UnitedNetworks looks at sending data over power lines

UnitedNetworks is looking at using power lines to transmit data, says Sean McDonald, general manager of the power utility's communications division.

UnitedNetworks is looking at using power lines to transmit data, says Sean McDonald, general manager of the power utility's communications division.

United is working with several New Zealand and international companies "on a significant initiative", McDonald says.

"We've been doing a lot of research and are watching the market and the technology with keen interest."

Despite its enthusiasm, United, which provides electricity, gas and metropolitan ethernet services, doesn't regard power line communications (PLC) as an all-encompassing solution, he says. "Our research suggests it's not a panacea; it's not the answer to all business and residential customers' problems, but it has the potential to add a significant piece to a very complex puzzle."

McDonald says a recently reported initiative by Buller Electricity to supply bandwidth down powerlines is a good thing. "Buller is being very bullish; the more initiatives like that, the better."

While Buller Electricity claims to have found a way to make PLC work in its area, "each region, from an electricity point of view, is different -- what suits one region won't suit another, McDonald says.

"It has a lot to do with the number of potential customers served by a transformer and the distance they are from a transformer. You have to be very careful working out the commercial models."

McDonald points to German provider RWE, which offers a PLC-based service, PowerNet, on an always-on 2Mbit/s basis, as one of the most successful PLC service providers in the world.

He acknowledges PLC hasn't always worked and examples abound of unsuccessful attempts, notably when Nortel Networks began trialling it in 1997 with Britain's United Utilities. In that case, transmission was successful, but lamp posts unexpectedly took on the role of antennae, rebroadcasting the data as radio waves. The project was canned two years later after being deemed economically unviable.

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