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Broadband over Powerlines 215

scubacuda writes "Today's Bottom Line links to an article on Internet-over-powerline technology. St. Louis-based Ameren Corp and other utilities are testing are testing the technology, and, according to the article, "many consider it increasingly viable." Proponents claim the powergrid technology will bolster broadband competition, lower consumer prices and bridge the digital divide in rural areas. Skeptics say that few tests prove its financial and technical viability. Kludge, panacea, or hoax? (I'd think it was a total crock had I not personally known someone working in India with a PCL company)"
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Broadband over Powerlines

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  • Leakage (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kill da wabbit ( 643131 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:28AM (#5279164)
    Didn't we have problems with this when it was trialed a few years back i nthe UK? i'm sure I heard reports of lamposts going haywire, any URL's?
    • Re:Leakage (Score:4, Funny)

      by ActiveSX ( 301342 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:30AM (#5279178) Homepage
      Yeah, there were URLs. I heard the streetlights were blinking them out in binary. Talk about privacy invasion!
    • Re:Leakage (Score:2, Informative)

      This ones from last year but I'm looking for a link to the problems found by the English power authorities when they trialed this tech. .html
    • Re:Leakage (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Bunji X ( 444592 )
      Yes, iirc there were such problems, but not very much.

      I think another major concern was that PCL, because of operating around 30 MHz, might interfere with existing networks, such as military, shipping and air traffic communication networks. Some shortwave radio amateurs also claimed their hobby might get crushed if PLC become widespread.
    • Re:Leakage (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tetra103 ( 611412 ) <> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @12:44PM (#5280399)
      How do posts like this get modded up?

      Honestly, the technology could work quite well, but I think the power companies need to provide a hybrid solution. Run fiber down to the street transformers, then piggy back onto the powerline from there. Unfortunately, this solution still leaves the rual customer out in the snow, but leakage is too hard to fight and using relay devices I see as a nightmare.

      Sure the solution won't benifit or swoon the rual types, but it would provide an alternative for the rest. It's bigger than just TCP/IP. Just like the cable companies can now provice a viable phone service and phone companies can provide internet service, a power company, via powerline technology could provice phone and internet (tv broadcast would be a stretch under the current technology). The speed would be slightly less and many high speed users would balk, but imagine if all computers made started incorporating powerline technology. Now imagine all corded phones having powerline technology. The ease of use and simplification of home wiring would be VERY appealing for the average home user.

      I feel powerline technology SHOULD be the future for ALL residential broadband. Maybe the delivery of signal could differ (fiber, cable, dish, ...), but inside the home just having one universal outlet for power and networking. No longer the need to wire a home for (power, phone, cable, 10baseT, and maybe fiber). Just wire for power and you're all done. Consumer manufacturers would no longer need to create a product with 10 different plugs on the back for interfacing.

      Is this a dream? For years....yes! But the powerline technology is NOT the technology it was 5 years ago. It's very different and if slightly interested, you owe it to yourself to read up on it. I'll admit the technology is fair now at 14Mbps, but that's plenty for residential use. If that gets upped to 100+Mbps, then cable over powerline may be an option.

      The big competition could be moved outside the home. How the content is delivered would be where the competition would be, but at least internal to the home, everything could be standarized.
  • by Duds ( 100634 ) <dudley@enterspac[ ]rg ['e.o' in gap]> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:29AM (#5279172) Homepage Journal
    Or rather they used it as one about a decade ago in a Computing Magazine.

    Bet they're embarassed. This isn't the first I've heard of this, it keeps popping up, energis were planning it in the UK in the late 90s but no-one seems to have cracked a proper commercial solution.

    And even if they do, there's still quite large startup costs.
    • Oh yeah? (Score:3, Informative)

      No one seems to have cracked a proper commercial solution

      Oh. I guess my 10 megabits a second from the local power company is just a hoax, then. Strange, it seems to work just fine...

      In Sollentuna, Sweden [], the local energy company [] is supplying broadband to apartments and even to ordinary houses. Yes, you read me right: these guys are drawing fiber to single-family houses at affordable cost, then lighting them up with 100 Mbits a second.

      OTOH, there's nothing said about how they carry the TCP/IP. In my imagination, it's been fiber bundled with power lines. That's probably more economical than trying to piggyback..
      • Yes we realise that you can bundle a fiber line with a power line, that's not what this is discussing, although I am glad you are getting cheap broadband. But I think you know, because you said piggy back, this is operating a network right over your current power lines, utilizing the unused channels. I personally thought it was a great idea when I read about it 2YEARS AGO, (not exactly new /.) The issue is that, our power operates on 60 cycles per second, and this really isn't appropriate for the technology they want, now I admit they can change this at the power company with relative ease, but if you change it from 60 then you'll suddenly find that some of your house hold appliances no longer work. I hope they work this out, I think it is a neat idea, just have two power cords for your computer, one for power, one for internet. it could eliminate the need for powered switches, for IP phones.
        • Indeed, the problem with piggy backing is you have to fit extra lines, which like all this will be done in cities first.

          I.e - Totally fscking useless for the purpose at hand. In the majority of places they have power lines. As may these days might have phone lines but DSL technology isn't the answer for range reasons.

