"Broadband and advanced communications infrastructure will play an important role in achieving national goals of energy independence and efficiency. Broadband-connected smart homes and businesses will be able to automatically manage lights, thermostats and appliances to simultaneously maximize comfort and minimize customer bills. New companies will emerge to help manage energy use and environmental impact over the Internet, creating industries and jobs. Televisions, computers and other devices in the home will consume just a fraction of the power they use today, drawing energy only when needed. Large data centers, built and managed to leading energy efficiency standards, will be located near affordable and clean energy sources. Finally, broadband connectivity in vehicles will power the next generation of navigation, safety, information and efficiency applications while minimizing driver distraction. Next-generation safety systems will alert drivers to hazards, helping to avoid accidents and saving lives. In the process, broadband and information and communication technologies (ICT) can collectively prevent more than a billion metric tons of carbon emissions per year by 2020.3" - US National Broadband Plan, chapter 12 
Every North American home will require reliable wired connections co-extant with the electric distribution network that is up at least as often as that network is, to have any chance of participating in this economy and resilient community network.
A serious problem in NB is that most rural areas have no megabit low-latency Internet access. The many confusing offers for "high-speed" or "broadband" offered via satellite (very high latency in the hundreds of milliseconds not useful for voice over IP, gaming or remote systems access by professionals) and the universal broadband claims of government have simply not delivered for many people. Satellite services are inherently high latency and useless for voice and gaming.
- 1 why is BPL best for NB?
- 2 BPL
- 3 how it works
- 4 US "right" to access and manage electricity data via broadband
- 5 References
- 6 deploying a rural BPL network
why is BPL best for NB?
While there are several non-satellite wireless alternatives including 900MHz Canopy, point to point 802.11, WiMax and telco 3G+ and 4G, all rely on increasingly crowded spectrum and often (especially for 3G+ and 4G) very high prices per gigabyte - see unlimited data plans for mobile subscribers in the Maritimes. The higher bandwidth (tens to hundreds of megabits) options also rely on line-of-sight connections which may simply not be available in some areas.
In Nova Scotia the universal Rural Broadband initiative relies on 900MHz Canopy which is 0.5 megabits per second upload and 1.5 megabits per second download, with a promised latency below 100 milliseconds and supposedly the ability to work in heavy fog and snowstorms for communications reliable enough to replace wired phone lines with VoIP services. However, Eastlink Cable, which already sells wired phone connections and delivers this service in southwest Nova Scotia, is not putting its own branded local-phone service over those connections - and many similar deployments (such as Washington Island, Wisconsin - see the video link below) had doubts or problems with Canopy and deployed BPL instead and have been very happy with it. A large number of problems have been reported with the NS Canopy deployments, and significant delays. Furthermore, in NS the power company is privatized (NS Power belongs to Emera) so this may have complicated any consideration of BPL deployments which would require their close cooperation.
In New Brunswick where NB Power is in the public's hands and provincial regulators in total control of the power pole access and (indirectly) control the power lines themselves, universal rural BPL could be mandated by a cabinet order in ten minutes. Revenues could pay down NB Power debt, as the typical subscriber who would rely on BPL now pays hundreds of dollars to telcos for 3G ("tethered modem") or wastes many hours of their time on 1990s-class dialup 56K modem "service" or puts up with satellite hassles. These customers would be quite pleased to pay $100/month for services equivalent to wired cable. Given that power companies must deploy smart grid and in future some HAN capabilities anyway (to monitor power use and help their customers manage it, especially under time of use pricing) the incremental cost of serving broadband is very low and accordingly the profit margins very high. These margins can subsidize poor users to conserve power with LED lighting or more efficient appliances, and further reduce the overall need for generation.
The broadband over power line or BPL technologies apply powerline networking to wide area power distribution networks, putting megabits (and potentially eventually gigabits) onto the LV ("low voltage" meaning hundreds of volts not thousands) power lines that run by every NB rural home.
It accordingly requires only routers, bridges, switches and monitoring, and no new wiring or clear lines of sight on the last mile. Because of line of sight issues, for jurisdictions offering genuinely universal broadband there may be no alternative to wired connections on poles, exactly as the original phone and power networks had to do. Further, public right of way is always available to exercise on these lines whether deeds or contracts specify this or not, because the public paid for and used its rights of expropriation and fiat to put these poles through in the first place. No private company nor any one industry has the right to control or limit the use of this right of way for any public service.
