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The future of broadband in rural areas via electrical cables hinges on the success of a commercial trial that got underway in Winchester today.

Powerline Communication (PLC) technology, which uses the existing electricity network to deliver broadband by simply plugging a specially-adapted modem into a socket, has already been trialed in Scotland.

Now, though, PLC is facing a commercial trial to see whether it can compete in the market alongside other broadband technologies such as ADSL and cable.

At £29.99 a month, the service costs more than other entry-level DSL and cable broadband services. So has Southern Electric already made the mistake of over-pricing the service compared to other providers?

Not so, said Southern Electric's Director of Telecoms, Keith Maclean, who reveals that the PLC service provides uploading and downloading at speeds up to 1Mbps - quicker than other services on offer.

Speaking to The Register, Mr Maclean dismissed concerns that, much like DSL, PLC had a limited reach. Those concerns are "unfounded", said Mr Maclean.

While PLC has a range of up to 300 metres, this can be extended simply by using "boosters" or "repeaters" located in homes and businesses that are closer to broadband-enabled electricity substations.

Furthermore, the cost of enabling a substation to broadband is much less than bringing DSL to an exchange. Typically, BT needs several hundred customers per telephone exchange to make the necessary investment viable.

Maclean said that for PLC, the number of punters needed for each substation is nearer 50, although he admits that there are still other significant costs involved.

As for when PLC might be available in rural areas that can muster these more reasonable levels of demand is hard to say. Southern Electric is certainly looking committed to PLC at the moment, although it refuses to be drawn on when the service might become commercially available until it has assessed the full impact of the Winchester trial.

However, if all goes to plan, then PLC could be rolled out some time next year. ®

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