          What this is about is effectively a "DSL for power lines". Using the EXISITNG lines to do something cool.

          (Obviously the parent poster knew this, but I felt it was more a reply to him than the grandparent poster)
    • Unitied Utilities and Nortel Networks by all accounts. That is until they started broadcasting from teh streetlights.
    • Don't do April Fool's jokes during Chinese New Year. That's racist, dude.
  • A slight problem.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:29AM (#5279173) Journal
    The only problem I see is that every overhead power line is going to turn into a giant antenna picking up interference. My school got squeemish enough about a teacher with too long of an ethernet cable, what about miles and miles of power lines out in the open during an electrical storm?
    • by Duds ( 100634 ) <dudley@enterspac[ ]rg ['e.o' in gap]> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:33AM (#5279203) Homepage Journal
      Your next segfault takes down an entire countys power that what!

      Now THAT'S extreme programming :)
    • That's why APC and TrippLite are some of the largest investors in this technology :)
    • by Reziac ( 43301 )
      My question is -- what happens when a power line takes a lightning strike? Last year I had two 100 amp fuses blown out, and that was even tho the big fuses on the transformer pole also blew. What if that came directly into the "powerline modem" or whatever it would use?

      Hopefully by the time such a surge gets thru the power line fuses, your house fuses, and your UPS/surge unit (you DO have your computers on surge protectors, don't you??) it's attenuated down to something that won't fry the hardware. But what about a wall-to-modem connection? I know two people who had systems fried (modem caught on fire in one box) by lightning strikes on telephone poles feeding down the phone line, so don't tell me it can't happen.

      Not to mention the high level of electrical noise -- what's that going to do to components?

      [Yes, I have similar concerns about using house wiring for networking. No one has yet shown me why I'm just being paranoid.]

  • by t_aug ( 649093 )
    Proponents claim the powergrid technology will bolster broadband competition, lower consumer prices and bridge the digital divide in rural areas. And it will welcome a whole new era of script kiddies and packet sniffing!
  • by random_rabbit ( 647072 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:30AM (#5279182)
    Next thing you know they'll be telling us they can send TV over broadband wires!
    • Next thing you know they'll be telling us they can send TV over broadband wires!

      They can keep their drivelous TV. I want to know why charter just cut my so-ho account off at the knees without telling me (went from 768K to 128K upstream - and I was promised 1.0M upstream initially).

      now they're trying to "guide" me into a commercial plan with less speed at twice the cost.

      unfortunately, dsl, which isn't even available in my area yet, is little better.

      as for the power line stuff, i'm all for any improvements that bring competition to the broadband market. it's two-thousand-and-fucking-three and there still isn't reasonably-priced broadband competition in my area?

  • by CrystalFalcon ( 233559 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:30AM (#5279185) Homepage
    It's not TCP/IP over power lines that's interesting, it's electricity over TCP/IP [] (RFC 3251). That is a much newer and hotter idea, and much more interesting to smoke in the long run.

  • by Slartibartfast ( 3395 ) <> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:32AM (#5279196) Homepage Journal
    The "digital divide," right now, largely consists of people who aren't on-line. Let's face it: a dirt-cheap Linux PC can be had for ~$200 at Wal-Mart; it's the $20/mo that keep people from being on-line. ($40/mo for broadband.) That, and the whole problem with rural areas, too. Through the wonders of electrification, we could now also have "digification." This could be a huge boon for those who might otherwise be left behind...
    • by BadlandZ ( 1725 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @11:02AM (#5279459) Journal
      To compare $20/month online service with a $200 PC seems a bit off to me. Why would you pick the cheapest PC, and most expensive dialup?

      There are dial up services for $9.95, some can be found for $5/month. And, believe it or not, there are also free ones (and you thought YOU had problems with popup ads!).

      I don't believe that the $20/month is causing "the digital divide" as you call it. However, I do believe there is a digital divide. I just don't think it's the $20/month causing it.

      I would challenge anyone to find a survey of only people who don't have internet access, who live in the USA, and who aren't homeless (that is, ruling out the people who have bigger problems). I'll bet you find the answers don't reflect that, and I'll bet the answers don't even jive with reality.

      One can claim that $20/month keeps them off the net, but does that same person have a cell phone, or premium cable with HBO and Showtime, or dual phone lines... Or anything else that is billed monthly for a ballpark $20/month that would prove they COULD afford it?

      My guess is the "digital divide" is primarily a mental one. The people on the non-tech side of the digital divide are (IMHO) people who don't know how to use computers in the first place. And, a vast majority of those people will be completely reluctant to admit it, and will claim ANY excuse to avoid admitting that they are not comfortable using a computer in the first place.

      All this smoke about broadband over powerlines will not change that.

