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Wireless Networking The Internet Hardware

Broadband Over Power Lines vs. Radio Relayers 147

Posted by timothy
from the breaking-too-many-eggs-perhaps dept.
amaiman writes "Recently, broadband Internet access has been increasing around the country. These broadband signals, while providing Internet access to remote communities that would normally not be able to receive broadband, are causing enormous interference to the radio spectrum. This article details some of the problems, and a video available on the American Radio Relay League's (ARRL) site shows exactly how much interference the broadband power lines can cause. Detailed information is also available on the ARRL site."
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Broadband Over Power Lines vs. Radio Relayers

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  • But I thought... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Sunday June 20, 2004 @03:51PM (#9478921) Journal


    But I thought that hams where saying that BPL would destroy radio communication for 100's of miles around? This video only shows the effect when they are very near the powerlines.

    They also play word games by saying it is on the agenda at the FCC. On the agenda doesn't mean that they will approve it, it simply means they are looking at it.

    Lastly, it doesn't help hams when hams say they will just pump out a 1kw signal to drownout the BPL signal, that action will simply result in the group with the most votes winning, and that isn't the hams.

    • Re:But I thought... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TWX (665546) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:04PM (#9478995)
      "Lastly, it doesn't help hams when hams say they will just pump out a 1kw signal to drownout the BPL signal, that action will simply result in the group with the most votes winning, and that isn't the hams."

      You forget that amateur radio is the primary user on said frequencies. This means that if their broadcasting interferes with your Part-15 "This device shall make no interference, and this device shall receive interference, even if it causes undesired operation" broadband service, tough shit. This doesn't mean that ham radio operators are out to screw over the world, but many, many operators have very powerful rigs and won't really be very worried if you try to move into their territory on the spectrum.

      I wonder if anyone has looked into how this'll affect business band radio, which is often on frequencies near amateur radio. That'll be an interesting one, since those users are specifically granted commercial licenses on those frequencies for communication purposes...
      • And if very many hams do what you suggest the laws will be changed and those hams will lose their licenses and have to pay fines.

        It may not be right, but that is what will happen. BPL will get more votes than hams.
        • Re:But I thought... (Score:5, Informative)

          by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:13PM (#9479038) Homepage
          And if very many hams do what you suggest the laws will be changed and those hams will lose their licenses and have to pay fines.
          Perhaps, though that would require that the law change. Currently, the hams CAN legally do this.

          Note that it's only a *very* small subset of the ham community that's even considering deliberately jamming BPL. Most hams are considerate to a fault, and wouldn't retaliate like that.

          But for now, if you need to use 1500 watts to make a contact, it's legal for a ham to use 1500 watts to make that contact (on most bands), even if it causes problems for BPL. The law says you need to use the minimum amount of power to get the job done, and most hams do that. But if you need 1500 watts to get the job done, then you can do that.

          (For the record, I'm AD5RH. And I don't have any equipment capable of putting out over 200 watts.)

        • by shepd (155729)
          >And if very many hams do what you suggest the laws will be changed and those hams will lose their licenses and have to pay fines.

          Yeah. Good luck. The minute that happens, Mexico and Canada will start running high power at those frequencies.

          Radio waves don't care about political borders. And it took Canada 20 years before we even got laws banning pirate US satellite equipment. It'll be another 100 before we get laws to protect US powerline broadband.

          I suppose if you live in the center of the US, y
        • Re:But I thought... (Score:4, Informative)

          by TWX (665546) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:36PM (#9479132)
          "And if very many hams do what you suggest the laws will be changed and those hams will lose their licenses and have to pay fines."

          You forget that the FCC rules aren't run like regular laws. The FCC comes up with policies and procedures to follow, and the federal government's laws only state that if you want to participate, you go talk to the FCC and follow their judgements.

          Remember too, that ham radio has been around for fifty years. Some very high profile people like Barry Goldwater have been ham radio operators. There might not be anyone of particular notoriety that stands out in the hobby right now, but there are well established lobbyist groups, a close-knit community, and usually willing to stand up for the priviledges granted to them. They won't just roll over.

          The real fun will start as soon as a BPL installation jams an automated repeater, and that repeater's owner presses the FCC to fine the BPL owner, which under their rules they'd have to at least investigate.
      • Re:But I thought... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by LWATCDR (28044) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:35PM (#9479129) Homepage Journal
        The FCC could and probably will just take that band from the Hams. The FCC will just say that the use of that band for BOPL dose more for the public good than keeping them for the small number of hams that use them.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Except those bands are assigned under International treaty. I know the current administration does't give a damn about treaties but there is reasons to continue honoring them. I remember the 250Kw station in Mexico XERA that could black out half the other stations in the Southweat when it was on the air.
      • Re:But I thought... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by NateTech (50881)
        So far both Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (the folks that allocate spectrum for most government agencies) have both turned in official comments to the FCC about BPL saying that it would greatly disrupt their communications also.

