BPL is a technology that can see broadband delivered at speeds of up to 200Mbps through normal electrical wall sockets, utilising existing electricity grids owned by energy utilities.
Juergen Bender, chief executive of BPL specialist Bender Information and Systemtechnology, told a Sydney conference this week that Telstra's 'Fibre to the Node' (or FTTN) plans provided an opportunity for BPL technology because they would necessitate whole streets losing their broadband services until Telstra had finished putting its new fibre cable in.
"DSL streets with FTTN can't do DSL any more," he said. "Telstra can either run a redundant network or broadband is not available."
"BPL is a solution to this problem. Fibre to the Node is the perfect opportunity for BPL.
"BPL will play a major role in this space in the very near future -- there are examples around the world where this is already happening," he said.
"Telcos are seriously looking at this technology because it's the only option."
Part of the attraction of BPL as a last-mile access solution is that it doesn't require much infrastructure to be put in place -- it runs over the existing electrity network. Speeds are also high -- up to 200Mbps.
But Telstra is less than keen about the possibility of using BPL to solve connection issues.
"BPL technology is unproved, it's not developed," said a spokesperson from the telco, adding he "seriously doubted" Telstra would use it in any capacity.
"I mean Telstra has obviously kept a watch on BPL technology, as we follow all developments, but it's not new, it's been around for a long time, and it's never been seriously considered by Telstra."
The spokesperson said it was too early to say how long customers would lose their ADSL access for while their locality was upgraded with FTTN technology.
The final leg
Beyond Telstra's short-term difficulties, Bender also believes that BPL has a strong role to play in providing so-called 'last-mile access' -- the distance from network backbones to buildings and residences.
But telecommunications analyst Paul Budde told the conference it was now or never for electricity utilities to bring BPL to the Australian mass market.
"If we can't get BPL commercially going within the next 12-18 months, it's not going to happen because customers are not going to wait," he said.
"We should get off our butts and start to do something about it," he added. "There is a sense of urgency to get this going."
Budde called on telcos to partner with utilities to get the technology off the ground.
"There has been a lack of telcos and Internet service providers to work with utilities in the last few years -- it's been a real disappointment," he said.
Although around half a dozen energy utilities in Australia are known to be examining BPL technology, only two -- Aurora Energy in Tasmania and Country Energy in NSW have publicly admitted they have infrastructure in place.
Aurora is currently selling BPL access at ADSL-like speeds to certain sections of the Hobart market, in partnership with several telcos. Country has a technical trial of BPL in Queanbeyan and is likely to commence a commercial pilot early next year.
Bender said most obstacles which had previously stopped utilities selling BPL services -- namely problems with the maturity of the technology and regulatory issues -- had now been surmounted. The only real obstacle that still existed, he said, was a mindset within the utility community that energy companies did not have the expertise to provide telecommunications services.