BPL home automation services – Analysis

At the BPL Summit in November 2005 we started to talk about a possible third level of broadband infrastructure that could be facilitated by BPL. The interesting thing about this development is that it pretty much represents a full circle, back to where BPL (then known as PLC) began back in the 1890s.

In those days PLC was already used to send out low-level telecoms signal to activate or deactivate devices along the electricity grid. This technology was further developed over the last century, and is used, for example, for the off-peak hot water services that most electricity companies nowadays offer their customers.

During the 1960s and 1970s this concept was developed further, under the label ‘Demand Side Management’. All the reports we wrote on this topic during the 1980s and 1990s were classified under that name, not PLC.

BPL began to arrive in the late 1990s. Deregulation of the electricity and telco markets saw companies looking at each other’s markets for new business opportunities. Telstra in Australia, for example, got itself an electricity provider’s licence (it hasn’t done anything with this to date).

Most activities, however, were undertaken by the electricity companies. Given their slow-growing, low margin products, they saw telecoms as a new business opportunity. It quickly became clear that the old narrowband PLC technology was inadequate for new telecoms services, and consequently BPL was developed more or less simultaneously by several vendors operating in this space.

However the development of a new technology like BPL takes time and telcos, in the meantime, are not standing still – most developed countries now have nearly full national coverage with their DSL networks. BPL does offer a superior product, full standardisation is still two years away (2008) and, as with all new technological developments, end-user prices are too high to compete with the telco services. This makes any large-scale BPL roll-out economically unfeasible. It is the age-old chicken and egg situation: ‘give me the large orders and I will produce low-cost equipment‘ vs ‘give me low- cost equipment and I will sell your products in large quantities‘.

So BPL as a broadband access alternative will be first developed in the more easier markets, such as those where there are underground electricity networks

Meanwhile life goes on, and more and more utilities involved in BPL, frustrated by the slow progress of commercially viable products, are being to forced to also look for telecoms solutions for their core business. At the same time they are looking at Demand Side Management services to better manage their network, offer better services to their customers and handle the gigantic increase of electricity demand throughout the world, while managing security issues and the environmental impact of all of that.

Now, the good old PLC products are still around, are selling well, and are often sufficient for the services required from that technology. However, in a more commercial marketplace BPL could add that extra little bit that would allow the utilities to sell extra services. Home automation is opening up a whole new market. Link this with the already highly successful BPL product HomePlug for in-house networking and a whole range of new applications becomes available – applications that don’t require a telecoms-based business model to get them off the ground. Depending on the business model pursued by the utility, Internet broadband access could be included in such a service, or not.

This could well be the BPL utilities model of the future.

Paul Budde

See also:

Global – Broadband Utilities (BPL, PLC)

NewtechnicalBPL reports

These new restructured technical reports provide a lot of insight into how BPL and PLC works. Combined, these are far and away the most detailed reporst in existence on BPL.

These new restructured technical reports provide a lot of insight into how BPL and PLC works. Combined, these are far and away the most detailed reporst in existence on BPL.

These new restructured technical reports provide a lot of insight into how BPL and PLC works. Combined, these are far and away the most detailed reporst in existence on BPL.

Technology – Broadband Power Line 1 – Architecture and Techniques

Technology – Broadband Power Line 2 – Standards and HomePlug PLC

Technology – Broadband Power Line 3 – OPERA, DS2 BPL and Co-Existence

Technology – Broadband Power Line 4 – BPL Access Systems

Technology – Broadband Power Line 5 – Interference and Challenges

Key new sections include:

  • OPERA tech standard and its “white paper”.
  • UPA’s Market Requirements for PLC.
  • UPA’s coexistence document, which OPERA adopts.
  • HomePlug AV “white paper.

We invite your comments: Please click here to comment