        This is not just a Ham Radio thing. BPL is bad engineering, pure and simple. It's placing RF on huge spans of unbalanced feedline and somehow expecting it not to radiate. Any college student in engine
    • by latroM (652152)
      I guess that the portable equipment which they use isn't as sensitive as a permanent radio shack with directional yagis. BPL would make QRP (low power operating) impossible because of the increased noise level. More noise causes the need for stronger signal and that causes greater power levels thus causing more interference to BPL. Don't forget that HF waves (3-30MHz) can travel thousands of miles, so the effect isn't local.

      de OH6GFR
    • Re:But I thought... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:17PM (#9479055)
      Look out your window - every amateur radio operator who lives within a couple hundred yards of a powerline will be affected. Not only that, but, according the the ARRL site, rural emergency radio communications (Fire Department, Ambulance, etc) will also be affected. Don't forget, also, that the frequencies that we're talking about are used by amateurs to provide emergency communications during natural disasters, health and welfare traffic, as well as comms during public events like marathons, bike races, parades, etc.

      BTW, it's not a matter of pumping up the transmit power either. It's on the receive where BPL causes the biggest problems. You're already trying to listen to a whisper in crowd, and BPL is like an obnoxious car salesman with a bullhorn.

    • Cumulative effects (Score:5, Informative)

      by Alan Cox (27532) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:20PM (#9479071) Homepage
      Shortwave radio communication over any long distance (commercial, military and hobbyist) often deals with weak signals. Each broadband power line adds to the background noise cumulatively raising the problem. One power line won't trash your TV signal (unless you are very close), but each one adds noise until all you have is snow.

      Its like people talking in the background - a couple of people don't do much harm but when you try and talk across a room full of quietly talking people two things happen

      1. The cumulative background noise reduces the signal
      2. You turn the volume up (as the amateur radio people will have to and although entitled too don't wish too because it causes other users problems)

      When you turnt he volume up, they all have to talk louder, so you get a fight between high and higher BPL power (to avoid radio wiping out internet, and higher and higher radio power for the same reason). At which point nobody can communicate usefully and lots of third parties are harmed.

      HF interference isn't just an amateur radio problem either - you might well find you get 802.11 dead zones if you are near a power line using it. You may not be able to use radio controlled toys in an area with too many power lines and so on. Finally HF is essential to things like flying medical services and some rural communcation systems.

      It all gets quite messy when this happens because good radio practice is the lowest possible power. The lower the power you can use the more people can use the same frequency. If everyone has to use 1KW then you'll get a lot less frequencies.

      I'd also say their description of the FCC is in tune with its historical decision making - just look at the monopolisation of US commercial radio and the continued unneccessary exclusion of most small transmitters which could exist and other countries have proved are not a problem. Of course BPL background noise might well wipe out the scope for very low power radio stations too.

      BTW: BPL trials in the UK (way before the US) were shelved for several reasons but intereference was a big one.

      It shouldn't be insoluble - one nice property of radio is that if you can get the BPL encoding frequencies high enough then the interference problems become much less of an issue.

      (PS: I defy you to find a radio astronomer who won't use expletives when asked abtut BPL..)

      • by barnzi (760875)
        It's not only BPL that does it.

        Back in the olden days of POTS, myself and my mates were avid HL players and highly dependant on a low ping. We went to great lengths to obtain it - I even sheilded my phoneline in foil from the point at which it enters my house. Coupled with an underground phoneline (as opposed to the more common over-head lines that my friends had) I could squeeze a few more kbps and a few less ms from my connection.

        After the BT trigger level fiasco and a leafletting campaign, we all gradu
    • by lku (789885) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:25PM (#9479091)
      Yeah, if it just were the hams who are against BPL.

      There are far more users on the HF-band than just the hams. There are "small" communities like military and air traffic who are opposing BPL as well because it would also ruin their ways to communicate over a long distance without dragging cables with them or to have many radio relay stations along their routes.

      Of course then there is satellite communications, but I don't think we will see gear suitable for, lets say, spec-op -troops to carry with them all the time to provide them reliable enough way to communicate with others like they can do with their small HF-radios.

      And what about emergency situations? All communications and power is cut out for large areas. How would you call for help? Via radio, of course. But because of BPL nobody can hear your scream. "But hey", you would say, "then there will be no BPL around to mess with the communications". Yes, but there where the power and communcations, and the help of course, is, there might also be BPL so it would be hard for them to receive your message and your critical help might not arrive in time.

      No, don't think me as an enemy of technology even after this. BPL is good technology, but at the moment I can't keep BPL mature enough yet to be used for what many are willing to use it now. It may be great technology for a last mile or to be used inside the building, but over airlines (or what ever you call telephone wires hanging on poles) for long distance not. Some European countries (e.g. Germany, IIRC) have banned BPL because of its interferencies and on many more countries it hasn't started to become popular because there has been more problems than success with current BPL technology.
      • If this disrupts military comm systems then they need to be fixed. Our enemies have MUCH more powerful jammers.
      • by NateTech (50881)
        I only disagree with one of your statements. BPL as it's implemented today is not "good technology".

        It's shoddy engineering that will cause interference to all HF users. These users are not the intended recipients of the signal in the slightest, therefore, it's an application of a technology to power lines that doesn't belong there.

