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Broadband-over-Powerline Experiences?

Cliff posted more than 10 years ago | from the better-broadband-than-no-band dept.

Communications 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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Reliability? yeah right... (3, Insightful)

pio!pio! (170895) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063177)

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.

Re:Reliability? yeah right... (2, Insightful)

mark_lybarger (199098) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063357)

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 already have incredible redundancy built into their network. raid drives, server cluster/farms, etc, etc.

my phone service doesn't go down because i'm making a call that would normally go through a specific area's router that happens to be down (unless that router is my first hop out to the rest of the world). my call gets rerouted to other phone routers and gets to the destination.

tech support, is that like, i'm not getting an ip address, can you help me? i would guess that new technologies have extra tech support avail untill the number of customers start to exceed what staff is available. they want to get the people trained at a reasonable pace while they can. but that's all speculation on my part.

Re:Reliability? yeah right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10063924)

umm yeah... just because they've got redundancy doesn't mean it'll work. major things like mobile phone systems have screwed up for large areas and it was because that million in one chance of this happening followed by that happening turns out not to be that unlikely in the end.

same with ISP servers. if the radius server cluster borks for some reason e.g. they applied some upgrade to the servers then you're not gonna be able to login. or say one of their client facing routers developed a fault.

Re:Reliability? yeah right... (1)

pio!pio! (170895) | more than 9 years ago | (#10065208)

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

Re:Reliability? yeah right... (2, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 9 years ago | (#10065305)

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.

Re:Reliability? yeah right... (1)

macdaddy357 (582412) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063446)

I tried that F%*@ing broadband over powerlines, and my computer A-sploded! This sucks!

Also when they bag the whole idea (4, Insightful)

n1ywb (555767) | more than 9 years ago | (#10073493)

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? (4, Interesting)

OneDeeTenTee (780300) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.)

Re:How is this legal? (4, Interesting)

Student_Tech (66719) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063241)

From what I understand, it isn't so much a specific interferance as just a raising of the static noise so that signals which would have been receivable before fade into the noise.

Re:How is this legal? (1)

OneDeeTenTee (780300) | more than 10 years ago | (#10076529)

So this will be increasing the "noise" part of the singal-to-noise ratio?

Re:How is this legal? (1)

Alan Shield (63455) | more than 10 years ago | (#10097889)

Check out the ARRL home page, they have a link to some BPL info and some video from around various cities with BPL.
It can get *really* bad, bad enough to block out the WWV time signal, which is a 10kW signal. Ham power limits are set at 1.5kW, but most hams transmit 5-100W signals.

Re:How is this legal? (1)

Alan Shield (63455) | more than 10 years ago | (#10097915)

oops, forgot the link:
ARRL link []

Re:How is this legal? (1)

Ice Station Zebra (18124) | more than 10 years ago | (#10085211)

I think it is something like 30 microvolts/m. It is actually really small and they don't want it to extend beyond 30 feet (or was it meters) lol. What they forget is that hams have receivers are sensitive to ver small signals on the order of .15 microvolts. Not exact but that will give you an idea that 30 microvolts is LOUD. I'm going to be listening this winter when the atmospheric noise is very low and I'll bet I'll be able to hear some BPL signals. (If the shit is still on).

Dickweed! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10063236)


300-500 kbps (2)

winsk (117756) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063274)

holy crap, that's not a typo. They're really calling this broadband?

Re:300-500 kbps (1)

Student_Tech (66719) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063306)

I think broadband just means it uses more bandwidth for the signal (as opposed to a normal telephone modem which is narrowband)

Re:300-500 kbps (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 9 years ago | (#10069508)

They call my 128kbps up 768 kbps down DSL line broadband- broadband seems to be anything that exceeds the 56.6kbaud narrowband.

Re:300-500 kbps (1)

CamTarn (751785) | more than 10 years ago | (#10075811)

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!"...

