Broadband over Power Lines, or BPL, is a technology developed to send data over lines also used for electric power transmission. Simply put, it's high-speed Internet through your electrical outlets. Right off the bat, the appeal of a system like this is attractive for a lot of reasons. It could provide broadband service to rural areas without the physical infrastructure for DSL or cable and would require only minimal hardware installations by the power utilities. It would also pave the way for Internet-enabled appliances in that end users would be able to connect any device to the Internet simply by plugging it into any electrical wall socket.
It's of course not without its downsides, the most significant of which is the lack of standardization across the national electricity network. Another is the issue of managing the noise on power lines, which are already a noisy environment from a transmission perspective.
All this speculation may be moot, however, as the largest planned U.S. deployment of the technology has been scrapped by Oncor, a Texas utility company buying out the network. The system was poised to offer Internet service to 2 million electricity customers, but Oncor has decided to use the wires for power only. Without this new launch, the number of BPL subscribers in the U.S. remains under 5,000. In the business of high speed data delivery, that figure spells almost certain future demise.
Imagine a communication medium with which huge amounts of information can be moved around the world with absolutely no man-made infrastructure in between! No satellites, no underwater cables, no repeaters! It's impervious to ice storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes, recovers automatically from major solar storms that can wipe out satellites, and is extremely difficult for governments to censor. With a simple battery powered (or even crank powered) device you could monitor it, or with relatively easy to acquire permission from the FCC, you could even participate in 2-way communications in this medium. The best part is that there are no monthly subscription fees for its use. It’s practically free!
Now stop imagining, because this amazing futuristic communication medium has existed under your nose somewhere off the left end of your radio dial since the 1920's. For your entire life, you've been immersed in news from China, Cuba, Brittan, and a host of other countries without even knowing it, as well as friendly conversations between users worldwide, secret messages sent to spies, and occasional life-saving emergency messages to and from places where nature has destroyed the man-made infrastructure.
This amazing infrastructure-less communication medium is known as radio. In the frequencies below 30 MHz, it’s known as “shortwave” or “world-band.” Amateur radio operators enjoy the full benefits of these frequencies by communicating with relatively inexpensive equipment, and absolutely no intermediate man-made infrastructure for incredible distances.
That’s the warm-fuzzy part.
The problem with many BPL systems is that they operate in the extremely useful frequency range of 1.6 – 80 MHz where worldwide communications is possible—serving effectively to jam everything between the AM broadcast band and the FM music band. Powerlines look very similar to the most popular antennas used by amateur radio operators, and they function in much the same way as well. If you pipe an 11.7 MHz signal into a powerline it will radiate, and it will effectively jam any signals from Radio Bulgaria for any nearby listeners. Add to that the fact that the signals piped into the powerline can cover the whole swath from 1.7 – 80MHz and you’ve wiped out international radio completely for local listeners. It’s understandable why the Amateur Radio Relay League is so strongly opposed to BPL.
Now a new technology known as “E-Line” is very intriguing as a win-win alternative to High Frequency BPL. “E-Line” uses frequencies in the microwave range which have much shorter propagation, and provides much higher data rates.
Underground power is more common, I believe, in most developed countries. Yes I see that in the vast country areas there are still overhead lines. Phew! If you do want to view how overhead cabling can look when we consider the amount of people using the internet technology, have a look at the mass wiring in Thailand. I like the look myself, but when I first saw it, I was in shock !