      • The digital divide may have been about people who have computers versus those who don't a decade ago, or even five years ago.
        With the drop in PC prices and the drop in ISP prices that's not an issue as much anymore. You don't need a 2.6 ghz rig with a gig of RAM to surf the Web, send e-mail or exchange files (NOTE: ANY ATTEMPT TO EXCHANGE MUSIC OR MOVIES WILL END WITH RABID CYBERNETIC SQUIRRELS SENT BY THE MP/RI/AA DEVOURING YOU)
        The divide now is one of high-speed access. I work with computers for a living so the technological midget theory is out the window. Money is not a big issue. What is I have ZERO real options for high-speed access. With ISDN not only do they want a boatload of cash, they also want my name signed in blood on a long-term contract. DSL, too far. Satellite, hahahaaha. Cable, too far.
        Let's face it. A modem connection, particularly a 26.4 kbps connection like the one that runs across my barbed-wire phone lines, just doesn't cut it anymore.
        As more applications go online and Web sites continue to bloat I find myself sitting here drumming my fingers waiting. If they can pipe in some bandwidth over those big fat wires that already come into my house great. At this point I'll take just about anything..
        • You're right -- it's not cost; most people who have a use for broadband find a way to cough up $40/month. Higher prices start some folks looking askance, but $40/mo. flies just about anywhere. *IF* broadband is available!!

          I'm in the same situation as you, along with nearly all of rural California (and probably most of the American midwest -- city dwellers really have NO concept of how far apart everything is in those areas -- some farm areas finally got electricity in the 1970s, and still have no landline phone service). Here -- Los Angeles is less than 50 miles away, yet there is not and may never be any broadband for rural customers in north L.A. County, at least not DSL or cable. Fixed wireless, maybe, someday...

          Satellite? Yeah, at $600 up front and $80/month. THAT is well out of reasonable pricing for most people.

      • Yeah, but if you're living way out in the middle of nowhere, you might have electricity, and you might have a phone line, but you probably won't have a local number for an ISP, and you're probably way beyond the 2 miles from a switch DSL requires. If you could get reliable, decently priced connectivity over the power lines, then you're in business.
      • A $200 Walmart pc runs Linux.
        A $9 a month isp needs Windows.
        In short if you have a $200 pc your using $20 isp service.
        If your paying $9/mo your using a $1000 pc.

        I must add that people look at $40 a month and think 'to much'.
        But for the poor that's the price of dial up.
        It's not that they pay anything more we just igore a good chunk of the cost. The phone line.
        Many poor don't have a phone eather using a pay phone when they want to make a phone call.
        So they add the phone line into the total price.. Even the $9 service becomes $29 in that light.
        The power line service will not do it for them. More than likely the powerline service will be $40 a month.

        It's easy to see a mental devide when one dose not exsist becouse we can find solutions to other peoples problems that are hard to find and may not work.
        I pay $20 a month for cable service. They give it to me at 64k baud. No phone line just cable hardware and my work station.
  • by TVmisGuided ( 151197 ) <alan.jump@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:33AM (#5279201) Homepage

    Transmission-line Internet is, IMO, a great idea whose time has come.


    I can't see this happening for quite a while, in the US at least. The Baby Bells and the cable monopolies will tie this up in court for years, all the while jacking up their prices to feed their war chests, and Joe User will sit there and shuck out the bucks, completely oblivious to what's going on. Small dialup providers may turn out to be the big winners of such a battle, at least in the short term.

    The solution: power transmission utilities need to quietly but quickly deploy, especially in the mentioned rural areas (like where I am) that can't get either cable or xDSL provisioned.

    As always, YMMV. This is just my two cents' up the change for a new monitor or something.

    • The Baby Bells and the cable monopolies will tie this up in court for years, all the while jacking up their prices to feed their war chests, and Joe User will sit there and shuck out the bucks, completely oblivious to what's going on.
      The electric companies say, "Ma Bell was my bitch! These little ones are nothing." You think they are going to let a silly cable company stand between them and $20 to $40 a month from everyone? Fat chance, they will be happy to lease out their lines to the dumbest bidder.
  • IIRC, this was tried in the UK. Tried, and dropped when it was found that streetlights made excellent broadband transmitters at the frequencies they were using...
  • by AssFace ( 118098 ) <stenz77&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:33AM (#5279204) Homepage Journal
    next thing you know its gonna get in the phone lines.

    I can't be certain, but I'm 90% certain that I have internet all over my pants right now.
  • Where the pylon comes into town, put a wireless network tower. No need to be all fancy and send data into plug sockets in phase one surely?
  • by squison ( 546401 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:33AM (#5279209)
    "While existing providers of broadband through cable TV lines or phone wires consider the technology intriguing, they stress that talk of it has been around for years, with nothing to show for it." I remember 4 or 5 years ago there was a company called MediaFusion that was doing the same thing and promised something like 5gb/s on a single power line. Last I heard (5 years ago) they were testing in Florida but I think the company eventually went under and nothing became of it. Then, the price for upgrading the entire US's power grid to provide service: ~$100 million. Cheap stuff.
    • If someone can really upgrade the entire power grid infrastructure to support high-speed data service for the whole country for $100M, then they're going to be very rich. The cable industry has spent billions of dollars upgrading their plant to two-way hybrid-fiber-coax arrangements in order to support HSD with cable modems. If someone can provide a similar service for a fraction of the cost, they should be able to undercut the cable companies' prices and capture the entire market. If you can show a real working demonstration, lots of people will lend you $100M against your future profit stream.

      The fact that there are no cities where you can buy such service has always made me suspicious that either (a) the stuff doesn't work in the field the way it does in the lab or (b) the actual cost figures are completely different.

      Or were you being sarcastic?

