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Broadband-over-Powerline Experiences? 56

tarp asks: "I'm moving to the City of Manassas, Virginia, where ZPlug offers BPL (Broadband over Power Lines). The city was the first in the nation to offer BPL as an alternative to DSL or Cable. They claim a 300 to 500 kilobit per second connection speed, and rock-solid performance since the only downtime would be when the power grid goes down. BPL is also rolling out in other locations, despite campaigns by amateur radio enthusiasts to stop it due to interference. Anyway, have any of you used BPL, and is it something I should try rather than getting a DSL or Cable connection?"
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Broadband-over-Powerline Experiences?

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  • by pio!pio! ( 170895 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2004 @09:19PM (#10063177) Journal
    It's not only when the power lines go down..but when their servers fail. They lull you into a sense of security because you think "oh it should never go down because my power never goes down"

    Plus it's relatively new technology. I bet there will be horrible times if you ever need to call tech support.
    • from someone who doesn't seem to have tried the technology you sound like a credible source. it's something i'd be willing to give a try (assuming good feed back from those who have actually use the tech) if i were to decide to give up cable tv as well.

      from what i've experienced, cable service doesn't go down because the servers go down. it goes down because something cut a line somewhere. if it's a server, they would be able to swap it out instantly. if they have any kind of a data center, they alrea
      • I've had my cable modem go down as well as DSL go down for several days because the server was configured incorrectly and everyone in tech support assumed it was on my end and my fault. It sucks, I am jaded
      • There are so many ways for your connection to the internet to be disrupted which don't involve the power grid going down.

        The power company has to connect to the rest of the internet somewhere right? So think of how that could fail.

        The power company probably puts lots of equipment in the same server room. What if both redundant air conditioners go down?

        What if an admin screws up with their BGP?

        So the statement that implies downtime only when power grid goes down is really stupid.
    • I tried that F%*@ing broadband over powerlines, and my computer A-sploded! This sucks!
    • by n1ywb ( 555767 ) on Wednesday August 25, 2004 @07:13PM (#10073493) Homepage Journal
      BPL test areas are starting to get shut down left and right as interference complaints and excesive radiated power measurements start rolling in. Don't say f-you to your cable company yet.
  • How is this legal? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OneDeeTenTee ( 780300 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2004 @09:25PM (#10063206)
    If it is causing so much interferance I would hope that it would be easy to stop or moderate.

    How strong is the interferance?

    How far from the power lines does it extend? (Of course power lines are everywhere, so even a 10 meter wide stretch of interferance would be significant.)
  • holy crap, that's not a typo. They're really calling this broadband?
    • I think broadband just means it uses more bandwidth for the signal (as opposed to a normal telephone modem which is narrowband)
    • They call my 128kbps up 768 kbps down DSL line broadband- broadband seems to be anything that exceeds the 56.6kbaud narrowband.
      • Heh. Here in the UK a 128kbps/64kbps cable connection counts as broadband... yay for government redefining the term so they can say "We've ensured over 75% available broadband coverage for the UK!"...
      • Broadband from bezeq in Israel (*shudder*.. they make me wish I was back on Verizon) starts at 256Kbps down. Most people have either 500 or 750 down, with 96Kbps up.
  • by seinman ( 463076 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2004 @09:40PM (#10063300) Homepage Journal
    Is 500k really that fast nowadays? I don't know about your city specifically, but Cox seems to cover most of the state for cable (i'm from Norfolk myself) and they recently upgraded their regular service to 4mbps down, 512kbps up... I think we're paying $40 a month for that, $50 if you don't subscribe to cable. So unless ZPlug is really freakin' cheap, i'd say you're getting ripped off.
    • Some areas of the cox network are only 1024/128 and they chage 16.50 if you don't have cable in those areas.

      They also lag to hell sometimes. (like tonight)
    • It is if you're on dial-up, like most people are. And the whole point of broadband over powerlines is that it *is* cheap - there's no enormous investment in cabling to pay back, no maintenance of cables required, no digging up the street. All you need to cover is costs of installing servers and keeping stuff running, plus some profit. They can undercut cable companies by orders of magnitude.

  • Bleeding Edge (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rhettoric ( 772376 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2004 @09:46PM (#10063356) Homepage
    "If you're not on the edge you're taking up too much space!"

    That might be applicable for surfing, but anyone who has is a chronic early-adopter has been burned by New-Amazing-Technology(tm) time and time again (My father is one of these, he's purchased betamax machines, laserdisc players, Newtons, eBooks, etc.).

    Unless there is a truly compelling reason to go with the new, different technology (i.e. it's either this or 56k, or its marginally cheaper), stick with what works.

    I would write more, but my Commodore-64 is acting up.
  • by WhatAmIDoingHere ( 742870 ) <> on Tuesday August 24, 2004 @09:52PM (#10063399) Homepage
    "They claim a 300 to 500 kilobit per second"

    How can that compare to the 2-6Mbit of DSL or the ~3Mbit of Cable?

    Plus it makes the radio enthusiasts pretty pissed off.

    I'd stick with what's been tested. For now, at least.
  • I spoke with one of the more technically versed sales reps for the roll-out here in eastern PA, and they assured me it was secure because they "only allow certain mac addresses to connect". No WPA, not even WEP. All in all, fairly disappointing. I'll have to get -much- more sick of my one-way cable modem to consider switching.

