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FCC approval for Broadband over Power Line devices


The term Broadband over Power Line (BPL) refers to the delivery of IP-based broadband service (internet) on electrical lines.  The current administration and the FCC have expressed enthusiasm over this new technology which will compete directly with cable modems, DSL and wireless internet service.  Many in industry are betting on BPL as the most likely “last mile” solution for offering broadband service to the masses.  Also termed Power Line Communications (PLC), this technology offers many avenues of potential growth beyond that of broadband services.  PLC equipped devices could utilize the existing power line infrastructure to pass data for uses far beyond internet access.


BPL is broken into two categories, In-house (also called Low Voltage) and Access (also called Medium Voltage).  In-house BPL, largely developed and promoted by the HomePlug Alliance, is used to move data from outlet to outlet within a home.  Access BPL is the ability to send internet traffic over medium voltage supply line, such as the lines that feed into a neighborhood.  Utilizing both technologies, a service provider may offer high-speed broadband to end users by feeding internet traffic onto the medium voltage lines, using repeaters to get that data stream into neighborhoods and then taking the data stream from the outdoor line into the home’s wiring where it is accessed via In-house devices.


Numerous companies began to develop actual working prototypes of both low and medium voltage BPL devices around 1999.  Chipset manufacturers and end product designers were eager to work with a laboratory that was familiar with the technology, but more importantly, familiar with the existing FCC rules and the inner workings of FCC legislative development. Placing high speed data on the power grid was obviously going to create a new challenge in terms of complying with the FCC rules governing radiated and conducted RF noise.  Product Safety Engineering (PSE) had already developed a reputation for fast and accurate FCC approvals and rule interpretation.  With over 15 years of experience, the PSE staff was able to step-up and offer these technology pioneers substantial guidance and assistance.  Working directly with chip-set manufacturers to prove out designs, and then eventually with the product designers to ensure the end products meet FCC requirements, PSE quickly became known as one of very few expert labs in this field.  Working with private manufacturers as well as groups like HomePlug and the Consumer Electronics Alliance (CEA), PSE brings a wealth of knowledge and hands-on experience to this field.


On April 23, 2003 the FCC confirmed interest in the technology by issuing a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeking public comment.  The FCC is responsible for governing the RF spectrum in the United States.  One of the immediate concerns over the widespread use of BPL products is the impact in terms of radio frequency noise.  Numerous powerful organizations weighed in with comments both in support and opposition.  Eventually the FCC was able to propose rules which would govern BPL in a manner similar to the rules applicable to personal computers and other digital devices.



Early attempts to prove a product met the existing FCC rules of that time period proved to be both challenging and educational.  It seemed as if senior lab personnel at PSE had a continually open line with the FCC to discuss and debate the application of the rules, which lacked specificity.  Though the existing rules allowed the unlicensed use of BPL systems, they did not provide specific measurement procedures or guidelines. As the BPL industry grew, PSE moved forward in developing a test methodology that could be used to supplement the existing FCC rules and ensure an appropriate amount of compliance to the intent of the FCC legislation.  Many manufacturers worked with PSE to test new product designs using our test methodology and PSE continued to provide the FCC with documentation of our progress and findings to aid in their research for the development of new rules.  In 2004 the FCC published proposed rules for comment and it is no coincidence that much of the test methodology PSE had developed and used in recent years is duplicated in the current rule proposal.


Product Safety Engineering Inc. continues to move forward in supporting manufactures of BPL related equipment.  By offering consulting, informal and formal test services PSE stays in touch with the leaders in this field.  Our proven test methodology calls out the common unintentional testing as a digital device as well as field testing at three typical residences.  These three homes are representative of varying size and construction techniques (wood, block, etc.) and need to have a 10 meter unobstructed periphery allowing for positioning of test equipment.  Sixteen equidistant antenna measurement locations are pre-selected around the residence common to the center of the dwelling.  The equipment under test (EUT) is placed inside the house, one set in the center and another set adjacent to an exterior wall.  Data is streamed between the two EUT configurations to simulate normal operation while measurements are made.  The antenna is positioned at each of the sixteen locations and data is recorded.  The process is completed using one antenna for measurements below 30MHz and then repeated with a second appropriate antenna for 30-500MHz measurements.  Upon completion the data is formatted into a report which also contains information about the equipment used in test, dimensions of the houses, measurements point diagrams, photos and other pertinent information.  This report can be used by the manufacturer to demonstrate compliance to the FCC Part 15 rules for unintentional radiators.


If your firm is involved in Broadband over Power Line, Power Line Communications or any type of carrier current technology development or installation, contact PSE today to inquire about how our team may be of assistance.  Our vast experience in this field makes us very unique among test labs.  Product Safety Engineering also offers related compliance testing such as UL approvals, European CE testing and access to many other markets. 


Contact us today for more information.



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