Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A New Kind of Internet Service

My plans to finish my Christmas baking on Saturday scurried away from me, and I was still baking yesterday morning. That meant I was packing cookies and breads in gift boxes yesterday afternoon while listening to the early news. Because I needed to get to the post office before it closed, I was more focused on my task than I was on the television. It was some seconds before the news anchor's words sank in. When they finally did, I stopped what I was doing and headed for my laptop to check on what I thought I'd heard.

A little background first. I live in north Texas, which means I live in one of the hundreds of small towns within an hour of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Little towns like mine are strung up and down the Texas highways like pearls on a strand of wire.

In 1999, Texas passed legislation to deregulate electric utilities and provide for a competitive environment. Texans can now choose among a half dozen electric providers. Because I live in a forest where power outages occur every time a tree branch falls somewhere in my neighborhood's grid, I've chosen to stay with my original provider, TXU Electric. They generally restore the power within an hour of my call, and I've been unwilling to test a new provider's reliability.

This was the announcement I'd heard (directly from a TXU press release): "TXU Electric Delivery, the nation's sixth largest electric transmission and distribution company and a subsidiary of TXU Corp., and Current Communications Group, LLC, the nation's leading provider of broadband over power line (BPL) solutions, today announced an agreement to transform TXU Electric Delivery's power distribution network into the nation's first broadcast-enabled Smart Grid."

There was the expected yadda yadda about how a Smart Grid would increase network reliability and power quality and restore consumer outages more effectively before they got down to business with the following:

"Current will leverage the same BPL network to provide homes and businesses high-performance broadband and wireless services, including the 'triple play' of voice, video and high-speed Internet access delivered over existing electrical lines by simply plugging into any home outlet . . . TXU Electric Delivery and Current expect to begin deploying the BPL network in 2006."

Hello? Broadband-over-power-line?

Over the past year, I've watched as cities across the U.S. made plans to create metropolitan area networks (MANs). As the name implies, MANs are city-wide computer networks as opposed to local area networks (LANs), which are usually limited to a building or a group of buildings like a campus. Recently, cities as large as San Francisco and Philadelphia have begun planning a blanket Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) system, offering city-wide Internet access to their citizens. Smaller towns like Tempe, Arizona; Albuquerque, New Mexico and Grand Haven, Michigan are also experimenting with providing Internet Wi-Fi access to their residents.

In the meantime, Internet cafes and coffee houses have sprung up around the country, providing Wi-Fi LAN access to customers. Even some airports now provide Wi-Fi access.

But, nowhere have I encountered BPL before this afternoon. I googled the term and was directed to a Wikipedia entry as follows: "Power line communication (PLC), also called Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) or Power Line Telecoms (PLT), is a wireline technology that is able to use the current electricity networks for data and voice transmission."

I will look forward to learning more and passing that information along when I do.


Angelle Trieste said...


I heard of this when I was still in college, in 2000 or 2001 I think. At that time, the thought was that using electricity, you can wire and control the appliances at home -- for example, you can time a washer to run at 7am on Saturday, so that when it's finished you can move the load to the dryer when you get up. Then there were talks of putting the entire house on the net using the power outlets. At that time, many people were skeptical because they didn't think it could be done. But it looks like it's a real option for people now...at least to get their Internet service that way. :)

Karen said...

I'm just a little-bit-much jealous. Let us know when you're on the grid!

For The Trees said...

Looks like you'll be able to get a real charge out of your Internet hookup!!


Maya said...

Angelle, Karen, Forrest: It will be interesting to see what happens with this. I'll let you know.

For The Trees said...

We're very lucky to be alive now. The pace of technological innovation jumps exponentially almost every day, and we're watching our world change before our very eyes.

My grandparents, who courted in Plano and lived in Richardson on Spring Valley Road next to Greenville Avenue, started when they were married in a horse and buggy and using a wood stove with a kerosene lantern to see by. And they saw the TV showing the first Moon landing. What an amazing leap forward!

And now we're seeing connections change as fast as a rocket ship flies. Is it gonna be all wired through the power lines or is it gonna be all wireless through radio frequencies or is it gonna be close to half-n-half? Let's give it five years and see.

WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! I LOVE the wind of change in my face!