The technology has been deployed in many rural areas bypassed by other solutions, especially those that will not be served by multiple strands of expensive fibre optic cable in the forseeable future. Currently in the US IBM and IBEC are aggressively deploying rural BPL to 200,000 homes.
how it works
This diagram shows the technical configuration of a typical high-end BPL shared power/data utility. For more detail on how it would be deployed see below under deploying a rural BPL network
improves public safety, service reliability
The public interest would best be served by integrating safety and security critical services that reach into the home area network (HAN), including utility metering and all emergency monitoring and communication. If nothing else, this lets all such services fall back to the BPL communication if their ordinary communications fail, which is likely the case in a fire, flood, home invasion, etc.. If heavily over-provisioned, this backup network remains available as a "fail-over" also for lower-priority services such as ordinary phone service which are normally provided on less secure lines. A trusted intermediary such as a CLEC could ask for permission to route the trafffic across the high-security network temporarily, on its own account, until its own medium security net can be restored. Using these methods a reliability equivalent to today's wired telco can be reached, or close enough that with redundant cell and Wi-Fi connections, everyone can call anywhere.
cost-effective to deploy
Costs per megabit per home, with outages considered to reduce these numbers disproportionately (like 100x), are certainly less than for any other wired technology and comparable with wireless protocols.
IBEC invites customers to "compare to Cable, DSL and Satellite Services:"
- "While DSL and Cable modem service providers are competing head-to-head in many urban areas, neither is feasible in low density, underserved areas (both rural and urban), where DSL requires significant telephone network upgrades, and cable data is not economically viable. The only broadband choice for many consumers is satellite data service, which does not offer comparable bi-directional data rates and is more costly than any of the wireline services. IBEC's turn-key solution offers superior service, easier deployment, and lower cost than DSL or cable. Uniquely, IBEC's BPL system provides bi-directional data rates that will support VoIP, video, and real time gaming while providing significant internal network value-added services to its utility customers."
These costs should drop significantly as ruggedized BPL equipment integrating multiple standards is deployed in 2010-12. For instance, a single device serving as a multiple-utility (power, water, gas) meter which encodes usage data in ANSI C.12 for routing over an IEEE P1901 and/or G.hn network, with sufficient bandwidth and security features that it can also serve as a gateway for two networks (one high, one medium security) reaching into the home on the existing (electrical service cable and possibly other existing wires) from the poles. And, on the pole, a second device that divides traffic for these two networks, either of which may be dedicated dark fibre, shared lit fibre or powerline networking along LV lines (depending on where transformers are, powerline networking is blocked by these) to a third device, shared for the neighbourhood, which acts as an RTU, switch and signal regenerator. If these latter two devices have power switching capability as well, and are compatible with smart grid standards, they further allow many electrical decisions to be made via the network itself, including temporary shutdowns in situations authorities signal are hazards (that users could over-ride at their own risk).
compatible with in-house technology
The spread of AFCI and GFCI outlets thanks to tougher electrical codes means that outlets will soon have additional electronics that benefit from participation in a home area network or HAN. Apple, Intel and other leaders have announced plans and patented designs for using the "hidden network backbone" consisting of the copper 14/2 and 14/3 wiring inside every modern home.
best way to support DC devices in the home
The consumer would best be served by minimizing the number of total connections and power draw, and reducing the inherent risks associated with AC-only devices such as arc faults, ground faults and electrocution of children. Also, by having a single "backbone" network, that being the AC wiring in the house, and using other wires (cat3 telephone, coax cable, Ethernet) only as absolutely required.
The HAN would use the ITU G.hn protocol inside the home and the broadband over power line technologies for both the smart meter (see smart grid) and the other communications and monitoring needs of the rural home customer. See grid.referata.com for more general and technical references including the way these technologies are deployed outside NB.
Inside the home, devices would communicate via AC wiring with an upgraded form of AC power plug. To connect existing network equipment would require only a BPL device with ethernet jacks, no larger than a typical router today. If any of these jacks support the powered ethernet standard, then other devices can draw up to 30 watts of DC power each from those, obviating any need for a direct AC connection. The total number of devices in the home, the total power draw, and the total number of AC connections, would all go down. Risks of arc faults and need for AFCI outlets would be less, because AC power would be carried to fewer points in the room, and remain concentrated in the walls.
The Atheros AR7400 and Gigle 551 chip sets announced in 2010 each can support up to 500 megabits on the PHY (physical wiring) layer of home wiring using the IEEE 1901 protocol and ITU G.hn which also runs over existing co-axial and telephone wire. The same chips handle Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n including the 802.21 and 802.11u public access and "roaming" protocols. So either of these chipsets in a smart meter would let them operate as a secure home gateway and router, and implement exactly the secure functionality that the US National Broadband Plan mandates:
US "right" to access and manage electricity data via broadband
The US National Broadband Plan has extremely clear energy and environment goals which are seen as strategic by many commentators on the climate issue. The official list of the top six goals of the program include the following:
- Goal 6: To ensure that America leads in the clean energy economy, every American should be able to use broadband to track and manage their real-time energy consumption.