  • Sure... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    It'll "bridge the digital divide" and give you "unlimited broadband"... ...For a while, until it catches and becomes popular and runs all the alternatives out of business. Then they'll impose bandwidth caps, PPPoE, and start blocking ports. Then they'll say "sorry, can't access your work VPN from our system...unless you upgrade to a hideously priced business rate."
  • They've been promising this for years. It seems that it would make sense to run all the utilities/services in one set of cables anyway. Hopefully this will reduce the cost of the "last mile" problems.

    Then again, with just a handful of providers in each area, I'm sure they will collude to support prices. You'll be able to get pretty cheap, mostly one way connectivity bursting with ads and spam, and pay a hefty price for a simple two way connection.

    Wow, CmdrTaco actually submitted a story! How's the wife doing ya, Taco?

  • Oh Great (Score:2, Interesting)

    Now when a network component fails I can worry about getting medium voltage [] power directly into my motherboard.

    Didn't we learn a long time ago to separate power and signal wires?

    BTW, here's another version [] of the story.
    • I particularly liked this part:

      "They are the bare wires you see at the top of electric poles, running along highways and streets, and in alleys and backyards. Contrary to popular belief, they do not hold the poles up."

      Well, damn. If the wires aren't holding them up, what is? :)

      (Anyone else remember Marvin and the building? :)

  • Viable technology (Score:3, Interesting)

    by slasho81 ( 455509 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:38AM (#5279261)
    In Israel the (single) power company used this technology for years for its own data communication.

    I think the reason it never moved to other sectors involved both the high price of the required modems and the requirement for a licence (being a communication provider requires a licence, at least here in Israel) which was always a problem to gain here.
    • Ah, but cable companies (that provide cable modem service) are not regulated nor scrutinized like Telecom compaanies in the US. They are not considered telephone companies with two way services, even though that's exactly what they are.
    • In sweden there is at least one powercompany (sydkraft) that offers broadband via the powerlines.
      You can get 0.5, 1 or 2 Mbps depending on what you're willing to pay and depending on where you live you get connected either via adsl, cable-tv, fibre or powerlines. :)
    • In Israel the (single) power company used this technology for years for its own data communication.

      Yeah, but Israel is kinda small isn't it? How many substations do you have? I was under the impression that you could just about use helioscopes there without too many repeater stations.

      Oh well, crank it up if you can.

  • Crows (Score:5, Funny)

    by millwall ( 622730 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:39AM (#5279270)
    If this becomes reality I'm sure someone will invent a script to ddos crows sitting on their powerline.
  • I have enough trouble getting the video to record the right channel as it is - without having to worry about it grabbing random stuff off the net through it's electric plug. ... and how long will it be before some script kiddie hacks into all my Windows(tm) powered appliances and takes over my whole house?? :)
  • This sounds like a fabulouse way to combyne the cheapest && greatest technologies, which in this case are Linux and the all-new broadband-over-powerlines idea.

    What could be better then the best OS && the best ISP combined in one, easy to use, low-price packige?

    || you could simply utilize Linux and even pursue another more mature Net techanology such as 802.11.g! W/ Linux you cant go wrong!
  • Great... (Score:5, Funny)

    by HarveyBirdman ( 627248 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:45AM (#5279323) Journal
    DOS attacks on my toaster oven. Swell. Can't a man just have a piece of toast?

    And then the real clever hacks will flicker my light bulbs to induce that alpha-beta wave hypnosis thing I read about on a UFO site, so I know it's true.

    And then someone will figure out inductive electromagnetic control of wire-sitting pigeons using the evanescent propagation mode of the power cables. Yeesh! Foul smelling flying rats dive-crapping and generally inconviencing passers-by. Is all this really worth fatser access to alt.linux.leatherfetish.penguins.penpen or whatever?

    The saving grace will be that they'll never figure out how to impedance match to random pairs of tied-together sneakers hanging over the cables. []

    • If you tape coloured cellophane over your tinfoil hat, it will selectively filter out most of these nuisance attacks.

  • Other approaches (Score:5, Informative)

    by panurge ( 573432 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:46AM (#5279326)
    I believe that ABB, in Thailand, tried the idea of running a broadband fibre THROUGH the Earth lead of an overhead powerline. 600 000V on the phases does tend to discourage vandals from stealing the fibre.

    The problem with any wire-based HF transmission system is reflections, standing waves, radiation and losses, and a power system by its very nature is not designed for HF. But the existence of the infrastructure - distribution stations, ducting, overhead supports - could make it a very good solution for stringing fibre. Overhead cables are inherently less prone to backhoe incidents than buried cables. There is a benefit to the electrical utility in that they can use the fibre to run their own control systems easily.

    Any such idea needs to be planned in from the start- it could be a cheap add-on to rural electrification in places like India and China, but much harder to do in the US or Europe where cables have long service lives.

  • A total crock? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonym0us Cow Herd ( 231084 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:47AM (#5279330)
    I'd think it was a total crock

    I don't know how this particular technology works. But think about how X10 works.

    The power goes through a sine wave cycle 60 times each second. That means there are 120 times each second where there is a zero crossing. That is, no voltage on the wires. Just dry wires. Now widen this period of time from zero milliseconds to some positive number of milliseconds, and you now have a definite time period where the voltage on the lines is less than X. (Where X is some small desired voltage.) During this time, you can transmit a high frequency signal on these dry wires.