        I'd love to see my power lines bring broadband to my home faster and cheaper than my DSL or Cable connections. But not at the cost of trashing the radio spectrum. Find anot
    • Re:But I thought... (Score:5, Informative)

      by aldoman (670791) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:43PM (#9479159) Homepage
      I just got an arrl newsletter telling all of their members to contact their congressmen and tell them what a bad idea this is. Apparently, according to ARRL research, broadband over powerlines causes significant interference not just in ham bands but across the spectrum. Although I havn't exactly looked at the research in detail, I can't see how the power companies could avoid interference. Powerlines aren't shielded, and for any reasonable bandwidth to be passed through the powerlines, the frequency would have to be high enough that a significant amount of power would have to be used. Unshielded wire is always agood antenna, and for some situations the best. Granted it won't be well tuned, but I've seen worse situations cause a lot of interference. My home is near high voltage power lines (read a large part of San Francisco's power) and even at 60hz, I get interfering harmonics all the way up into 10 meters. Avoiding electrical grid contamination is something every ham has fought with. Hopefully I'm wrong, but unless there is some way of preventing interference, this seems like one of those thngs that will be really good for pacbell and really bad for the rest of the wireless world.
    • But I thought that hams where saying that BPL would destroy radio communication for 100's of miles around? This video only shows the effect when they are very near the powerlines.

      If you live in a urban/suburban area, look around you: how far can you get from any powerline? While it is true that the interference is subject to inverse-square and dies out rather quickly, if by the time you get out of range of one power line you are getting into the range of another it doesn't take much for 100s of square

    • Lots of people live very near power lines. So it will affect lots of people.

    • Re:But I thought... (Score:2, Informative)

      by LJGardner (789902)
      Think about it--powerlines are everywhere, and the hams use power to run their transmitters, and more importantly, their receivers. It doesn't take much for an interfering signal to get from the power cord to the antenna terminal. Sure, hams can up the power on their home rigs, but what about their portable and mobile equipment that has proved so important in providing communications during natural disasters, weather emergencies, and yes, even in in NY and DC on 9/11? The ham frequencies to which BPL cau
  • by ErichTheWebGuy (745925) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @03:53PM (#9478941) Homepage
    ... of why the FCC is so damned ineffective. I thought the FCC was commissioned to prevent just this sort of thing? Apparently these days it is only another government hypocricy that panders to the highest-paying lobby.
    • Look at some of the backers of the anti blp group and you will find that some of them stand to lose if bpl takes off. It isn't just the pro bpl side playing games.
      • by ErichTheWebGuy (745925) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @03:58PM (#9478966) Homepage
        It isn't just the pro bpl side playing games.

        Good point. And it further reinforces my argument that the FCC needs to get their act together and stop pandering to people who play these silly games.

        Just like, oh I think it was Clear Channel that tried to get XM to stop broadcasting local news because it interfered with the local market. Translation: When you cannot compete fairly, get the government involved and shut down your competitors.
    • by danimal67 (679464) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:38PM (#9479141)
      I'm disappointed that the FCC even cares about HAM radio operators. FEMA, NTIA, and the Department of Homeland Security have all filed with the FCC proposals 03-104 and 04-37 in favor of BPL if reasonable precautions are taken. These are the govenment agencies HAMs have been saying will be crippled if BPL is deployed. Nowhere in their replies do they spew the doomsday scenarios that HAMs are putting forward to scare people regarding BPL. HAMs love to overstate how critical they are to the communications infrastructure in emergency situations. Nothing I've read yet in reference to emergency situations can replace the following benefits in my mind: BPL can be used by power companies to provide -Intelligent Demand Side Management -Load Switching/Balancing -Fault Locations -Peak Shaving -Power Quality Monitoring -Real-Time Pricing For consumers it can provide -Video on Demand -Content -Alarm Monitoring -Smart Appliances -Broadband -InternetTelephony DS2, a BPL chipset maker has 200mbps chipsets that are working in the field now with a company working with ConEd called Ambient. My point is, even if the HAMs were completely deprived of their use of the HF spectrum (which by every government agency's accounts they won't be), I strongly believe that the benefits of a smarter power grid combined with a third major competitor for broadband outweigh the loss. I am very biased however as I'm heavily invested in Ambient, so take that into account when you read my reply. But look at the FCC replies for yourself to make up your mind before you believe either me or HAM users. Go to http://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/prod/ecfs/comsrch_v2.cgi type in 04-37 or 03-104 in proceeding and educate yourself more about the issue.
      • by SagSaw (219314) <slashdot.mmoss@org> on Sunday June 20, 2004 @07:28PM (#9479968)
        I'm disappointed that the FCC even cares about HAM radio operators. FEMA, NTIA, and the Department of Homeland Security have all filed with the FCC proposals 03-104 and 04-37 in favor of BPL if reasonable precautions are taken.

        I'm a amateur radio operator, and I'm in favor if BPL if reasonable precautions are taken. In other words, hold the BPL companies to the same part 15 rules that all other unlicensed users of licensed portions have to follow (Short version: unlicensed devices operating under part 15 of the FCC rules cannot cause interfearance to licensed services, and must cease operation if interfearance occurs until the cause of the interfearance can be fixed.).