Re:300-500 kbps (1)

mikeage (119105) | more than 10 years ago | (#10076387)

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.

you think that's bad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10085585)

you think that's bad? i go to uw-oshkosh and was checking out dsl providers around the area: []

fucking $550 in lame "setup fees" and $40 a month for _384kbps_! i'd like to see the dumbasses that are signed up for that when cable is available at 1.5-3Mbps for the same price or just a bit more (and none of that setup fee shit). jesus.

before you rip open the "yeah but does anybody actually live in wisconsin" jokes - yes, cable is available almost everywhere i've been.

Check the availability of cable first (4, Informative)

seinman (463076) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063300)

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.

Re:Check the availability of cable first (1)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 9 years ago | (#10063996)

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)

Re:Check the availability of cable first (1)

Grab (126025) | more than 9 years ago | (#10065874)

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.


Re:Check the availability of cable first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10078714)

Here in Montréal (Canada), i have 4.5mbps down, 1mbps up, no monthly throughput limits, for $49.95/month (CAD) a month. I guess the definition of broadband service is different the world over. :)

Re:Check the availability of cable first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10096437)

If you don't have a telephone line or cable TV and you just want to connect to the internet it's a good alternative. I wish I had the option in my apartment because any other solution will cost me $50 per month. I'd rather be paying $20-$30 for something relatively comparable. I can't even get a dialup connection without paying $30 up the ass to my local teleco for a telephone I won't ever use since I have cellular.

Bleeding Edge (5, Insightful)

rhettoric (772376) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063356)

"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.

An alternative to DSL or Cable? (2, Insightful)

WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063399)

"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.

Re:An alternative to DSL or Cable? (1)

E_elven (600520) | more than 9 years ago | (#10064327)

I've got it, it's working fine. The company that offers the service here starts from a fairly reasonable 1Mbps for $29.95 per month. DSL is obviously slower and I find that the average speed is much higher (a nearly constant 450kbps) than the local TimeWarner 1.5Mbps (real speed maxing around 400kbps) -and there's no six-o-clock slowdown.

Re:An alternative to DSL or Cable? (1)

ran-o-matic (667054) | more than 10 years ago | (#10077005)

You must live in a place with really fast DSL and Cable.

Re:An alternative to DSL or Cable? (1)

WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) | more than 10 years ago | (#10083120)

Western side of MASS. Back in 2001, we were going to be "The Next Tech Valley." So all this stuff was installed. We've got 1.5mbit DSL to most places, if you've got the $ you can get 6mbit. We have Adelphia for a cable provider, so that's 3mbit.

Security (1)

keiferb (267153) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063438)

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.


Re:Security (1)

computer_chacham (111723) | more than 9 years ago | (#10064830)

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.

Re:Security (1)

Amadodd (620353) | more than 9 years ago | (#10066354)

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.

Re:Security (0)

keiferb (267153) | more than 9 years ago | (#10068657)

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 (2, Insightful)

lizrd (69275) | more than 9 years ago | (#10071102)


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.

Re:Security (1)

ibaboon (582611) | more than 10 years ago | (#10077524)

Bust out the MAC cloner

Re:Security (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10096525)

I think someone needs to point out the obvious here. If you are sending information over the internet over any kind of medium it can be intercepted. If you want to be "secure" you need to be sending your information over SSL or connect through a VPN --- even over cable, DSL, dialup, BPN, fiber optic, satellite, microwave transmitter, infrared, (you get the point here I hope). Your information makes many, dozens even, of stops at insecure servers and routers through various networks all or which can be snooped by connected machines. And these servers may even be recording your data themselves if they are designed to do so or are compromised by a malicious attacker to do so.

Now, hold on to your tinfoil hat, because even when you encrypt all network data the information can be (gasp!) stolen either before it gets encrypted on your machine if your computer has been compromised (virus, haxed) or when it is decrypted at the destination if the server is ever compromised or (believe it or not) stolen or sold.

I think the proper analogy used by security experts is a armored car driving between two men doing business out of a cardboard boxes on a park benchs. Which are you going to try and break? The armored car? Or kick over the dude's box in the park and take his money? (For the unimaginative, the dude is your Windoze or Linsux computer and the armored car is 128/256-bit network encryption).