    I know that is a vague description. It was many (like 14) years ago when I read the specs on how X10 works on the power line.

    There are no doubt other techniques. So why would anyone be skeptical of the mere capability to send high bandwidth information over power lines?
    • Re:A total crock? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by aggieben ( 620937 )
      There's no need to try and send things only on the zeros. It's perfectly reasonable to try and modulate your signal directly onto the power sinusoid. Also, it seems to me you could get even more bandwidth on the 3-phase systems.
      • Like I said, I'm sure other techniques exist.

        I suppose you could frequency block the 60 Hz, and let very high frequencies pass -- forming the basis for a receiver. I don't know the technique for "injecting" the high frequency onto a line with power. I suppose that if your "packet" is very brief compared to the length of a 60 Hz sine wave, during the injection of your packet you can think of the voltage on the line as pure DC that is gradually rising or falling. Block DC from flowing back into your driver circuit, and but let your high frequency AC pass through. Of course, the view that what is on the powerline is DC only is correct until the end of the current half-cycle of the 60 Hz. So you need to then disconnect your DC blocking (I think otherwise known as a capacitor in series?) but it's been too many years since I got hold of an HP25, became fascinated with software, and have since forgotten which end of a soldering iron to pick up.
    • So its not like the technology is all that complicated.

      From experience, though, the signals don't propogate very well. I have a lot of dead spots in my house, and nothing works on any circuit with an electric motor on it.
    • Re:A total crock? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Orne ( 144925 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @12:34PM (#5280295) Homepage
      That's nice in theory, but totally inpractical. Basically, you'd have to sync both ends of the data transmission with frequency, except that the grid frequency is not a constant, and unpredictable...

      The 60Hz frequency standard in the US is a "desired" point... everything, from turning on a blender at home, to firing up your local steam generator for the morning ramp, has an effect on the grid, from a minute twitch to a big swing. If there is more demand than generation, the frequency slows down as energy is sucked out of the grid; likewise, overproduction of electricity causes the frequency to speed up. Now, it takes many many MWatts to make a change, because so many loads & generators are wired in parallel, but it's still possible.

      There are many companies operating in parallel across the USA (abbreviated RTOs & ISOs) that work to balance the supply & demand of electricity every second... we track the frequency (graph here []) in an attempt to balance the whole thing out, by calling on more generation when the frequency is low, and telling the to back off when it is high...

      Now, as far as sending data by modulating the AC wave, the problem here is the "scrubbing" effects of Transformers. The premise behind high voltage transfer of electricity is to use transformers to step up the voltage & lowering the current. Lower current equates to less heat loss, so you can send the energy more miles for the same loss. Now, the problem is the magnetic core does not have a good frequency response when converting E to M to E again... they're designed for a low frequency after all. So, you end up with every transformer removing all of the high-freq. oscillations.
      • What effect does the load have on the frequency? I can see an excess load causing the voltage to drop, but not the frequency?
        • Re:A total crock? (Score:3, Informative)

          by Orne ( 144925 )
          The current, voltage, motor speed (and torque), and AC frequency are all interrelated. Here is some good information on the web.

 lications-3.shtml []

 l []

 s1.htm []

          Humans create "reactive load" by running motors. Motors draw current, increase in current lowers voltage amplitude across a transmission line, plus larger power flow causes increase in reactive loss on a power line. Reactive loss lowers the voltage at both the supply end and the delivery end. Lower voltages reduces the torque in the motor shaft, not to mention reactive demand reduces the real output of the generator. This tends to slow down the motor, and the rotor speed is proportional to the frequency, so the overall frequency drops.

          The only difference is that there is no cat. Err, I mean, the whole concept of "reactive" energy is just a mathematical construct representing amplitudes and phase angles. Its the old A<Phi vs R+jX conversions. But they're messy.
  • by duran_dal ( 140521 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:47AM (#5279333)
    A swedish company called ENKOM [] is building a net on the island of Gotland. Sadly the page is only in swedish. But they are now connecting customers. 2 Mbit/s, 10 Mbit/s under development.
  • Who cares? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <`hobbes' `at' `'> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:47AM (#5279337)

    The same arguments made in the article for DoP ("data over power lines") can be made for DSL. And the same drawbacks that DSL has (you need to spend a lot on infrastructure, ie extra equipment in telephone exchanges) will apply to DoP. So it won't be cheaper to implement, and the 'broadband gap' (too few customers in rural areas to justify upgrading the exchange) will still apply.

    Ameren admits it's not aiming for cheaper-than-DSL links, they just want a piece of the ISP/POP pie.

  • Here in Ireland .. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Draoi ( 99421 ) <> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:48AM (#5279342)
    ... we've already got broadband over powerlines - sorta! Our national electricity supply company is bundling fibre optic cables with high-voltage lines []. They say;

    The network consists of 48 fibres (24 pairs, each pair capable of delivering 2.5GB.) wrapped around the ESB's high voltage network.

    Just as well, seeing as we're still waiting for ADSL []

    • Engergis have done the same thing in the UK for years. The thin 'wire' spanning the top of pylon to pylon instead of hanging from the arms is a bunch of fiber.

