IBM Explores BPL in Texas

IBM , unconvinced that the broadband battle will boil down
to cable, DSL or fiber, is teaming with a Texas energy company on two
Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) initiatives.

Big Blue and CenterPoint Energy have opened a BPL center in
Houston to test the high-speed technology, appealing because the
power grid already blankets the country.

The companies also launched a pilot program serving an area of approximately
220 homes in southwest Houston. The trial, which will run through August,
is using new BPL technology that is three times faster than previous
iterations.

“IBM has a long-term relationship with CenterPoint Energy as a technology
provider,” Natalie Fine, an IBM spokeswoman, told internetnews.com.
“At the end of 2004, we approached them about working on a BPL project
together.”

IBM has conducted BPL-related work for Italian utility ASM Brescia, but this is its first BPL initiative in the United States, Fine said.

IBM’s contribution to the BPL center includes xSeries servers, PCs, wireless
gear and kiosk technology. For the pilot program, IBM will provide project
management and assessment of use. Following the trial, IBM will help
evaluate customer satisfaction and assess the potential for BPL in that
market.

IBM declined to put a dollar value on the equipment and expertise it’s
providing for the CenterPoint projects.

But the company will say it’s getting its money’s worth. IBM and CenterPoint said they have exceeded their goal of 3Mbps in early pilot results, but IBM’s
Fine said speed isn’t the most important incentive for utilities to pursue
BPL.

“With BPL they will be able to see every device on their network from the
meter to the substation,” Fine said. “They will be
able to do automated meter reading, work load management, remote turn on and turn off, security and outage management and triangulation, to name a few
applications.”

IBM and CenterPoint announcements come just days after Google teamed
with Goldman Sachs and the Hearst Corp. in a $100 million BPL investment.
The companies provided the backing for Current Communications Group, a
Germantown, Md.-based BPL provider.

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