University renews interest in Gigabit data over power lines

Engineers at Penn State University have found a way for power lines to transmit data to homes at rates far faster than high-speed Internet connections from cable and telephone companies, Reuters reported.

Broadband service over power lines has been highly touted by equipment makers and federal regulators as a possible competitor to cable and telephone services that handle nearly all of the 30 million U.S. residential broadband connections.

But despite dozens of trials, few electric utilities have attempted to sell the service to customers, citing cost and technical problems. Penn State researchers said while the technology would improve, lowering the costs of power-line broadband would remain challenging.

Power-line broadband systems available today typically promise data speeds of roughly 1- to 3Mb/s, similar to cable and digital subscriber line, or DSL service.

The Penn State engineers, Pouyan Amirshahi and Mohsen Kavehrad, estimated in a research paper that their system could deliver data at close to 1Gb/s over medium-voltage electrical lines in ideal conditions, with speeds of hundreds of megabits per second available to home users.

Their system uses repeaters placed at every one kilometer, (0.62 miles) and requires power lines to be modified to reduce interference with the data signals. The estimates were based on computer models, and that the data speeds available in a real-world version would depend on how many repeaters a power company used.

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