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Broadband over power lines idea alive and well

Scottish trials 'encouraging'

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Remember the idea of using power cables as a medium to transmit high-speed Internet traffic?

The concept was all the rage in the late 1990s but then high-profile suppliers, such as Nortel/Norweb, Siemens and more recently RWE, pulled out the market citing regulatory issues and slow sales. As a result, ADSL cemented its position as the primary means to deliver broadband to consumers.

However the technology hasn't gone away; far from it.

A meeting of Plcforum, an industry group of suppliers and technology vendors to the industry, held in Edinburgh, Scotland last weekend reaffirmed their commitment to develop Power Line Communications (PLC) as a competitive broadband access and in-home LAN technology.

The Plcforum General Assembly meeting was hosted by Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE), which is currently trialling a commercial PLC system in Scotland supported by funding from DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and the Scottish Executive.

It's hoped that the technology offers an economicall viable way of deploying broadband services in rural Scotland.

According to Antony Lole, a Telecom Infrastructure Manager at SSE, the trial is still in its early stages, with just a dozen or so customers connected in the Crieff and Campbeltown areas of Perthshire. However results so far are encouraging, and guinea pigs are seeing good throughputs, in some cases getting a symmetric connection delivering speeds in excess of 1Mbps.

"We're learning how to tweak the equipment to get throughput up and noise down," Lole told us.

The outcome of the trails, still at an early stage, will help SSE decide whether to make the service available commercially.

Elsewhere in Europe, particular in Germany, power utilities are further ahead in rolling out Net over power line services. Leading supplier include EnBW in Germany and Endesa in Spain.

Currently, there are more than 60 PLC sites in the world with thousands of paying customers connected, operating "without disturbing security services or any other broadcasting services", the Plcforum notes.

That last remark is telling because Norweb/Nortel decision to pull out of the powerline market in 1999 was made against the backdrop of fears that the technology could drown out other radio traffic and interfere with civil aviation and emergency service transmissions.

SSE's Lole said regulatory issues still exist but equipment has become "quieter" and lessons have been learned about how to install the equipment so it is less noisy.

During recent years, PLC technology has improved, and has reached "industrial maturity" as an alternative broadband access technology, according to the Plcforum. Current generations of power line technology can provide broadband access at speeds of up to 45Mbps. ®

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