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News and comments on community broadband networks, the communities deploying them and the technologies that support them. Published by Denise Frey and Al Bonnyman.

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Monday, January 05, 2004


Telkonet deploys test system onboard U.S. Naval Research Vessel

Power line communications vendor Telkonet is providing power line broadband equipment for the Office of Naval Research's test vessel, "Afloat Lab" (also known as "Starfish"). ONR wants to test BPL (broadband over power line) technology for potential use on Navy ships in the future. As Telkonet's press release notes, the advantages of using existing electrical wiring are especially compelling in a naval shipboard environment where installing new cable can be especially expensive.

This test is relevant to potential utility BPL users.

Normally, news of either a military test of broadband technology or a Telkonet sale would be off-topic for this blog. The military's communications needs, while fascinating, can be very exotic and not necessarily germane to the challenges of building local broadband networks. Likewise, Telkonet's products are oriented more to LAN applications within an enterprise (a home or a business) than to power utility use.

This test, however, should be interesting for several reasons. First, naval shipboard electrical systems are much noisier and hostile to electronics than a utility's power grid. As the electrical officer on nuclear submarine during the Cold War, I saw large voltage spikes and frequency fluctuations during the almost daily emergency drills we ran every day. The off-the-shelf personal computer we had purchased ashore blew its' power supply almost weekly. Only Mil-Spec (military hardened) equipment survived this environment.

Second, the Navy remains dependent on VLF (very low frequency), LF (low frequency) and HF (high frequency) radio circuits as back-ups for over-the-horizon communications when satellites are unavailable. The Navy is likely to be very sensitive to any EMI (electromagnetic interference) from shipboard interior communications systems.

Finally, there are times when surface ships need to go totally silent from an emissions standpoint without shutting down interior communications. Telkonet will have to pass this hurdle as well.

I see these ONR tests as an acid test of two critical BPL issues in general -- robustness and interference. (A third issue -- communications around transformers -- won't get much of a workout here since U.S. naval electrical systems operate at 440 volts and lower; North American power utility medium voltage distribution systems operate in the 7,000 to 35,000 volt range.)


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