Broadband Over Power Lines Gets Attention

The ability to send high-speed digital data over the power lines between substations and homes and offices is attracting increasing attention because it can make every wall outlet a portal to theInternet. In seeking to help realize this potential, the IEEE has begun to develop IEEE P1675(TM), “Standard for Broadband over Power Line Hardware.”

When finished, IEEE P1675 will give electric utilities a comprehensive standard for installing the required hardware on distribution lines, both underground and overhead, which provide the infrastructure for broadband-over-power-line (BPL) systems. It also will include installation requirements for the protection of those who work on BPL equipment and to ensure such systems do not place the public at risk. The standard is targeted for completion in mid 2006.

“By turning the local power grid into a broadband conduit, we create another option for universal access to the Internet,” says Terrence Burns, Chair of the IEEE BPL Standards Working Group. “This technology offers a neat solution to the ‘last-mile’ quandary of how to bring information from long-distance fiber optic cables to individual computers without investing in costly infrastructure.

“Nearly all electrical utilities are exploring BPL because the potential benefits are so substantial. Power companies face a number of issues in doing this, for example, how to assess the performance and safety of repeaters/routers, medium- and low-voltage coupling hardware, and other equipment before buying. Other issues include how best to put this equipment in place and how to keep the overall system operating well and prevent it from interfering with power delivery. The new standard will help them deal with these concerns.”

Adding broadband capability to a local power distribution system is relatively straightforward. A computer-router combination and a coupler take the signal from an optical fiber cable as it enters a substation and imposes it on the electric current. The signal travels over the medium-voltage lines, with repeaters placed every 0.5 to 1 mile to keep the signal viable.

A repeater/router near a residence or business extracts the signal off the medium voltage just before the transformer and injects it onto the low-voltage wiring on the other side of the transformer. The signal is now on all of the low voltage wiring within the structure and can be accessed at any outlet by plugging in a modem.

Anyone from the utility, Internet service provider and BPL equipment sectors who wants to help develop this standard is invited to join the IEEE 1675 Working Group. For more information on this standard and its working group, visit http//

IEEE 1675 is sponsored by the IEEE Power Engineering Society, Power System Communications Committee.