It’s not just Internet providers and their consumers who could benefit from BPL. Utility companies themselves are bullish on it.
“We’re looking to take our grid into the 21st century,” says Don Cortez, vice president of operations support at Houston-based CenterPoint Energy. “BPL gives us the possibility of monitoring the different points on the grid and letting us know well before something happens if something is wrong. Right now we have no way to see what’s going on.”
With BPL, utilities can monitor line usage and problems, as well as read meters without dispatching a technician.
On the consumer side, BPL offers some potential advantages over broadband alternatives. For one, customers could use the technology to turn down air conditioning or make sure the coffee pot is off while they’re away from home.
“When every power outlet becomes a communications tool, you can have that kind of intelligence in every room,” says Cortez. CenterPoint will decide what type of commercial roll-out to offer its customers by September, according to Cortez.
BPL technology also provides a broadband option that may be simpler and faster. Current Communications Group has a BPL-based program running in Cincinnati, with subscribers “in the thousands,” according to Kevin Kushman, CCG vice president of corporate development.
The company offers a three-megabit-per-second broadband package, comparable to many cable-based broadband offerings, for $35 per month. It’s not price that Current is competing on, though, says Kushman, but the fact that, with BPL, the uploading speed is the same as the downloading speed, around 3 megabits per second.
In other broadband mediums, the upstream speed can be considerably slower than downstream. Further, Kushman says their BPL customers like not having to deal with a router. The company gives subscribers one free adapter with the service, and sells additional adapters for $30 each.
Wes Warnock, a spokesperson for SBC Communications, the largest telephone-line-based broadband provider in the country, won’t comment on the IBM/CenterPoint trial, but says that SBC’s consumers are satisfied with the 416 K bits per second upstream speed of DSL. “Our feedback shows it serves them well,” he says.
Meanwhile, other companies are plugging away. “We’re close to seeing large-scale deployments of BPL,” says Earthlink’s Brand.
Eric Hellweg is an award-winning writer and editor who has covered business and technology for over 10 years.