        The problem is that I never see this happening. Lets say that I find my local utility is generating interfearance that renders significant portions of the bands allocated to amateur radio unusable. I call the power company and report the problem. When the line workers show up, we manage to agree that the interfearing signal is from their BPL system. (In reality, I imagine that it would take a lot of work to convince the power company that it is their problem). Most likely, the only soluction to the problem will be for the power company to either reduce the power of the BPL signal on the offending portion of the power lines, or to use a filter to notch out the offending frequencies. Either option would degrade BPL service to some of their customers. I seriously doubt that either the power companies will voluntariy degrade service to solve interfearance problems or the FCC will force the power companies to degrade their BPL service in order to solve interfearance problems.

        The other issue is that the frequencies which BPL providers will use can quite easily propagate around the world. Lets say that a BPL signal is found to interfear with some licensed service. (amateur, fixed, maritime, land mobile, military, etc.) How do you determine the source of the interfearance when it could be any of a large number of BPL providers accross the country?

        I have nothing agaist the use of BPL withing existing part 15 rules. I simply doubt that it will be possible to solve any interfearance problems that occur.

        KC8DEI
      • by sharkman67 (548107) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @07:32PM (#9479980)
        Hmm, did I see you down at the World Trade Center site during 9/11 and the following weeks? Didn't think so. Us Ham radio operators (I came in from Connectucut) were down their providing communications in 24/hr shifts. I provided over 48 hours of service. If you were not so ignorant as to what we do and who we provide service for you wouldn't be so quick to open your mouth.

        Now imagine there was some kind of full scale attack on the US where multiple cities were affected. Phones are out, cells are out (or like during 9/11 useless) forget the Internet and your lucky to even have electricity. Hams are no longer operating on HF because some short sited people, who are more concerned with their stock investments, got BPL pushed through. Who is going to provide not only local but long distance communications? You?
        • ... not that I support BPL, but you have a huge gaping goatse in your story, there.

          If there was a large-scale attack on the US, if we're "lucky" to have power, and if the internet is dead, who the hell would be using BPL?
          • What he means is that as (if?) BPL use increases and the inteference makes using radio equipment more difficult, then many HAMs will cease to maintain their equipment and will not be prepared for emergency communication.

            Next Saturday (June 26) is Field Day. Hams all over the world will go to remote locations and setup their radios, raise antennas and run this equipment without power from the grid. Lots of people expend a lot of time, resources and energy to stay prepared for emergencies. When they can
            • Amen.

              Add in the fact that in order to receive distant stations over BPL noise would probably require good sized antennas on high structures (towers) and that most neighborhood's pseudo-environmental "I'm on the homeowner's board" soccer moms gasp in horror at the thought that someone's hobby might include a large metal tower in their yard, because of some stupid perception that they're "ugly" (even though her 1 MPG SUV does more harm to the environment than anyone's tower ever did) and the FACT that over 9
        • Well if the internet is out the interference will be too won't it?

          While I agree that ham radio would be the best way of doing comms, there are other alternatives like satellite links, although they aren't very efficient for local communications.

          The attack that you speak of seems to shout out NUKE to me, so I will just point out that your radio on the giant antenna probably won't survive the emp from the blast.

          I do agree with you though, in any non-nuclear scenario, HF radio is the best way to do thin
          • by fikx (704101)
            OK, I'm not a HAM but I'm at least familiar with it. If I'm off on what I say, hopefully someone who IS a HAM will step in and coorect me.

            From what I understand, once this goes out in mass, THAT'S when the problem will show, and THAT'S when it will be impossible to pull back. Once a good chuck of the powerlines are using this stuff, the damage is done. Even if there's a disaster that takes out power for a large part of the US, the interference is already floating out there in the areas that aren't out. The
          • fixk has some of it right. But also, if I can't use HF for my hobby I am not going to keep my gear around. On to ebay it goes. So when the local BPL interference is gone there will not be any Hams with the equipment to operate.

            What you may not realize is that I am a emergenct coordinator for my town. We Hams run monthly drills and participate in events like the NYC Marathon, Special Olympics and other large scale events. This is always done at our own expense as we can not accept any money. If we ca
      • Every agency you mentioned eventually answers to someone in the Bush administration. The FCC is run by Colin Powell's kid.

        Think about it.
    • The FCC governs free-speech and breasts on public airwaves. As long as you don't commit one of the many atrocities such as showing your natural body, saying what's on your mind, or questioning the great leader you'll be fine, now if this Broadband interference could enable people to eavesdrop on peoples connections and someone happened to be transferring porn, then you can bet ur ass the FCC will be on the case.

  • No more HAM Radio (Score:3, Informative)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @03:56PM (#9478957) Homepage
    Art Bell (coasttocoastam.com) has a big beef against BOP (Broadband Over Power) for obvious reasons.
    • Re:No more HAM Radio (Score:3, Informative)

      by NateTech (50881)
      Art Bell is a Ham and from my one telephone conversation with him (not on his radio show), he's also a reasonable and civil person.

