Broadband over Power Line: More Non-News

  2005-10-20


Wired just ran an article on BPL (Broadband over Power Line) that really sums up nicely what I’ve been reading elsewhere.

But that’s just it: It’s the same news I’ve been reading elsewhere. Cincinnati and Manassas, Virginia (a DC suburb) get mentioned over and over in tons of articles as being examples of what BPL is going to bring to the masses.

The Wired article offers some interesting insights into the Manassas deployment, but doesn’t explain what these facts mean:

In Manassas, 700 households are already using BPL, and another 500 customers have signed up for the service …

Manassas has a population of 37,615 (in 2004), meaning 1.8% of homes use BPL. Once they get the 500 people (who have been left waiting for some unknown reason) signed up they’ll be up to a whopping 3.1%. And this is after 2 years of deployment. About 33% of the households in the US have broadband, so if BPL is really a competitive technology, why hasn’t it grabbed more market share?

Also, you’ll notice in the article I just quoted from ComputerWorld, back in March the VP of the company providing BPL to Manassas said there are 200 residents signed up and 1,300 on waiting lists. That article was written on March 14, 2005, so in over 6 months COMTek has only managed to get 400 more people hooked up while losing 400 more potential customers? This does not seem like good news.

The substations are connected to the net by city-owned fiber-optic cables.

This seemingly innocuous line actually reveals a lot about why BPL has worked at all: Manassas already had fiber optic rolled out and waiting as the ComputerWorld story points out.

Manassas Public Works had about 30 miles of fiber-optic wiring installed throughout the city before the BPL deployment began,

Lots of municipalities rolled out fiber in the late 90’s because, come on, the Internet! It’s like totally awesome and stuff. Lots of municipalities also lost their shirts when people didn’t come flocking to buy up this dark fiber.

So basically Manassas could more or less give away this fiber because it was probably sitting unused anyway.

Cable and DSL providers don’t need to worry about BPL anytime soon.