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Broadband Over Gas Lines — a Pipe Dream? 210

prostoalex writes, "USA Today says we might see some progress in broadband over gas pipes, as startup Nethercomm (warning: Flash site) is working on the technology to deliver broadband Internet over this medium using ultrawideband radio. According to the article: 'Broadband in Gas would require installation of an ultrawideband transmitter that's linked to an Internet backbone... at a gas company's network hub. A receiver would be placed at a customer's gas meter. Build-out costs are about $200 per household, Nethercomm says. By contrast, broadband over power lines costs about $600 per household, while phone and cable TV networks each cost well over $1,000 per home to build.'" The article ends on a downbeat note. The upcoming trials that Nethercomm touts are difficult to confirm: "We're intrigued by the technology, but we never got that far in our discussions," says a gas company spokeswoman. And the ultrawideband chip company that had been working with Nethercomm, Freescale Semiconductor, has turned its attention to other projects.
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Broadband Over Gas Lines — a Pipe Dream?

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  • by philwx ( 789834 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:17PM (#16085003)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:17PM (#16085006)
    I do, however, have some concerns. What if one of my big down loads clogs up the pipe? Will the gas build-up, resulting in a dangerous explosion? I don't want to explode the internets.
  • by djblair ( 464047 ) * on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:19PM (#16085020)
    Come ON! That's no way to move data. It's not futureproof by any stretch of the imagination and not scalable. I MIGHT see it working in a historic district or something where you can't get facilities in place but that's a real stretch. Gas companies want a piece of the broadband pie and that's it. They'd be better off just setting up wiMax towers. At least then they could tap the mobile market. Twisted pair, coax and fiber are mediums designed to move data (I mean signal, excuse me) in one way or another. This ultra wide band nonsense is no solution for an exponentially expanding demand for high bandwidth services. Just think... one giant collision domain! I see the theory but come on, this is just too far fetched.
    • I'm sure in a lab demo, they are using a precision aligned waveguide to "simulate" the gas distribution network. The minor problem of the creaky unpredicable reality of the natural gas pipes will "be figured out in a future round of financing"
  • Gas tubes. (Score:5, Funny)

    by jez9999 ( 618189 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:19PM (#16085023) Homepage Journal
    I always said you could send the internets down tubes. Always.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Kesch ( 943326 )
      That's it! I'm sick of these motherfuckin nets on my motherfuckin tubes.

      I'm building a truck. It's gonna be full of drives. You can dump whatever you want on it.
      I will then drive this truck wherever you want your data.

      P.S. TruckNet can achieve good bandwith, but has very high latency.
      • Re:Gas tubes. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:38PM (#16085167) Homepage Journal
        Works for Netflix: 1.4 million movies per day, 7.5 gigs on a DVD: over 10 million gigabytes per day, about a terabit per second. And that all goes out on trucks. But the latency sure sucks.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by networkBoy ( 774728 )
          I never thought of it that way (re: Netflix), but that is a good point.
          Back to the station wagon full of tapes eh?
        • C:\>ping

          Pinging [] with 4831838208 bytes of data:

          Reply from bytes=4831838208 time=259200126ms TTL=49
          Reply from bytes=4831838208 time=259200160ms TTL=49
          Reply from bytes=4831838208 time=259200100ms TTL=49
          Reply from bytes=4831838208 time=259200111ms TTL=49

          Ping statistics
          Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),
          Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          From the Jargon File []:

          Term used (generally with ironic intent) for transfer of electronic information by physically carrying tape, disks, or some other media from one machine to another. "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon filled with magtape, or a 747 filled with CD-ROMs." Also called 'Tennis-Net', 'Armpit-Net', 'Floppy-Net' or 'Shoenet'; in the 1990s, 'Nike network' after a well-known sneaker brand.

          I have a few floppies/zip disks/CD-RWs around label
      • For the ultra rich: Internet over Butler Brigade!

        An army of electrically grounded, white-gloved, tuxedoed servants passing usb-sticks or portable hard drives containg "packets" delivers the internets to your door!
    • by RonnyJ ( 651856 )
      I don't really understand the mocking of the 'tubes' analogy. After all, internet connections have been called by the slang term 'pipes' by many people, including network engineers, for years.
  • Just at first glance, I wouldn't think that using electronic devices in the gas lines would be a very good idea. I know that the meters and such are probably mostly electronic by now, but still, I'd want to see this tested pretty good before I'd be willing to use it.
    • Just at first glance, I wouldn't think that using electronic devices in the gas lines would be a very good idea.