      Art is a true "radio-man" who enjoys 75 Meter AM and Sideband when he's not on the air entertaining people via AM Broadcast.
  • Seriously (Score:4, Interesting)

    by challahc (745267) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:01PM (#9478981)
    This article is 4 months old. In March the power company Cinergy in Cincinnati started offering broadband over powerlines. I havn't heard much about that since then, I really would like to hear something about that. Is it still around? Is anyone using it? Are there any complaints?
    • In the Detroit area the county emergency management people are complaining that Comcast is blocking the emergency networks that were used to coordinate the evacuation of a hospital that had a fire during the blackout last summer. They also used this network for y2k traffic, and is used to coordinate severe weather-related activities.

      First the amateurs beat off swatch's asinine to broadcast ads in the middle of 144 now this.

    • My roommate works tech support for that service, it's handled by Current Communications, and they're very much alive and well. They have some paying customers now, as opposed to just the free trial customers. We're waiting for the service to be available in Columbus...it's 3mbit synchronous, equivalent to 2 T1's up and down, for $30/month. Doesn't quite beat out 6mbit cable for downloads, but the synchronous upstream would be nice.
  • I wonder (Score:1, Funny)

    by Moblaster (521614)
    First wardialing, then wardriving, now... warduracelling.
  • Have it already (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nihynjahs (680486)
    Here in Cedar Rapids IA, we already have it, i can go and see the units themselves mounted on the powerlines, and pick them up with kismet and netstumbler along glass road. Im a ham too, so i dont really care for this, they can find a better way to get broadband to everyone.
    • Re:Have it already (Score:5, Informative)

      by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:20PM (#9479070) Homepage
      Here in Cedar Rapids IA, we already have it, i can go and see the units themselves mounted on the powerlines, and pick them up with kismet and netstumbler along glass road.
      Eh? BPL is typically between 2 and 80 mHz. Higher frequencies will be attenuated too much over powerlines to make their use pratical. kismet/netstumbler is for WiFi, 2400 mHz -- MUCH higher than 80 mHz.

      If you can pick up these boxes with these tools, then these boxes are not BPL., unless they're some sort of bridge between BPL and WiFi, or can be managed via WiFi or something?

      Aha ... google to the rescue!

      I just received word a few days ago that Alliant Energy is planning a trial of BPL in an undisclosed part of Cedar Rapids, IA, sometime this year. No specific dates available, but within the next 3 months. The plan appears to be using the 13.8 kV lines to carry the data to various neighborhoods, and then use 2.4 GHz WLAN servers to connect between the HV lines and subscribers.
      So they are bridges. Seems an odd way to do it though -- BPL CAN go all the way into the house (that's part of why people like it), so why are they using WiFi for that? If all they're doing is putting APs in each neighborhood, why use BPL at all? Just run standard cox or fiber optics to each AP.
      • actually, AFAIK, most of the time where BPL is used it is not used to get down to the house, most of the time the connections are spread through homepna or regular ethernet to the end user and bpl is only used to bring the connection to the neighbourhood/block.
      • why use BPL instead of Coax or fiber?
        It is cheaper. It costs money to run fiber or coax. Of course my town is stupid. They are running miles and miles of water mains and NOT runnig fiber at the same time!
        What a waiste.
      • Re:Have it already (Score:3, Informative)

        by Goody (23843)
        The interfering Iowa system is using Amperion BPL equipment. This uses HF BPL on the lines for a backbone, and then WiFi (802.11) for the "last hundred feet" from the pole to the home.

    • They already have. They're called DSL, Cable, and Wireless ISP's.

      And they're being deployed everywhere they're economically feasible. It just takes some time.

      Someone in the Bush administration has a good-old-boy somewhere paying them a lot of money to push BPL. Guaranteed. FCC Commissioners don't say things in public meetings like "BPL will be Broadband Nirvana" without someone promising some bling bling in return.
  • by CrystalFalcon (233559) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:04PM (#9478991) Homepage
    The latest RFC don't deal with broadband over power lines any more. It's been tried, and power companies have folded over this bet.

    My own power company gave up and found it more efficient to simply lay TCP/IP fiber along the new power lines instead.

    No, the new thing is not TCP/IP over electricity lines, but electricity over TCP/IP lines [faqs.org], as detailed in RFC3251.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      BPL has been tried in Germany by almost all major power companies, but they have basically given up on it. Reason: It does not work, plain and simple.

      There are a few companies around that sell so called PLC-to-Ethernet adaptors you can plug into your power outlet to bridge floors or so, but they're not working either.

      Testing has shown that the signal attenuation between two of these PLC adaptors is actually higher than the free space attenuation - so these adaptors would work just as good or even better

      • The problem is that in Germany, you have people who will listen to reason. Over here you have wild sheeples who only listen to marketing hype.

        This is of course why your government is starting to switch to SuSE and everyone over here who isn't a technical person still loves Microsoft products. ;-)

        Seriously though -- the hype surrounding how "wondeful" BPL will be is being paid for by someone... someone with a LOT of cash... on this side of the pond.