      It's the so called 'last mile' that's the problem in most cases, getting the data from the fibre points at the terminus of the pylon grid to the place (i.e. the office/home) which is the hard (and expensive) bit.

  • Commercially viable? (Score:2, Informative)

    by locknloll ( 638243 )
    In Germany, the electricity provider RWE [] just recently stopped its Powerline programme. If I get the numbers correct, they only managed to get about 2000 subscribers in almost three years. Talking about cash burn...
  • I understand that Scottish Hydro Electric are successfully using this technology in two rural towns in western scotland (Cambeltown). I understand it's partly subsidised but even so it seems very fast access (2mb) and cheap (£30) pbeltown.asp
  • Forget it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grungeman ( 590547 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:54AM (#5279390)
    About a year ago German company RWE (big energy corporation) was cheered as the new leader in broadband connections via powerlines. It even was available to customers, but eventually they quit the powerline business in September 2002. Appearantly they had only 200 paying customers instead of the expected 120000.

  • by tuoppi ( 415801 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:57AM (#5279417)
    This issue has been already discussed under topic "Ethernet Via Electric Conduits".

    But let's not get too much into that: Powerlines are designed to be transport lines for 50-60Hz AC voltage, and these PLC solutions utilize the bandwidth under 30MHz.

    Because the transport line isn't suitable for as high frequencies PLC solutions are using, losses for the transmitted signal are incredibly high. All this "lost" power that wasn't transmitted to the receiver, has been radiated into environment.

    Thus, power lines act as a huge antenna, which leads into few things:

    your data is not safe, eavesdropping is easy

    HF radio bands get polluted, which not only annoys the radio amateurs, but also the army, ship traffic..

    In Japan, power line communications were rejected, mostly because of the huge amount of interference.
    Companies manufacturing the PLC equipment have tried to push down the amount of interference using spread spectrum techniques, which indeed drops the amount of interference in one spot frequency - but total amount of interference doesn't drop. And as you have huge number of PLC hubs in one area, interference sums up into high static noise level.

    And what really sucks is, that basically PLC is a cable modem solution - user shares his bandwidth with the other users in area.

    This PLC is simply put "a bad idea". Nice goal, but there are also sane ways in achieving it - like different DSL-technologies (or LRE) we already have available.

    • What about underground power lines? Are they still subject to the same problems, or does the ground provide sufficient shielding?

      I live in Charlotte, NC, and just a couple of months ago we were hit with a really bad ice storm that downed a lot of powerlines. There has been some discussion since then of burying lines, although Duke Power put the cost at around $300/ft., I believe.

      I wonder if offering broadband services might be a way for power companies to subsidize burying and/or upgrading power lines.
  • by I)_MaLaClYpSe_(I ( 447961 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @10:58AM (#5279422)
    Here in Austria (not Australia!) tests were made with "the Internet via the outlet" over a year ago, but the tests were stopped, because there was too much interference (with household appliances) and the voltage swings turned out to be a problem, too.

    Sounded promising back than and I was surely disappointed, when it was announced that it was not experimented with it any further. :-(

  • by termos ( 634980 )
    Now they will have to redifine the "peeing on electric fence" expression to "pee on electric fence or broadband fence".
  • I'd think it was a total crock had I not personally known someone working in India with a PCL company.

    Or if you'd seen this [] in 1999.

    I also vaigly remember NorWeb (in the UK) trialling this and finding that every street lamp acted as an emitter.

    Granted this was a couple of years ago (also reported by Slashdot []) so technology will have improved by then.

  • How is it 'news' ? (Score:3, Informative)

    by dago ( 25724 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @11:04AM (#5279472)
    ... when my electricity company does that for more than 1 year and that it has been already used in germany too ?

    obvious link to it EEF Powernet [] (french/german only).

    btw, it leaves me with only 4 choices for broadband (ADSL, Cable, powerline, satellite). I can't even have wireless access ... pffff ...

  • This scheme once again goes to show that corporations only look out for the wants and needs of the rich. Broadband for everyone they cry. Bull.

    Noone out there even thinks about those without electricity running to thier house. What about them? If broadband over power becomes a reality, it will utterly leave behind those without electricity! Who will stand up for them? When will the digital revolution come to these poor souls?

    We should focus attention on ways to solve the last mile problem that doesn't require exotic, heavily shielded copper cable to every house. Only then will we achieve social parity.


    (to save you the clicks on the moderator page, it was meant as sarcasm)
  • Great! (Score:5, Funny)

    by cK-Gunslinger ( 443452 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @11:12AM (#5279551) Journal
    Now when Uncle BillyBob overloads his outlet with one too many bug-zappers and blows a transformer, he'll probably get 10-to-20 years as a "cyberterrorist."
  • How long are they going to be testing going to be testing this before it would be ready for actual use actual use?
  • Just a few questions...

    Sending communications signals over the electrical line must involve modulating the frequency of the current. That does not cause any problems for the existing electrical equipment that is using the lines? Do you need to install filters on your appliances to ensure that they get 'clean' power? If not, what is the long-term affect of running 'dirty' electricity through your electronic devices. I understand that existing current is not frequency perfect and that there are fluctuations but does this communications related modulation fall within the existing fluctuation parameters? If not, what is the affect? If it does, how is it distinguished from existing line noise?
    • You've nailed the problem on the head. Although many users who need "clean" power already spend extra dollars to fix the problem (power is pretty bad to begin with) adding more "hash" to the AC line won't help, and users will be forced to pay more to fix it.