      It's a perfectly fine idea, given that there is no air to support ignition. Basic middle-school chemistry, people...

      This is also why the Hindenburg didn't "explode"; if there had been oxygen inside the envelope as well as hydrogen, we wouldn't have dramatic footage because the camera, cameraman, and everyone else within at least a quarter mile wouldn't have survived the thermobaric explosi

      • You're not considering the failure modes - there's no air as long as everything is working to plan.

        How do the electronic meters work? Do they already transmit through the pipes, or are they just mechanical meters with LCD user interfaces and a small radio transmitter that gets read from the street?
        • If you have air in the gas lines, the RF power is going to be the least of your worries. It'll explode when it hits the customer's pilot light. The only reason the flame from your gas stove doesn't jump down the gas line is that there is a negligible amount of oxygen.
    • Actually this is why I would never expect this tech to ever work, real world. I can never see "average joe" feeling comfortable with this idea.

      I mean I understand the idea behind it and whatnot and it still kinda makes me nervous. How's the average public going to feel about it?
    • The last few gas pipes i've installed had to be made from a specific corrosion resistant copper or stainless steel. Evidently natural gas isn't kind to most metals.

      Not to mention my gas lines coming up to the house were plastic.. and the tracer lines are not interconnected, they just sit next to thepipes and there's no reason to tie them at the junctions
  • VC Pipe Dream (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:22PM (#16085042)
    Just another grab for VC money to burn, and when it's gone, people will move on to another "pipe dream" ...
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:24PM (#16085060)

    "We're intrigued by the technology, but we never got that far in our discussions," says a gas company spokeswoman.

    "...because everyone kept making jokes about explosive growth at the meetings", she said with a sigh.

    • Score:3, Interesting

      Usually I'm complaining that I get modded troll for posting anti-space-exploration stories and such, but I don't even know how to begin complaining about this moderation! Oh wait...

  • by Scareduck ( 177470 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:24PM (#16085062) Homepage Journal
    for those soon to be empty pipes [].
  • Plastic Gas Lines (Score:5, Insightful)

    by duckbillplatypus ( 596100 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:24PM (#16085065)
    How well does this work over plastic gas lines, like those installed underground for new construction?
    • It wouldn't work. They're using the gas pipes as a waveguide, which requires a conducting tube.

      Gas lines weren't designed as waveguides. My gut feeling is that won't be economically viable for more than a handful of customers. I'd expect in most cases the attenuation would be too great to be useful without repeater stations.

      The theory looks sound, but I need convincing about the engineering.
  • So, sending radio through a narrow metal pipe. Doesn't the pipe just absorb the signal? Any rf engineers care to comment? I think I'll lump this in with antigravity and perpetual motion devices until I hear a convincing argument otherwise.
    • Re:I'm skeptical (Score:4, Informative)

      by njh ( 24312 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:33PM (#16085134) Homepage
      Sending suitably high frequency EMR through a metal pipe is called a 'waveguide', and its pretty much the standard way to deal with microwave communication. In waveguide the sides do indeed absorb some energy, but with smooth sides and good conductors, the losses are quite small. You need to avoid certain gases, which interact with the microwaves, absorbing the signal. Water is probably the most notable, but with suitable choice of frequencies you can step around most gases (which is why we can send stuff through the air).

      All the gas pipes in my city are made of plastic, making this whole idea quite improbable.
      • In Wellington, we've had water over gas pipes for ages now. Seems to work really well. Not.

        Broadband is likely to follow soon (with major flooding of even more of Wellingtons underground infrastructure).

        (For those who don't know, a high pressure water main burst recently cutting a hole in the neighboring gas main and flooding most of the central cities gas network. It took about 2 weeks to drain all the water out of the gas system leaving much of central Wellington without a gas supply).
      • Thanks for the explanation, I now see that the approach is at least plausible.

        I wonder what happens when when the RF signal hits a bend or a tee junction or a valve that isn't all the way open?

        • by njh ( 24312 )
          I wonder what happens when when the RF signal hits a bend or a tee junction or a valve that isn't all the way open?