        Your deployment trials sound a lot more sane than our he
  • Probably should be "... these broadband signals, while providing Internet access to remote communities that would normally not be able to receive broadband, are causing enormous interference to the radio spectrum."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:05PM (#9478996)
    On a previous project we used point to point optical
    units, I remember the output was only a few hundred milliwatts but we were p2ping 5Km or more in fair
    visibility. Surely optical wavelenghs are not restricted and civillian versions of this sort of
    optical tranciever are available? Someone has to line them up at installation, but its as easy as doing a microwave dish. I think a network of point to point laser trancievers would be ideal for remote raural coms in the out back and beyond. With this kind of power efficiency repeaters would easily run from solar cells. What think the /.ers?
      • Fog, rain, snow, trees, and hills all "interfere" with lasers. Laser comms are great for parts of Arizona though. :-)
        • But even Arizona has rain sometimes. The last time I was in Phoenix, it rained 3 out of 7 days I was there.

          Lasers are always going to have a reliability problem when you're talking about long distances and the possibility of adverse weather.

          Of course, if the downtime is acceptable, laser comm is fine. I'm not sure it will be acceptable for most internet users.

          As a ham, I'm not thrilled about BPL, but I don't think laser comm will be a solution in most of the country.
      • Birds too :-)

        Still, if it was cheap enough to use for home connections they wouldn't mind loosing the connection when its foggy or when birds fly past.
    • Use a Canobeam [canon.com], problems, I would guess, include

      1) Laser safety. We had a canobeam for the '01 UK election, had to check its fitting every day for H&S reasons.
      2) Weather - Optical light doesn't work well in fog
      3) Polution - I've heard of FSO setups not making it across the road because of the exhaust of a Bus.

      Not sure how 2.4Ghz would be different.
    • Being a ham, I instead prefer the thought of draping fiber all along the powerlines with 802.11 APs at the towers or every third telephone pole. Of course, that would shut down our HSMM efforts just getting under way, but it would certainly provide a nice web of wifi coverage.
  • by billstewart (78916) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:13PM (#9479037) Journal
    The article's from February. Here's the January Slashdot Discussion [slashdot.org]. Has anything new happened? In particular, how are the recent discussions about using powerline data transmission to feed 802.11 local distribution going? That offers a lot of potential to reduce the amount of wired transmission that can cause interference.

    Articles about BPL that get technical often bring up comparisons between how it works in the US vs. Europe. For various historical/technical evolution reasons, including population densities, the two sides of the pond have much different concentrations of number of users per power transformer, and supposedly the technology makes a lot more economic sense in Europe. In the US, one of the more interesting markets is rural access, where distances are too long for DSL and cable TV isn't very common - satellite's an obvious alternative, but satellite latency is annoying. Non-Amish farmers have tended to be fairly wired for a long time - the commodities and futures markets have a major impact on how you can get the best price for your crops, and even old modems and Apple IIs were good enough to get trading information and text-based weather reports, but more bandwidth is always better.

    But the other obvious market is that it's another wired or near-wired access method to get bits to your house, besides the Phone Companies and cable modems, which means it increases competition for the phone business as well as data business. Power companies already have a certain amount of potential simply from owning right-of-way, though sometimes the phone companies own the poles, and state Public Utility Commission regulators often create all kinds of strange rulings about who can do what with the shared assets (a problem cable tv companies have had, especially when they want to sell bandwidth on the fibers they run in shared right-of-way.)

    • The article's from February. Here's the January Slashdot Discussion. Has anything new happened?

      No, same old crap. The only difference here is that Timothy read "American Radio Relay League", didn't know that that means "ham radio", and thought it was someone new complaining.

    • The article's from February. Here's the January Slashdot Discussion. Has anything new happened?

      Yes. The number of Slashdotters who are opposed to the idea seems to have gone up (based on a totally informal evaluation by myself). I'd say that's very significant, and very encouraging.

  • by JoeLinux (20366) <joelinux AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:15PM (#9479048) Homepage
    We had to make HF frequencies by hand! In the Snow! Uphill both ways!
    • "We had to make HF frequencies by hand! In the Snow! Uphill both ways!"

      That should have read:

      Back in my day, we had to make HF signals by building our own rigs, by HAND! We had to trek thirty miles uphill in the snow to the local Radio Shack or Sears store to buy the kit, and when they ditn't have all of the diodes, capacitors, and crystal kits we needed we had to trek back three weeks later when their shipment came in, carrying it all home in the snow! When we finally got everything, we had to sold
      • we had to solder it all together, with bad, carcinogenic lead-based solder, making sure EACH and EVERY SOLDER point was perfect.

