RealTime IT News

Broadband Over Power Adversaries Unite on Standard

Power lines can do more than just transmit power. Broadband over powerline (BPL) technologies have been around since at least the turn of the millennium, but they still have some hurdles to overcome.

However, with a new joint IEEE standards proposal submitted by two competitors -- the HomePlug Powerline Alliance and consumer electronics giant Panasonic -- broadband over powerline may finally jump into the wider mainstream.

"The foremost barrier over the past seven years has been that many industry leaders felt that an international recognized standards body needed to endorse the technology," Matthew Theall, president of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, told InternetNews.com.

The IEEE P1901 Work Group for Broadband over Powerline (BPL) aims to be just such an international standards effort. The HomePlug industry trade group includes giants in consumer electronics, networking and communications and chips, including Samsung, LG, Comcast, Linksys, Intel and Texas Instruments.

Together with Panasonic -- which had previously been pushing an incompatible set of its own specifications -- the group has submitted a proposal to the P1901 group that would permit interoperability between existing BPL products from both vendor camps.

The thinking behind the new effort, as with less-unified powerline networking pushes in the past, is that BPL may serve as one pipe that can carry everything a broadband user needs. The technology can be used in consumer electronics applications, as well as in backhaul for first- and last-mile connectivity. Since at least 2003, the FCC and lawmakers have been looking at ways to harness BPL.

"In the 1990s, it became apparent that technologies existed which could overcome the noise inherent on a copper line when it also carries electricity," Theall said. "Through the HomePlug development processes, we created a technology that carries Internet connectivity, audio, standard and HDTV video, IPTV, VoIP, and anything other digital technology that uses copper wires."

Theall said HomePlug technology is already well on its way to becoming a mainstay, having shipped in 10 million products. The HomePlug specification allows for both power and Internet connectivity to travel over the same power line, at speeds of 14Mbps and 200Mbps. The new IEEE effort may see both speed and functionality expand.

However, Theall said the initial goal of the unified effort is mostly on creating a single standard, since that's what will drive the industry forward.

"A standard creates multiple choices for silicon, helps to create ubiquity, and fosters innovation and competition among suppliers," Theall said. "All of these things ultimately benefit the consumer. Both HomePlug and Panasonic have made [a] submission to the IEEE's efforts, and it is believed that by combining those contributions together now, the pace at which the IEEE will be able to ratify a standard will be accelerated."