          You get a reflection, which will interfere with the signal.
    • by SeaFox ( 739806 )
      Congratulations! You're at Step 4 []!
  • Plastic pipes. (Score:3, Informative)

    by supasam ( 658359 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:25PM (#16085068) Journal
    All the newer gas pipes around me come out of the ground as a flexible plastic rather than a metal pipe line. And I live in New Orleans, where we're getting a lot of new gas lines! Is this supposed to be carried by the metal in the pipes or is there going to be some kind of translator in the streets that takes care of it? This is, of course a moot point, since we're supposed to get muni wi-fi, but don't other cities have plastic pipes too?
  • Like BPL, just another crack-pipe dream, waiting for WiMax to come along and kick its ass down the street like the punk that it is.

    • by ivan256 ( 17499 )
      Like BPL, just another crack-pipe dream, waiting for WiMax to come along and kick its ass down the street like the punk that it is.

      Sounds to me like you're just smoking a different brand of crack. The only way WiMax will ever work well is if providers charge such high rates that hardly anybody uses it. Fortunatly for the providers, that's what they were planning on doing anyway. Are you a CEO or high level sales person for a Fortune 500 company? No? Well then you'll probably never use WiMax. Sorry.
  • reach of UWB? (Score:2, Informative)

    by jbdaem ( 959867 )
    Now, I may not know enough about this technology, but my understanding of UWB (Ultra Wide Band) is that it does not reach very far, and is better suited for WPAN's... Heres is the definition straight form googles mouth.

    Ultra-wideband (also UWB, and ultra-wide-band, ultra-wide band, etc.) usually refers to a radio communications technique based on transmitting very-short-duration pulses, often of duration of only nanoseconds or less, whereby the occupied bandwidth goes to very large values. Ultra-wide-ba
    • by darkov ( 261309 )
      Basically the idea is to transmit the signal through the pipe, not through the air, just like waves can be transmitted through the air, or through a wire. This same concept is being used for Firewire over coaxial, providing networking without affecting the signal the wire is carrying.
      • by pe1chl ( 90186 )
        But wouldn't that require a metal pipe, not the plastic tubing typically used for gas?
  • (warning: Flash site)
    Yeah, a spark in a gas line could cause an explosion.
    • by treeves ( 963993 )
      Actually no. There's no oxygen INSIDE the gas line thus nothing for the gas to react with. Now if the pipe or a joint develops a leak, that's another story. Fortunately Spark-gap transmitters [] aren't needed to generate the signals.
      • by guruevi ( 827432 )
        If the pipe develops a leak the gas has to be running full power to weld it back on again. No I'm not kidding: to weld a gas pipe, you have to run the gas. That way the pipe won't blow because there is no oxygen. Sure you might have a big flamethrower on your hands but that is nothing compared to blowing up your gas line.
  • Hollow tubes work great as wave guides. You could use WiFi chipsets no problem. Maybe the real issue is the head end having to pump out too much wattage. Any backhoe that broke a gas line might create a small metal radius at the crack, which would be like putting a fork in a (natural gas filled) microwave oven. No thanks.

    On second thought all the reflections from the mismatched characteristic impedances would probably kill your signal first.

    • If reflections are the issue, wouldn't your first sale be to long haul natural gas pipelines? They would be larger diameter for reduced attenuation anyway. I suppose most pipe buriers, would have already dropped a fiber optic cable when they had the ground open for the pipe itself.
    • by pe1chl ( 90186 )
      It cannot be based on the waveguide principle, because gas pipes are made of plastic, not metal.
      (or maybe the designer did not know this?)
  • The main chip developer is now working on other projects .... the gas company involved was unable to finish testing ... but the build out is cheaper then other solutions ... so why is the chip developer now working on other projects and the gas company involved still not testing ... sounds like more pie in the sky to me
  • last time I checked, my telephone service came in over my TELEPHONE line. Sure, my internet comes over my cable TV line, and my power comes over (god forbid) my power lines.

    The internet is fast becoming something ubiquitous, and the infrastructure will follow. I see no real need for internet over gas lines, as eventually there will be more fibre and OC3 lines running to a variety of neighbourhoods. True, it is probably a neat idea for the short term, but long term there will likely be more fiber and more wi
  • It's just another way for THE MAN to bolster our dependence on gas!

    /me feels safe with his tin foil hat on.