        An old-timer friend of mine tells the story of someone he knew who was troubleshooting a Heathkit Color Television that a friend had just assembled. It turned out that this fellow had decided to be slick, and instead of regular solder, he had used 'liquid steel' (basically a metallic looking epoxy cement that is non-conductive) to do the soldering, instead of a soldering iron an
      • by kps (43692)
        You could buy diodes? You had it easy! We had to make our own. The first one was easy enough, but catching the cat the second time....
      • You forgot the ever-present cigarette burning in the ashtray on the workbench. ;-)
  • by drwho (4190) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:31PM (#9479115) Homepage Journal
    Thanks, Slashdot, for this article. One the cat is out of the bag, he won't go back in...so it's important that BPL gets ripped out when it fails (which it will...oh yes we have WAYS of making it fail. For instance, all BPL ISPs will be filtered at my firewall. And I am a licensed amateur, and will file an endless stream of takedown complaints to the FCC, as hams ARE the primary users of the bands in question). So, doing whatever it takes to delay any implementation, on a local level, is appropriate. It would be a good idea for municipalities to ban it.
  • shield the cable (and obviously earth the shield)

    that way nothing gets in, nothing gets out - everybody wins (exceept those who pay for the cable)

    • by TWX (665546)
      Because of cost. They're trying to use existing installations to do this, specifically avoiding running new wire. If they were going to install shielded cable, they may as well just put in coaxial or fiber.

      As far as shielding power cables though, they don't do it because it's not effective, the shielding breaks down due to the elements, it's harder to diagnose a problem with the power grid, and probably a whole slew of other things.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        As far as shielding power cables though, they don't do it because it's not effective, the shielding breaks down due to the elements, it's harder to diagnose a problem with the power grid, and probably

        a whole slew of other things.

        Yeah, like change the impedance of the line, changing its carrying capacity and changing the power factor seen by the rest of the grid.

        Aside from the fact that previous installations aren't shielded, even shielding new installs would be far more difficult/expensive than just run

        • correct me if im wrong - I my analogue electronics isn't very good - but wouldn't 60Hz (we use 50 in eurpope) suddenly cease to be the magic frequency for get the most out of your power lines?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:48PM (#9479193)
    There is only a fairly small frequency band in existence that can be used for inexpensive worldwide communication, and that is HF. The reason are more or less predictable Ionosphere layers that reflect radiowaves.

    Under good conditions, you can transmit halfway across the world, with just 1-5 Watts of transmission power. The Amateur Radio community knows this as "QRP" operation, and it is quite popular. So, yes, even small amounts of HF noise will go a long way to interfere with shortwave communication.

    20 years ago a sizable amount of communication was still being done by shortwave (HF) radio, and anybody thinking about poisioning large chunks of HF spectrum would've been declared a raving lunatic. Every kHz of HF spectrum was (and still is) a prized posession. Look up any frequency book from the 80's and you'll see that there wasn't a Hertz of HF spectrum unallocated, and it was (and still is) tightly controlled by international agreements. For large Radio stations (BBC, VOA), it is still the only way to connect to people in dictatorships and less advanced countries.

    Today, most commercial and military communication in the US has moved to satellite; Only smaller services (in the west), third world countries, radio stations and HAM radio operators use HF. Of course, why would large power companies care about other countries or the BBC news ?

    The HF spectrum is still the most valuable piece of electromagentic real estate there is in the World. Purposefully injecting additional noise into the band for no other reason than to save a few bucks is a terrible mistake and shows ignorance and recklessness on a staggering level.
    • Amen. Mods the parent up up up.
    • There's still a fair amount of military and civil HF traffic.
      A quick scan of the HF bands reveals quite a lot of RTTY and FAX still, as well as VOLMET and the HF civil aviation frequencies (which are still quite active, choose the right frequency and its almost continuously active over the Atlantic). I heard an RAF SSB frequency the other day, it was still active (although the traffic was mostly asking for updates on the football).
      Then there's the US Government with its 'Radio Free $(region)' which is still
    • >most commercial and military communication in the
      >US has moved to satellite; Only smaller services
      >(in the west), third world countries, radio
      >stations and HAM radio operators use HF

      Actually, the U.S. military still makes *heavy* use of the HF portion of the radio spectrum - primary modes are SSB (long-distance voice communications) and ALE (a digital system for sending short messages and for analyzing the reliability of particular frequency). Emergency services, such as FEMA and the Red Cros
  • Very Important Thing (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pan T. Hose (707794) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @04:57PM (#9479237) Homepage Journal

    A very important yet often overlooked thing to keep in mind while thinking about "broadband over power lines," as I have already written countless times [slashdot.org] with little effect, is the very fact that it all has started as a scam. The idea has been introduced by Luke Stewart, a scam artist who has promised more than billion gigabits per second (sic) with his "Media Fusion" snake oil.

    The idea of sending information via the electrical grid, rather than over telephone copper or fiber-optic cable, has been around for decades. The field, known as power line communications, or PLC, is pockmarked with wasted investments and technical failures. Only within the past few months have several companies begun to deploy limited PLC ventures.

    [...] Stewart, however, had a much grander vision, based on what he considered to be a dramatic discovery: Data could hitch a ride on the magnetic field created by electric currents running through power line wires. By piggybacking on this magnetic field, instead of on the electricity itself, he could obtain almost limitless speeds of transmission.

    [...] Media Fusion promised to deliver, within two years, bandwidth at speeds thousands of times faster than what's possible with fiber. Stewart was company chair, while the board of directors included government heavyweights such as former Speaker of the House Robert Livingston; Terry McAullife, a leading Democratic fund-raiser and close friend of then-President Clinton; and Admiral James Carey, former chair of the Federal Maritime Commission. The firm's Web site declared that the ASCM technology would "impact every facet of our life," and the computing power of the network would be "exponentially more powerful than any supercomputer to date." [emphasis added]

    This scam and those billions gigabits per second was the only reason why "broadband over power lines" has been ever considered in the first place. See these links [slashdot.org] for sources and much more informative details and background.

