AT&T Power Line Test May Aid Its VoIP Rollout

In announcing a test of BPL with Pacific Gas and Electric, AT&T said, however, that the technology is still a few years away from implementation. AT&T and Pacific Gas reported Wednesday that about 100 residents in Menlo Park, Calif., will use the BPL technology in a test.

AT&T said Monday that its VoIP service -- CallVantage -- is available in 100 major markets in 29 states.

But with just 20 percent of U. S. households currently using cable and DSL broadband that market is immediately limited to the 20 percent with high-speed transmission capability.

AT&T spokesman Tom Hopkins said subscribers are signing up for VoIP at a rapid rate, and that they are primarily attracted by the range of features like call waiting and call forwarding that are available with the service. For potential subscribers who don't have broadband, AT&T offers DSL service through an arrangement with Covad. For VoIP to work effectively, a user must have a broadband connection.

Sponsored post

Hopkins said there are indications that the two technologies -- broadband and VoIP -- may be playing off each other: while early adopters of VoIP were already users of broadband, many consumers now are signing up for VoIP first and then obtaining a broadband connection.

"The features of VoIP may be the killer app that drives broadband," he said.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has been touring BPL installations across the country as part of his mission to promote broadband. He attended a BPL demonstration this week put on by AT&T and Pacific Gas.

Earlier this year Powell visited a BPL installation in Wake County, N.C., which was created by Progress Energy, EarthLink and Amperion. That project -- also a test -- serves some 500 subscribers as the providers seek to shake out the technology and determine if the BPL approach is commercially feasible.

Amperion has been a leader in BPL, delivering 18- to 24-Mbps transmissions of medium-voltage down-power lines. It adds Wi-Fi capability in the final stage of delivery to subscribers. Amperion has created a giant Wi-Fi hotspot in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, using its BPL transmission technology to bring broadband to the Wi-Fi hotspot.