL has existed for many years, but so far, hasn't been implemented in the United States on a broad scale because of technical difficulties involving interference. For instance, amateur radio operators have voiced concerns that BPL will interfere with ham radio, an important communication technology in times of disaster.

Initially it was hoped that BPL would allow electric companies to provide high-speed access to the Internet across what providers call "the last mile." In this scenario, the service provider would deliver phone, television and Internet services over fiber or copper-based long haul networks all the way to the neighborhood or curb and then power lines would bring the signals into the subscriber's home. The BPL subscriber would install a modem that plugs into an ordinary wall outlet and pay a subscription fee similar to those paid for other types of Internet service. No phone, cable service or satellite connection would be required.

Proponents of the technology speculate that even if BPL is not accepted as a viable way to deliver high-speed Internet access, it may find a place in helping consumers to manage their energy consumption. High-speed data transmission between electrical plugs in a building would allow devices such as thermostats, appliances and smart meters to communicate with each other.

See also: smart grid, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI)

This was last updated in March 2010

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