The super-fast Net access over powerlines dream is being played out again, this time in Australia.
A new 200Mbit/s technology - 100 times faster than current broadband - called Broadband over Powerlines (BPL) has been successfully tested, the company behind it claims. Initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive following the three-month trial, which finished last month, Energy Australia said.
An Energy Australia spokesperson said the trial was successful, but cautioned that it was still long way before anything would be commercialised, if at all. It won't be the first time, and certainly not the last, that the idea of adding digital signals to a country's vast electricity infrastructure has been touted. Every year, another company claims to have cracked it, only for the project to disappear without trace a few months later.
Telco industry analyst Paul Budde remains optimistic however. He had been invited to see the trial. He said several large apartment and commercial buildings in a city block in Newcastle had been BPL-enabled with the 200Mbit/s equipment, with ISP services provided by Ipera.
Ipera runs a fibre optic ring in Newcastle, while Energy Australia uses this network and "takes over with BPL where those fibre cables end in substations around the city", he explained. "The general plan is to drive fibre optic as deeply as possible into the network and use BPL as a 'first mile' technology to connect to the users. Once in the building any power point can be used to connect the BPL modem."
Budde said there were several reasons why BPL was a goer, and not just hype. First of all, the BPL technology, known as DS2, "works". Secondly, it is a viable alternative to existing broadband delivery, and could bring prices down.
And most importantly, the utilities have made a commitment to support it: "Utilities are slow moving animals, so if they go public, they are serious," he claimed.
Nevertheless, Budde accepts there are some big "ifs". DS2 is still not 100 percent standardised. This won't happen until early 2005. According to him, "most, if not everybody, in the industry" has accepted the so-called DS2 standard - which he says secures operability and low-cost user equipment.
The other "if" is the Australian Communications Authority. It still needs to give approval for the powerlines to be used in such a way. One of the issues to consider is the potential interference with radio signals.
Broadband over powerlines, also known as Powerlines Communications, is a way for utilities to gain extra revenue. "In general terms utilities will look for other telcos to work with," he said. There is no intention to be a competitor to telcos." He said telcos which did not own wired infrastructure would be ideal partners to the utilities.
Which all sounds oddly familiar.