With momentum building to adapt the installed base of electrical power lines for Internet and other broadband communications, the IEEE has begun work on a standard to define the nature of the communication channel to be used.
This standard will be a step in helping manufacturers develop the devices to be used in commercializing this approach.
The standard, IEEE P1901, "Standard for Broadband over Power Line Networks: Medium Access Control and Physical Layer Specifications," is designed to make it easier for high-speed communication equipment to be used with AC power lines. It is targeted for completion in early 2007.
IEEE P1901 will apply to broadband-over-power-line (BPL) devices for first-mile/last-mile connection to broadband services, as well as those for the local area networks and other data distribution systems to function over copper power lines in a building. The standard will seek to create a balanced and efficient BPL channel that has the bandwidth and quality of service needed by all users.
"The ability to transmit digital data over power lines from substations to homes and offices is attracting attention because it can transform wall outlets into Internet portals," says Jim Mollenkopf, co-chairman of the IEEE BPL PHY/MAC Working Group. "This approach resolves the tough task of linking long-distance fiber optic cables to individual computers and should make use of the Internet even more universal than it now is. If BPL is to become widespread, there is a need for a robust standard that supports the use of many types of BPL devices. Our intent is for IEEE P1901 to be that standard."
Jean-Philippe Faure, the other working group co-chairman, says BPL communications involves an open media able to be shared by many devices.
"The physical and medium access layers to be defined in the new standard will ensure that BPL devices operating on the same network will be able to coexist without conflict," says Faure. "It also will allow for interoperability among BPL devices from different vendors so end users can create viable systems according to their needs."
In access BPL systems, communication signals are imposed on electrical distribution feeders and travel over medium-voltage lines to the step-down transformer at a residence or business. A repeater/router extracts the signal and places it on the low-voltage wiring where it can be accessed through a modem plugged into any outlet. BPL also allows
utilities to deploy devices that can make electric service more efficient and reliable by monitoring system problems and performance.
The member organizations of the BPL PHY/MAC Working Group developing the standard are drawn from the utility, Internet service provider, BPL equipment producer and other communities.
The IEEE is based in Piscataway, NJ. For more information visit www.ieee.org.