    • What does WPA or WEP have to do with this? Those are wireless security standards. BPA is Broadband over powerlines into your home. Still wires. AS for cable modems...DOCSIS 1.0 security is pretty weak, DOCSIS 1.1 security is better, but many providers don't turn it on at all, which makes you quite vulnerable to anyone with a hacked cable modem.
      • What stops a neferious neighbour from plugging in and snooping your packets? Certainly not the fact that the network does not authenticate his MAC address. Not having an encryption standard, or having one and not implementing it, sounds like a severe shortcoming to me. Will definately put me off the technology altogether.
      • The implementation in this area runs to a box on a utility pole outside. That box is a wireless AP. You can't plug directly into it, you need to have an 802.11b-compatible wireless adapter in your computer or home access point. Thus, WPA or even WEP would be very nice things to have.

        • Re:Security (Score:3, Insightful)

          by lizrd ( 69275 )

          Once you send your data to that box on the pole it is on an untrusted network. You don't know what is going to happen to it or who can look at it so it really doesn't matter if it is encrypted or not.

          The main reason you would want to use some sort of encryption in this scenerio is for access control. If the ISP thinks that MAC authenticaiton (which is exceedingly weak) is sufficient to keep too many people from using the service without paying, then it's probably good enough.

  • I would be very cautious about being an early adopter of this unproven technology. The equipment is first gen, the service techs are green and the speed doesn't sound very impressive. If that's all that's available, then I'd make sure I didn't get locked into a contract if I were you.

    I went to DSL Reports [] and they don't even list it as a category yet, FYI.

    I should also note that while the power grid is still pretty sturdy, this speaks nothing of equipment failures, and it would seem that power goes out more often than land-line phone service or cable from what I've seen. Of course, I'm basing this on Las Vegas where most of the lines are below-ground, so your results may vary.

    It all boils down to this: are you willing to accept the headaches of this new technology, and is the price/performance compelling enough to warrant that risk? Of course, I think this applies to all new technology. *has flashbacks of the "bad old days" of cable modems*

  • Max Power (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BladeMelbourne ( 518866 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2004 @10:43PM (#10063796)
    rock-solid performance since the only downtime would be when the power grid goes down

    Unless you have UPS, a generator or are using a notebook, that shouldn't be a problem as your desktop PC wouldn't be working either ;-)

    • wouldn't only apply to cut lines, not generator failure (i.e. the northeast outage)?
      of course, the servers would most likely go down in that case too...
  • for $15 per month, it's a bargain.


    What are they charging in actuality? THAT is the question.

    (I can get DSL faster than that your BoP for $27/mo here, and right now I'm sitting in a bar with free wireless and $2 Guinness. Bargain hunt, fella.)
  • by gus goose ( 306978 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2004 @11:32PM (#10064172) Journal
    ... for the record, those of us flying Remote Controlled aircraft are gravely concerned about the potential impact (no puns intended). We use 72Mhz Transmitters, and the harmonics and other stuff I don't understand are apparently causing significant control issues with our aircraft.

  • Radio Interference (Score:5, Informative)

    by tiny69 ( 34486 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2004 @11:54PM (#10064292) Homepage Journal - This site makes it sound like there is not much future in BPL. - A couple of MP3's of the interference. e/ - FEMA, which has a lot more influence that the ARRL, is siding againt BPL.

    Any wire can act as antenna. Power lines by themselves give off a signal. But because power lines are not perfect antennas, efforts to limit any interference caused by BPL will not be 100% effective. What will kill BPL is if it's starts interfering with emergancy services (FEMA) or consumer products.

    Personally, I'd be more concerned about the privacy issues. Any data on the power lines is essentially being transmitted to anyone with a radio who happens to be able to pick up the signal. Spread spectrum technology would help with privacy concerns.

    This sounds like a fun project, sniffing traffic from power lines....
    • "Personally, I'd be more concerned about the privacy issues. Any data on the power lines is essentially being transmitted to anyone with a radio who happens to be able to pick up the signal. "

      What do you think that happens with your cell phone for example?
    • "Any wire can act as antenna."

      You are forgetting, it works both ways.

      So when my hamradio friend keys up his perfectly legal 1500 watt sideband station his signal will leak into the BPL system as much as their intereference leaks out... So not only does BPL ruin his hobby, his hobby will ruin BPL for the whole city (!).

      Sure you can legislate ham radio into non-existance. One service down a hundred to go. Then you gotta get rid of all CB linear amps. Then all the power tools (ever fire up an old drill w
  • well. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by itzdandy ( 183397 ) <dandenson AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday August 25, 2004 @04:06AM (#10065670) Homepage
    unless, BoP systems can obliterate cable or DSL in price-to-performance, why even do it? sure it's a proof of concept and that the technology works, but is it worth it?

    from what i have read, BoP adds a fair amount of 'white noise' that causes ham radioers and 802.11x users a bit of trouble. These users must boost their signal to compensate and that lowers speed or quality of signal or completely destroys it if the signal were fairly weak in the first place.

    I can see how the system would be usefull for those outside cable and DSL grids like rural areas of the US's northwest(montana, wyoming, dakotas) where the distance is too great for the current standards BUT does BoP extend into these areas?
  • As I see it, BPL (or BoP if you prefer) in its current incarnation is not a valid alternative to cable or DSL if those are available in your area. Where BPL will shine is in rural areas where cable and DSL don't reach; in these locales the BPL can take advantage of the already existing infrastructure. To install cable or DSL in these areas would require enormous expense; the cost-per-customer (that is, the cost to implement per customer served, not the cost the customer ultimately pays) is too prohibitive t

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