Europe approves powerline communications spec

Efforts to use electricity cables to transmit data took a step forward in Europe with the publication of an open specification for power line communications (PLC).

The Open PLC European Research Alliance (OPERA), which is partly funded by the European Commission, said its specification will accelerate the development of products that use powerlines for broadband Internet access, voice and video services, as well as utility applications such as automatic meter reading.

The approval of the specification, announced Tuesday, comes after more than two years of development by a consortium of experts from 35 organizations, including 10 universities.

Products based on the specification will deliver speeds of more than 200M bps (bits per second), according to OPERA. It is based on OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) modulation and offers both FD (Frequency Division) and TD (Time Division) repeating capabilities.

Whether PLC will ever take off remains to be seen, however. Ham radio operators, particularly in the U.S., contend that broadband over power lines interferes with their radio signals. OPERA claimed in a white paper that its technology is “Ham radio friendly.”

Moreover, PLC competes head on with DSL (digital subscriber line) and wireless LAN (WLAN) technologies in the local loop. In particular, WiMax could pose a huge threat to PLC in rural areas where the Commission is keen to extend broadband coverage and, largely for this reason, has supported power line technology.

Equally worrisome, early PLC deployments in Europe have mostly failed.

A few years ago, Germany emerged as a hotbed of PLC development. Several regional electricity companies entered the fray, including Eon AG in D

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