Now You’re Surfing With Gas

I live with an energy attorney and drive a natural gas car, so new natural gas technology catches my attention. Recently, I came across Nethercomm, a San Diego-area start-up trying to develop what they call “Broadband in Gas (BiG)”.

The idea is similar to Broadband over Powerlines (BPL), but uses natural gas pipes instead — Broadband over Natural Gas (BoNG – it’s a better acronym than BiG).

The concept is interesting — a radio signal is sent inside the gas pipe, like a really long waveguide. Normally, waveguides are tuned to specific frequencies and don’t have junctions and turns that cause signal reflections and interference.

To overcome the jumbled mess of a signal at the far end of the pipe, BoNG uses an ultra wide band signal. Ultra wide band signals include redundant information spread over a several GHz frequency range allowing the equipment to reassemble the signal.

The shielding of the pipe also helps signal propagation, allowing BoNG to use a higher transmit power than the FCC allows with free-space transmission. Unwanted interference is kept out and the signal is kept in. Just like cable T.V.

This technology has potential, can Nethercomm make it work? The company’s website lists some generic concepts and glosses over the technical and political problems.

Utility companies are extremely risk averse and this will hinder adoption of the technology, especially where electricity and natural gas are provided by the same company. We need to see some utilities conducting active test trials of more than a token number of pilot users.

BPL, DSL, and cable broadband installations do not generally require a truck-roll these days. The largest barrier to adoption would be the truck-roll required to install the customer premise equipment (CPE).

Adding CPE to natural gas pipes upstream of the meter is not exactly a do-it-yourself project. Maybe there will be a future market for gas meters with built-in modems.

If BoNG can overcome these limitations some interesting possibilities emerge. Add in co-generation and one could literally have a single pipe to the house providing energy, voice, and data.

Then if we can just get Broadband over Waterlines and Broadband over Sewerlines, we may actually have some competition in the last mile.