      Cleaning up power is expensive; the simple systems that remain effective can easily cost around $400 for a single 15A 120V circuit; and you can find you need to spend many times that.

      Serious "home theatre" video systems will be almost certainly be degraded in picture and audio quality, for example. "Lunatic fringe" hi-fi nuts will absolutely hate it, as will anyone working with hi-grade test or lab equipment. These users already know how much difference cleaning up the power can make, because most of them have seen it demonstrated (and find disbelief turns to amazement).

      The companies promoting this are basically saying that the average user won't be affected, so who cares about the rest? But the problem is getting worse, not better.

      There may well be a point where it will affect performance of even common industrial equipment and home AC powered devices to the point where failure and under- or out-of-spec performance becomes more common.

      For a more-or-less random page (the first one I found on Google with a review of a relatively inexpensive AC filter product) describing some of the issues, check out this link: o_ uo_15a_highcurrent.htm
    • I imagine the signals are split as soon as the line comes into the house; it would be rather foolish to bring the data all the way to the computer via the power line - something goes wrong, you now have 120V going straight through your ethernet chip. Another advantage this could have would be the ability to clean up the power in your house - the splitter would probably transmit a pretty clean 60Hz sine out.
  • My local Isp offer both adsl and vdsl and over power lines. :)
  • by thumbtack ( 445103 ) <thumbtack AT juno DOT com> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @11:35AM (#5279763)
    The trouble with broadband over power lines is that power systems were not intended for data transmission. While the cables may work ok everything else is quite likely to cause problems: the splices from repairs, the shunts, the transformers. I doubt that adequate records were kept just in case the power system was going to be used for broadband in the future, so repeated trips by techs might be necessary, just to get it to work.

    It would probably be cheaper to just run fiber along the distribution lines, which is what some power companies have done.

    Look at what happened when the telephone companies went to DSL, in some places they had to redo 20 years of repairs that were adequate for phone lines, but not for high speed data. It cost a them a fortune and it is almost a certainty that the power companies would be faced with the same situation if not worse.
  • Live (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    in some towns in Switzerland.
  • Already been done! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xht ( 649649 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @11:44AM (#5279829)
    Heck, you could put this together in 5 minutes. .jpg Try it on your work network!
  • by pyrofx ( 602240 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @11:58AM (#5279938) Homepage
    In the energy services field it is common to send data up the drilling fluid on a drilling rig. They use a valve downhole to modulate pressure waves up the pressurized fluid in the pipe. This gives them details of the environment at the drilling bit. They data rate is quite low.
  • This is not a kluge. (For spelling, see link below.) A kluge is a "rickety," unstable bubblegum MacGuyver-with-a-ballpoint-pen type fix, temporary until real time can be devoted to obtaining the intended result properly. Data over powerlines can hardly be considered a fix or repair to an existing system, let alone a temporary one, so it cannot be a kluge.

    Besides, who in their right mind would link to any dictionary but the Jargon File [] for a computer term?? See kluge [] there. (Not kludge [].)

    P.S. WTF happened to 's jargon file?? WTF?!
  • by RamanMan ( 584303 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @12:17PM (#5280116)
    They had this when I lived in Germany. The deal isn't that they sent a signal over the HV wires. The HV wires come into the local tranformer and get stepped down to the right voltage and smoothed out. At that point you can have a bypass to filter out the higher frequency signal that carries your packets. So from the house to the transformer you can have one set of signals riding on a normal 220 V 50 Hz (+/-) power. At the bypass, you can change the frequency so it can travel over the high voltage lines or can send it over to fiber from the tranformer to a central location. The difference between Germany and the States is that in Germany, they have a transformer that services an entire neighborhood. So you can put in the equimpent at the transformer and have potentially thousands of customers to regain the costs. In the States, there may be a neighborhood transformer, but there are also generally transformers every few houses for the final conditioning. That means expensive equipment that needs to be recouped over a small number of people.
  • U.S. Patent no. 5,554,968, e.g., FWIW.
  • ice-9 (Score:3, Funny)

    by pmineiro ( 556272 ) <paul.mineiro@com> on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @01:01PM (#5280558) Homepage
    in the movie "the recruit", the cia supposedly develops a virus that travels along the power grid, which can infect and destroy every computing device in the world.

    i thought, this movie is retarded. well what do you know? i guess i'm not so smart after all ... now i am forced to rethink all my assumptions ... hmmm ... perhaps "nonlinear crytography" is a real undergraduate degree at MIT, and having such a degree would make one an attractive job candidate to the head of research at Dell computer ...

    -- p
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @01:02PM (#5280568) Homepage
    It's a goofy idea. Until the electrical code and industry standards define the signal-transmission characteristics for AC power lines, this will be one of these "it works except when it doesn't" deals. X-10 barely works inside one house. Carrier-current AM radio used to be popular on campuses during the fifties: it didn't really work.

