The secret to universal broadband Internet access could be right above your head. Power lines can carry broadband in the form of high-frequency electrical signals, and some European and U.S. utilities are already testing such systems. The problem is that forks in the electrical grid reflect broadband signals and thereby degrade transmission. Pennsylvania State University researchers simulated what would happen if lines were synched up with transformers and other electrical loads to minimize reflection. They found that signals should flow fast enough to give homes data-transfer rates of hundreds of megabits per second, tens of times faster than DSL or cable, they told the IEEE Consumer Communications & Networking Conference on January 5. The cost-effectiveness of broadband power lines remains to be seen, says lead researcher Mohsen Kavehrad, as it would interfere with some radio signals.
This article was originally published with the title "Broadband to the People" in Scientific American 292, 3, 31 (March 2005)