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TSA To Test Broadband Over Powerline Technology
High-profile users like TSA and Trump Corp. could lend credibility to languishing tech
By J. Nicholas Hoover
Jan 6, 2007 12:00 AM (From the January 8, 2007 issue)
Using the powerlines in a building as cabling for an office LAN isn't common today, but a powerline networking project by the Transportation Security Administration could be a harbinger of things to come.
The TSA is piloting powerline communications technology at several airports starting later this month. The agency will use products from Telkonet to help speed up network communications--some still at the dial-up stage--between field operatives at airports and Washington headquarters. The TSA plans eventually to wire airport passenger and other screening systems, cameras at ticket counters, and passport readers for Internet access using the technology. Though the project will start at only a few airports, it could spread to 380 as TSA embarks on a $100 million project to wire all airports internally for broadband access.
There are two types of powerline communications systems: those that provide Internet access via outside powerlines, and those that act like LANs by using a building's internal electrical wiring for network transmission, which is what the TSA is doing. Broadband-over-powerline technology is carrier-operated; in-building systems are set up by end users.
NO DIRTY HANDS
Home versions of in-building powerline products have been on the market for several years, and there's an established standard called HomePlug. Large companies, though, haven't shown interest in the technology as a replacement for LAN cabling until recently, in part because of concerns about interoperability, interference, and security. That's where the TSA deal may help. For security reasons, Telkonet's products had to be certified as FIPS 180-2-compliant before being used by the TSA, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology tested them for several months.
Uses existing infrastructure Speed is an issue
Avoids costly rewiring and construction costs Wireless is an alternative
Simple to install Security still a concern
Since powerline networking uses a building's existing infrastructure, there's no need for extra cabling or digging through materials like asbestos (common in older airports). It requires a gateway from the Internet access point (DSL or cable) into the electrical system and modems on the back end to translate the signal from the powerline into the Ethernet cable hooked up to users' computers. It doesn't interfere with electrical signals because it runs in a different frequency range. It's also relatively easy to set up. Most installations are done in a day or less, says Telkonet CEO Ron Pickett. "Try wiring a building in less than three months, let alone a day," he says.
However, most new buildings are built with Cat 5 or Cat 6 network cabling, which is faster than current networking technology. And wireless is a viable alternative. "If you're not rewiring, you'd never choose it over your cabling," says Forrester Research analyst Maribel Lopez.
Still, an early corporate convert was the Trump Corp., which has been using in-building powerline communications for residential Internet access in several hotels and apartment buildings for more than two years. About six months ago, Trump started using Telkonet's powerline products to connect IP security cameras in places where there was no wiring and as a cheaper replacement where existing cabling is worn. "We can add security cameras wherever there's a plug," says Tom Pienkos, Trump's VP of operations.
Motorola has jumped into in-building powerline communications with a line of gateways and modems, released in October. But speed is still a problem--Motorola end users only get 8- to 15-Mbps performance today. However, the company plans to increase bandwidth in future releases, and Telkonet says it will have a 200-Mbps product on the market by year's end.
Better technology--and some high-profile users--may help in-building powerline technology find its network niche.
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