I would not do such things if I were you (2, Informative)

ElForesto (763160) | more than 10 years ago | (#10063496)

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*

Re:I would not do such things if I were you (1)

Kris_J (10111) | more than 9 years ago | (#10063885)

Anyway, have any of you used BPL, and is it something I should try rather than getting a DSL or Cable connection?
I would be very cautious about being an early adopter of this unproven technology.
You've used it then? Or are you just giving a generic answer to a specific question?

Re:I would not do such things if I were you (1)

ElForesto (763160) | more than 9 years ago | (#10064240)

Sorry about that! Yes, I should have qualified that by saying that I have not used the service. *gives himself a "Think before posting" sticker*

Re:I would not do such things if I were you (1)

Grab (126025) | more than 9 years ago | (#10065879)

And if power goes out, you're going to be running your desktop how, exactly? Or have you sprung for a UPS?


Re:I would not do such things if I were you (1)

ElForesto (763160) | more than 9 years ago | (#10069946)

I still need to spring for a half-decent UPS at home. Here at the office, however, we have this monster UPS from PowerLine that provides several hours of backup battery for our critical systems. We've also considered augmenting it with a generator. Of course, an Internet connection is a moot point if Cox's equipment isn't also on backup power.

Re:I would not do such things if I were you (1)

ibaboon (582611) | more than 10 years ago | (#10077552)

hahaha bingo

Max Power (2, Insightful)

BladeMelbourne (518866) | more than 10 years ago | (#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 ;-)

Re:Max Power (1)

name773 (696972) | more than 9 years ago | (#10063934)

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...

Hey... (1)

Bob Cat - NYMPHS (313647) | more than 9 years ago | (#10063890)

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.)

Not just the HAM guys... (4, Interesting)

gus goose (306978) | more than 9 years ago | (#10064172)

... 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.


Re:Not just the HAM guys... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10102193)

Isn't it kind of a bad idea to be flying small aircraft near a powerline anyways?

Radio Interference (5, Informative)

tiny69 (34486) | more than 9 years ago | (#10064292) - 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....

Re:Radio Interference (1)

niff (175639) | more than 9 years ago | (#10065559)

"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?

Re:Radio Interference (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 9 years ago | (#10072069)

"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 with sparky brushes while listening to AM radio?) Then all microwave ovens. Then the 50 kilo-watt AM radio station down the road. Don't forget to get rid of all the aircraft radios and aircraft naviagation beacons.

Sure if you get rid of every electrical device except incandescent light bulbs (without dimmers and no flourescents of course) then BPL works great.

Re:Radio Interference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10096631)

Uhh... no

That is incorrect, sir. A HAM radio has relatively zero power compared with what is being forced down a power line. Remember, the signal leaking off a power line is doing so because it is powerful, not because it is designed to do so. The signal off a radio tower is coming off it because it is carefully designed to spread out a weak signal as thinly as possible.

You're missing one point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10096665)

The FCC can rearrange the spectrum to make way to BPL if it wants to. Don't forget that is the purpose of the FCC to regulate communications.

I would not be surprised if they moved all the complainers on to the old TV spectrum and made way for a BPL spectrum.

Wah, wah, I can't do my remote control air plane. Response: Get a different frequency transmitter, the FCC doesn't give a fuck.

well. (3, Interesting)

itzdandy (183397) | more than 9 years ago | (#10065670)

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?

Supplement, not replace (1)

Webmoth (75878) | more than 10 years ago | (#10085805)

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 to warrant installation.

Even so, I see wireless IP as an up-and-coming alternative to BPL that promises greater bandwidth at lower cost. Such as what these guys [] are doing.

Re:Supplement, not replace (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10096688)

I always find it humorous to see how some people's alternative to BPL, to which the only complaint is HAM radio interference, is a technology which purposefully fills the airwaves with electromagnetic signals.
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