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Study: Promising future for power-line broadband

Delivery of broadband service over power lines could catch on in areas with limited phone, cable outlets, says research firm.

The demand for using traditional electrical lines as a medium for broadband technology in the residential sector is rising worldwide and will continue to grow, according to a study by market research firm In-Stat.

Broadband service over power lines (BPL), which allows an Internet connection to be established through a standard electrical outlet, is seen as a potential rival to coaxial (coax) and twisted-pair wiring, the fixed-line technologies most commonly used for cable and telephone service, respectively. Incorporating BPL into a residence or business requires no additional wire installation.

It may sound too good to be true, and indeed BPL has had a rocky history because of technical limitations, high development costs and its potential for interference with ham radio and emergency radio signals. But according to In-Stat's research, it's catching on. The number of broadband power-line equipment units sold passed the 2 million mark in 2005, and the research firm expects that the number will increase by 200 percent this year.

The main advantage of BPL, according to In-Stat analyst Joyce Putscher, is the fact that the availability of coaxial or twisted-pair connections can be limited. In many countries, specifically those in Europe and Asia, cable television is far less common than it is in the United States, and households in those countries tend to have fewer telephone jacks. BPL could consequently facilitate more-widespread broadband Internet connectivity in those markets.

Domestically, according to Putscher, choosing BPL can mean the customer will have more flexibility when accessing the service because connections can be set up at any power outlet. "Even in the U.S. there are still a lot of homes that, even with coax and phone jacks, may only have them running to one room," she said. "It's limited."

Even in some markets where cable and telephone services seem to have a lock on broadband services, local leaders still explore the BPL option. And if In-Stat's research proves accurate, more markets may be picking it up soon.