Broadband Access Poses Problems

June 17, 2005
The lure of broadband access to millions of homes had its effect on the microwave industry.

Broadband communications implies the bandwidth that makes service providers salivate. This is not simply broadband runs of optical cables or line-of-sight microwave links. This is broadband access, that elusive "last mile" to the home, with visions of truly fast high-speed Internet access, video on demand, crystal-clear voice and video two-way communications, and just about anything that service providers want to cram into that pipeline to your home.

The only problem, and always has been, is that last little connection to the home, that last mile. Fiber has the bandwidth, and such technology leaders as AT&T have experimented with fiber to the home many years ago. But that solution is curiously similar to the cable-television (CATV) company attempting to make that five-mile run of cable and booster amplifiers out to that one customer just beyond the edge of town: the monthly service fees will never pay for or justify the cost of the equipment needed to deliver the signals. Still, groups such as the Fiber To The Home Council ( actively promote the benefits of fiber bandwidth and noninterference to the US FCC, manufacturers, and prospective subscribers as a logical means of achieving broadband access.

The lure of broadband access to millions of homes had its effect on the microwave industry, as countless companies several years ago scrambled after the microwave/millimeter-wave version of broadband to the home: local multipoint distribution system (LMDS). But, again, the cost model of LMDS limited its spread to business and university campuses. Potential users too often compared the end-user hardware, which typically included amplifiers, mixers, and filters in the 28-to-32-GHz band, to the lower-frequency hybrids and amplifiers found in CATV incoming connections and set-top boxes.

Broadband power-line (BPL) communications on the surface seemed like the answer. Power lines already run everywhere, even to those remote customers. The infrastructure is already in place. There is just one slight problem, as many readers to a recent Microwaves & RF UPDATE e-mail newsletter (5/5/05) editorial piece on BPL pointed out: high-speed/high-frequency signals sent over power lines tends to turn that infrastructure into a giant, radiating antenna, generating scads of interference for existing applications. In particular, amateur-radio operators are affected and, as the response to that e-mail newsletter item bore out, they are a highly spirited and vocal lot.

Their enthusiasm for their bandwidth and their desire to keep it free of "BPL pollution" is praiseworthy and has inspired a closer look at BPL interference in a July news Special Report. Broadband access is attractive, but not at too high a price, including to the amateur-radio community.

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