    Some of the circuits in my house are still the kind in which the current is carried by two separate insulated wires about a foot a part, mounted on insulated standoffs. I think this kind of wiring was common in the twenties. More wiring has been added, but nobody every removes old wiring that's working perfectly well.

    Even DSL is iffy and THAT'S on wires that are DESIGNED to carry signals.

    What we need is more standardization and better engineering, not less.
  • I remember there being an articl in "Popular Science" over this subject in an October of 1999 or 2000 issue. I can't find it now when I search the archives at Popular Science. It described a company in Dallas Texas that was patenting the technology to get the signal through a transformer station. They explained that the issue with the IP over powergrid worked by piggy-backing the packets over the EMF radiation that is generated around high voltage lines. The problem was not in how to piggy back the signal, rather how to extract it from a transformer station where the EMF fields of multiple cables merge. The solution this company came up with was to convert the data into a microwave signal at one end of the transformer station and beam it to the other end of the transformer station. I presume they would do something similar around the transformers at the neighborhoods as well. They were creating a prototype device that made use of maser technologies (basically a laser that operates in the microwave band of EM radiation). They were also patenting their devices that extract the signal from a wall plug (~110 US) and convert it to either 10BaseT or other options. The last time I checked up on the company they were beta-testing the technology in North Texas and Oklahoma. I'm not sure where they are now, as I don't remember the name of the company.

    Aside from the technical hurdles of placing data on the powergrid, I think there would exist a technical hurdle in regards to data security. The EM fields given off by powerlines can affect your AM radio (and FM sometimes), so we know the signal is strong enough to affect electronics components. Since it is that strong, we can assume that the signal could be "read" by electronics components as well. Particularly, those who wish to construct "scanners". Anyone within close proximity of the powergrid could "tap" the line for data extraction. A significant security effort would need to be undertaken by ISP's to provide encrypted transmission of data. Currently, packets are simply sent down the wire with no encryption (unless you encrypt the data yourself). The wire itself provides a physical barrier to a data thief in that you must physically connect to the wire. With the powergrid you merely need to be in the proximity of the wire. I think this would only apply to overhead powerlines and transformer stations.

    Additionally, data could be corrupted by natural causes such as solar flares and thunderstorms. Both of which would zap your data by scrambling the magnetic fields that you are depending on. Again, this might only affect the overhead lines and the transformer stations. Of course, if the transformer station went out, the whole issue becomes moot.

  • by AgentTim3 ( 447311 ) on Tuesday February 11, 2003 @01:20PM (#5280731) Journal
    So now any light in my house can potentially flash on and off in accordance with my network traffic?

    I could have a DISCO! []

  • by Anonymous Coward
    In a small town in Germany 'powerline' works for me for longer than a year now. Download rates are not miraculous but it is possible to download 700MB iso-images with a stable rate of 70k-bytes /second.
    A problem I had was that not all power sockets can be used. Most sockets seem to pickup too much noise or there is no signal at all.
    Nevertheless I like it :-)
  • I live in Emmaus, PA and our local power company, PPL (Pennsylvania Power and Light) has been testing broadband over powerline here for a few months. My friend has it and he finds it very convenient. He gets 1.5mb 2-way for about 30 bucks a month. Of course this is just a pilot program. I just can't wait till I can get in on the action. (According to him, PPL called random people in the Emmaus area to try out the system.) This is wonderful because here in Emmaus, there is no DSL or 2-way cable modems because of the monopoly the cable company(service Electric) has over everything.

    The only link I could find on PPL's pilot program was here []

    Quoted below:

    PPL, PA

    Al Richenbacher, Manager of PPL's Market Development Group, reported on
    PPL's test of PLC in Emmaus, PA, working with They chose due to their extensive track record of trials in Europe, and the
    ability of to pass their PLC signal through the transformer. I
    confirmed this during Q and can pass their signal through a
    transformer rather than couple around it.

    If the trial goes well, PPL would look to go to commercial deployment in

    PPL is also considering partnering with Amperion, to provide MV backhaul.
    This would primarily be to service business customers with bandwidths of
    T1 and below.

    PPL is currently in the middle of developing their own back office
    (billing, provisioning, etc), to service their PLC offerings.

    Al would not reveal their total cost per customer on the trials, but
    stated that it appeared to be favorable when compared to DSL and cable.

    Initial penetration is expected to be less than 10%. But, with a smart
    build strategy Al stated that this would be enough to pass break even.

    PPL has an internal group that works with the state regulatory commission.
    Conversations so far have only been preliminary but the reaction from the
    commission has been positive and encouraging.

  • I know that many power companies are working on this, some tries to use the powergrid directly, others puts down fiber when they dig down cables. In ye olde days, the fibers were only along the big lines and for internal use, but later on they have shown to be a great resource to sell and some have created new transmission companies.
    The same goes for railroad companies. There are many different type of engines, one of them is the diesel-electric model where a diesel motor drives a electric generator, which then powers the electic motor that drives the train. This solution makes a lot of "noise" that could knock out a transmission line that is placed along the railroad track. So even though fiber might have been a bit overkill in terms of transmission needs, it fits the bill as a method to avoid signalling problems along the track. These lines a, of course also, a great resource for the railroad company to sell transmissions from and it should be fairly easy to put down new lines.

Round Numbers are always false. -- Samuel Johnson