    • Link (Score:5, Informative)

      by Pan T. Hose (707794) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:03PM (#9479277) Homepage Journal

      I have found a direct link to the article I was quoting [slashdot.org] in my previous post, The Electric Kool-Aid Bandwidth Test [wired.com] by Evan Ratliff. It is long but very interesting and enlightening. True eye opener. Enjoy.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      The fatal problem is the wire, if the power company connects those BPL devices with COAX CABLE
      or Optical Fiber, their bandwidth increases and interference GOES AWAY. The reason this solution has not been adopted is 100% political, like the rest of this mess.

      The facts:

      The problem with BPL *is the wire part*

      * The wire severely limits broadband throughput.
      * The wire acts like an antenna, disrupting other services.
      * The wire reduces the range between repeaters, killing economy of service.
      * The wire acts like
      • Because the only justification the power companies have for joining the internet services market is that they have those wires going everywhere.

        How can anybody reasonable claim this to be true?

        What the power companies have that should be invaluable in joining the internet services market is a right-of-way for cables. They should be able to run a strand or fifty of coax on the same poles they run AC power across. It means additional wires on the pole, but the poles are in place, wires are already routed
    • by EssTiDee (784920)
      In case anyone is extra curious here, Luke Stewart and his "Media Fusion" idea have gone belly up since then; http://www.bizjournals.com/dallas/stories/2004/03/ 22/story5.html Company is defunct, and he is under federal indictment for money laundering and wire fraud. Still swears his idea will work though :-P
      • In case anyone is extra curious here, Luke Stewart and his "Media Fusion" idea have gone belly up since then; http://www.bizjournals.com/dallas/stories/2004/03/ 22/story5.html Company is defunct, and he is under federal indictment for money laundering and wire fraud. Still swears his idea will work though :-P

        This is a great article. (But Score:0? Moderators are obviously on crack again.) Please let me quote few relevant fragments. Media Fusion founders named in suit [bizjournals.com] by Jeff Bounds from the March 1

  • highspeed over HF (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bishop (4500) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @05:52PM (#9479526)
    Provideing a highspeed network to a rural area is a hard problem. There are few customers to offset the operating expenses.

    A local start-up was working on a highspeed network for rural areas. It used HF in a licenced band so interferance would not have been an issue. Because the system used HF one tower could cover quite a large area. The speeds were not lightning fast but were faster then modems. I believe the project goal was just a little faster then sattelite.

    Unfortunately the project was killed for two reasons. The first was patents. There are some (arguably obvious) patents that cover highspeed networks over HF. The patents owners were not interested in developing the technology themselves, rather they wanted to charge exhorbitant fees to licence the patents. Given enough money this issue could have been resolved, but when coupled with the second problem project was canceled. The second problem was lack of a market.

    From the start the system was designed to serve sparsely populated rural areas. This system could not compete with DSL, cable or 802.11 based systems. The bandwidth was slower, and more the system was more expensive. The setup costs were high as a client station needed a good HF transciever and antenna. The service fees were high as the base stations were designed to only handle a few customers. The system had to be heavily optimized for rural areas in order to achieve the large distances required. The optimizations were such that it could not even be scaled back to compete in the quasi-rural suburban environments. The system was expensive. While an end customer might be willing to pay $1000 to setup a station, plus $100/month for highspeed no provider was willing to take the risk when a base tower could easily cost $100k just to install.

    I suspect that highspeed of power lines is going to face similar challenges and suffer the same fate. The setup costs are deffinately lower, but the system is still faced with some of the same technical problems. Long distances cause more noise, which lowers bandwidth, which reduce the number of customers on a given segment. With fewer customers there is less chance of a profit.
  • I'm against it... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zogger (617870)
    ...for now, and I live out in the stix and don't have broadband,and I have certainly whined about it enough, but I STILL don't want anything that will mess up the radios. No SUH. I look at my radios as my ultimate backup communications tool. The telcos can go down, the internet can go down, the TV stations off air, cells can be jammed up-and I still have communication, and it's both ways commo if I want it. And you can get information in real time, from a variety of places all over the planet, with any norm
  • A bit ironic that you need a broadband connection to see the video from ARRL - isn't it. I think the ARRL and older hams are just angry about the Internet drawing people from amateur radio and are not getting the picture of how the Internet can be used to encourage more people into the hobby. ie. Repeater relays via the net, IP packet over radio, etc. Hey give up your morse code paddles and step into 2004. (It's also time to ditch the code requirement). Nathan Smith, KC8MTQ nathanmsmith.com [nathanmsmith.com]
  • NTIA Study on BPL (Score:3, Informative)

    by Goody (23843) on Sunday June 20, 2004 @08:03PM (#9480091) Journal
    For more information on the problems with BPL than you'd ever want, read the NTIA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Comments [doc.gov] and the Phase One Study [doc.gov].

  • by TrentL (761772)
    ignore

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