Most people think of power lines as having the sole purpose of providing electricity to their homes. But they are more sophisticated than what you think.
That latest buzz in many parts of the world, including Australia, is the delivery of broadband Internet over these same lines with technology that is called Broadband over Power Lines (BPL). And just as you would connect an electrical appliance in your house to a power point, the same applies for BPL customers. Once the service provider's BPL network (wires in the street) is enabled, all you have to do is plug in your modem anywhere in the house. The modem then authenticates with the outside network, and you are ready to surf.
The immediate appeal for consumers of BPL is the speed. The latest BPL technology can deliver symmetric speeds of 200Mbps. This is well up from the 45Mbps of a few years ago and still significantly faster than the download speeds of ADSL2+ (24Mbps), cable (9.9Mbps with Optus) and ADSL (currently capped at 1.5Mps by Telstra).
However, like a wireless network, a broadband network is a shared medium. So while current chipsets provide for 200Mbps, with more people on a network, to achieve this speed in practice is difficult.
Although this may be news to some, BPL is not new: the first trial took place in Mannheim, Germany in 1996. Since then, installations, largely in Europe, but also the US, have taken place. German towns such as Mainz (100,000 users) and Dresden (60,000) are some of the biggest implementations.
In Australia, utilities and telecommunications providers are also showing interest. Residential and business BPL trials have already taken place in towns such as Queanbeyan, Hobart, Newcastle, Moruya (South Coast NSW) and the most recent is in the Victorian alpine town of Mt Beauty. Many more trials, which cannot be reported on, are also occurring.