200Mbps shock for Broadband over power lines

Internet downloads at over 100 times current speeds by plugging into a power socket may shock even the biggest Broadband buffs, but a trial using household powerlines has made it a reality.

A new 200Mbps technology called Broadband over Power lines (BPL) has been tested successfully by Energy Australia in Newcastle. Initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive following the three-month trial, which finished last month.

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.

However, telco industry analyst Paul Budde, CEO of Budde.com, was optimistic. Budde had been invited by the utility to see the Newcastle trial.

He said several large apartment/commercial buildings in a city block in Newcastle East had been BPL-enabled with the 200Mbps equipment, with ISP services provided by Ipera.

In a research note on the topic Budde said 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".

"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 told PC World 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 [about their BPL plans], they are serious."

But despite all the positives, Budde said there were some big "ifs". DS2 is still not 100 per cent standardised. This won't happen until early 2005.

According to Budde, "most, if not everybody, in the industry" has accepted the so-called DS2 standard - which he says secures operability and low-cost user equipment. "Technology always over-promises and under-delivers," he cautioned.

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 powe rlines, also known as Powerlines Communications (PLC), 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.

Repeated attempts to speak to an Energy Australia engineer for further details were not successful at the time of posting this article.

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Howard Dahdah

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