    But, seriously, this is a terrible idea.
  • BOWP - Broadband over water pipe
    BOS - Broadband over sewer
    BOU - Broadband over ultrasonics
    BOLP - Broadband over laser pointers
    BOTCs - Broadband over tin cans and string

    This broadband over gas pipes was kind of a running joke on One wouldn't think they would actually try this.
    • by njchick ( 611256 )
      Inspired by your sig:

      BOPM - broadband over pirated music
      BOPIP - broadband over pirated intellectual property
      BOCDL - broadband over cease and desist letters

    • I've been joking for years that everyone with a pipe into the house will try to deliver broadband to you.

      The problem with the water pipe one though is someone is liable to start a bittorrent session while you're in the in the shower and you'll get scalded.
  • "BOGL"

    It's perfect.
  • ``Build-out costs are about $200 per household, Nethercomm says. By contrast, broadband over power lines costs about $600 per household, while phone and cable TV networks each cost well over $1,000 per home to build.''

    Using radio gives a build-out cost of $0 per household.
    • The router costs something. But you are correct in noting the amortized infastructure cost is zero.
    • by pe1chl ( 90186 )
      Using radio gives a build-out cost of $0 per household.

      This is of course nonsense. Using radio is quite expensive compared to other technologies, especially when the others are using existing cable or other infrastructure. The radio equipment usually costs more than the modem equipment for other technologies, and the other costs are the same.

      Also, don't forget that "munucipal Wi-Fi" really cannot be compared to cable or adsl, let alone ftth. Those provide a lot more bandwidth per subscriber, which is re
  • This is kinda off topic, but with regards to the title: Is "pipe-dream" a crack reference?!
  • BroadbandReports has a more critical review [] of the USA Today story.

    And today's Slashdot featured news that Freescale's "other projects" turning its attention might just be giant leveraged buyout attack [], not any intrinsic business.

    But apart from corporate media war fog, why not blow fibers through these pipes, directly to homes? That seems like a cheap, reliable way to deliver lots and lots of broadband with tech that can join multiple compatible WANs into sites. Without digging or deploying new, specialized
  • For some reason this reminds me of a natural gas powered TV I saw MANY years ago at the Minnesota State Fair. It used some sort of humumgous early generation fuel cell to power a 7" b&w TV (or it was fake and actually used mains power).
  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:57PM (#16085268)
    Here's why: even with spread-spectrum, high bit/hertz counts, it's not going to get close to what's already available, today, with fibre. And the cost/drop is lower than is quoted for fibre distribution to the home-- when it's done with symmetrical IDFs along the way.

    If you put fibre in 20 years ago, you can still use the latest gear to get the fastest available connection, whereas each wireless technology has had about a six-year life, thus rendering capital asset deployments poorly in the case of wireless. Add in security goofyness, incompatible standards, and broadband over gas pipes looks like a pretty poor value proposition both in terms of capital cost as well as product life.

  • by mithras the prophet ( 579978 ) on Monday September 11, 2006 @06:57PM (#16085272) Homepage Journal
    If only this technology had been introduced in 2000 -- Enron could have announced a deal for Broadband Over Gas, immediately booked anticipated profits of $47 billion, and been saved from bankruptcy. Or maybe not.
  • My neighbor works for Atmos energy, and lays gas lines for a living. Quite a bit of line put down these days is some sort of PVC, especially leading from the main lines to the houses. So the claim that it would bring connectivity right up to the meter at the house would only apply to old gas installations (15+ years old).

  • Wow. Slashdot mocked Ted Stevens to no end, but the fact is he knew more than us, not less. He knew about this technology, and knew it would replace DSL and Cable soon.
  • Since in Costa Rica (and in any other earthquake rich country) gas only comes in the bottle, no pipes to fill with bits ...
  • Ted Stephens was right! It is a series of ...

    Oh darn. Too late.
  • i think we should wait until we get the 80,000,000 homes with fiber to the door as promised by the telcos for the federal subsidies we gave them... but i'm an optimist.
  • At least it's not a big truck.

    All kidding aside, I can see many problems, and practically no advantages over normal wireless connections.

    Whatever happened to microwave antennas on houses? Wireless cable never did so well, but combine it with telephone service and internet access, and you've really got something there.
  • ...comes into his own.
  • They used to require a botnet now all you need is a lighter.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle