BPL Gains Momentum But Roadblocks Remain

Broadband over powerline (BPL) network equipment shipments doubled this year but several factors are keeping the technology largely in check.

Broadband over power line technologies (BPL)  and products will continue to gain momentum in 2007, according to a report issued by market researcher In-Stat, but price, retail availability and the struggle for a unifying standard are preventing widespread adoption.

The technology that makes it possible to deliver broadband Internet through existing power lines has been around for almost a decade, but it’s the home-networking component—the ability to connect multiple appliance and devices such as high-definition televisions through adapters plugged into electrical sockets—that's really driving growth these days.

According to market researcher In-Stat, shipments of broadband power line networking equipment more than doubled from the 5.4 million units sold in 2006.

"Service providers are looking for new ways to network their set-top boxes," Joyce Putscher, an analyst at In-Stat, said in an interview with InternetNews.com. "The initial guys deploying BPL are the IPTV providers and service providers who are looking for a more stable, wired connection that's easy to plug into."

Putscher said that while In-Stat is predicting "substantial" growth for the market in 2008, there are several issues preventing BPL consumers from adopting the technology.

"What's holding it up on the retail end is the lack of products in brick-and-mortar outlets and consumer education," she said. "Also, wireless routers have become so cheap that many consumers are going that way. Getting that price level more competitive would really boost adoption and usage."

Another factor keeping BPL on the back burner is the lack of an universal standard for all these hardware and networking components.

In October, the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, which includes the likes of Samsung, LG, Comcast and Intel, and Panasonic—the main competitors in the BPL market—took the first step toward resolving this issue by submitting a joint IEEE standards proposal that would permit interoperability between existing BPL products from both groups.

BPL vendors are expected to see increased demand in 2008 as more companies, individuals and governments step up their efforts to reduce energy consumption.

"There's a huge demand from governments and the private sector to conserve energy," Putscher said. "The HomePlug Command and Control low-speed specification was recently approved and we're expecting significant shipments in 2008."

Analysts said BPL might not be the first choice for broadband Internet access but it's ubiquity definitely fills a need within the home.

"BPL gained momentum this year primarily for home networking applications," Juan Fernandez, an analyst at Gartner, wrote in an e-mail to InternetNews.com. "The main driver for this segment has been IPTV as BPL has shown to be a very competitive technology to carry HDTV signals in the home, something that WiFi has not been able to do as well for the time being."



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