Obviously, if "every American" has this right, then the power distributor must provide broadband if there is no other connection. And it must be sufficiently low-latency to track "real-time" usage which would seem to preclude satellite connections. Privacy and reliability concerns probably preclude wireless as an option for this purpose too. A connection that is up at least as often as the power line itself is, would seem to be required, which would seem to mandate the use of BPL.
The goals also state that "at least 1 Gbps (1000 megabits per second)" to "schools, hospitals and government buildings" that can today only be provided by fibre optic networks. This means that BPL solutions would only need to be deployed for the distance between these institutional buildings and the rural home, over the lower-voltage (LV) lines.
- (Washington Island, WI, YouTube video explaining why 900MHz Motorola Canopy didn't work there)
- (policywiki.theglobeandmail.com BPL proposal for Canadian federal budget, 2009)
- (analysis of deployment and maintenance costs and risks for wireless versus wired technologies)
- Cullman CEO Grady Smith explaining why BPL is the only long term hope for this market
- IBM+IBEC offer BPL to 200,000 Americans
- Cullman Electric Co-Operative, Alabama, BPL signup
- IBEC services, used by Cullman, emphasizing voice over IP (VoIP), video surveillance, security and privacy intensive services
- FCC approval press release describing the regulatory view of the technology
- IBEC claims of advantages including:
- "Complete turn-key solutions – Products and Internet Services all in one package"
- "The most cost-effective, adaptable BPL solution available in the Powerline Industry"
- "No financial investment required by most utilities to install and operate the BPL system"
- "A rich history of providing broadband and ISP services to Electric utilities since 1997"
- "BPL solutions optimized for trouble-free operation in rural and underserved markets<"
- "IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi)-Compatible customer solutions"
- "Reliable, fully Internet Protocol (IP) based system for easy expansion and growth"
- "BPL security and surveillance system to protect remote critical assets"
- "Value-added internal services such as AMR/AMI and SCADA for minimal investment" - see smart grid and NB Power grid
deploying a rural BPL network
This explains the diagram above in more detail.
A good network design would rely on a high security switch for grid monitoring (transformers etc.), household energy monitoring, utility meter reading, fire alarms, emergency communications, and home alarms and security. Also for voice calls to emergency services if these are feasible to split off from the ordinary voice traffic. Ideally these would also connect directly to 802.11u/802.21 "public access mobile Wi-Fi" used for emergency purposes. Any properly bonded and authenticated and insured service provider could gain access to this network. While all of these services traditionally have relied on dedicated communications often in dedicated radio spectrum, they have also relied on shared backhaul from a telco or ISP. So sharing a few strands of fibre dedicated to these purposes, with traffic shaping and packet priorities that reflects public need (e.g. fire alarms go through before routine security camera snapshots), should suit these users and enable co-operation hitherto undreamed of (such as detecting fires based upon electrical activity).
Meanwhile, a medium security switch suitable for consumer traffic (non-emergency phone, television, Internet) on an entirely separate strand would separate the bulky and bursty traffic. This would be best kept on a dedicated fibre so that the very different quality-of-service (QoS) and routing issues could be solved for the convenience of consumers. Traffic need not be examined for origin or destination to determine priority, it could simply be routed based on technical factors like latency requirements, with some reasonable rationing when real-time traffic (such as YouTube video viewing) is dominating the network, or the sheer volume of bulk traffic (such as bittorrent) chokes response. Many terabytes of cacheing, also, should be available on this network at all times, and should include local proxy servers for popular sites such as YouTube with massive static content.
Obviously, a high security switch cannot reveal any of its IP addresses to the public IP cloud under any circumstances, or it ceases to be high security. Only known customers who comply with a medium security regime should be allowed any direct access to the IP numbers of the high security network - which should be withdrawn when they cease to practice that regime according to a neutral arbitrator. Similarly, access to the high security network must be regulated by means available to any reputable service provider, and not arbitrarily determined by cronies, incumbents or politics.
Customers will inevitably run low-security switches and wireless services regardless of agreements. A medium-security service will put proper measures in place to regulate and limit this without any pre-emptive banning of common practices. In practice this may mean, for instance:
- no bonding, authentication or insurance is required simply to participate in the network itself
- packets may be routed on behalf of other users (e.g. wireless users) but only on behest and under terms of authorized/known users, and these packets should be clearly marked as of unknown content no customer has taken responsibility for - if necessary triggering investigations into that traffic
- no third party can successfully monitor or interfere with traffic without service provider permission
- administration regimes (passwords, social protocols) are robust and everyone interacting with any customer is well-trained and requires certifications and special training to depart from standard procedures
- regulators are kept fully informed of policies and those policies are legally binding on providers
- all obvious means of unauthorized access are being actively tracked and trapped, but only in response to other network problems (high security networks randomly test, track and trap traffic and lure hackers deliberately to expose themselves)