The future is now (for the West Coast)

Top Story: - The future is now (for the West Coast)

Top Story:

- The future is now (for the West Coast)

- The future is now (for the West Coast)

I'm a sucker for futuristic sci-fi scenarios. Hover cars and space elevators rock! So I was impressed when six years ago Novell Networks R&D honcho Glenn Ricart said the data of tomorrow would be fed into houses through powerlines.

In the Western world 99.5% of the population has electricity in their homes compared with 93% with a telephone, and 97% with television. Rather than use phone lines to carry data, power lines could be used with a transformer.

It was a great vision but begged the question -- when will the future arrive? This week's announcement by West Coast power company Buller Electricity might provide the answer with a rather flippant “this year”.

Buller Electricity says it will supply internet bandwidth down power lines in Westport. It says PLC (power line carrier) technology has improved enough in recent years to make this viable although fellow electricity suppliers Counties Power and Waikato’s WEL have yet to be convinced.

If Buller Electricity’s plan works it will succeed where many have failed.

In 1997 Canadian telco gear maker Nortel Networks trialled internet access via power lines with Britain's United Utilities. Although transmissions worked, nearby lamp posts acted as antennae, picking up users' downloads and rebroadcasting data as radio waves. After it deemed power line transmission economically unfeasible, Nortel canned the project at the end of 1999.

In 1998 there was a flurry of similar trials in Germany, Thailand, Malaysia and elsewhere. PLC technology was the darling of the IT press but eventually things went very quiet as no-one could come out with a viable business.

Now a comparatively small Kiwi company has stepped up to the plate. Maybe it’s an example of that can-do Kiwi attitude we’re always hearing about but I’m a little sceptical. What are the technical advances which have made this viable, who is providing the technology, how much will it cost, will home users have to pay for a transformer at their end, if so how much will that cost? These are immediate questions that spring to mind. However, having said that, I love this kind of stuff and really hope it works.

In the meantime a variation on the theme has sprung up: "home power line networks" where you plug a transformer into standard electrical outlets and get instant ethernet around the house. Unfortunately consumers often found set-up difficult and performance poor to nonexistent. However, the technology has advanced and next month at a US trade show, US company Intellon will showcase its Homeplug 1.0 Compliant home power line networking technology with demonstrations of data, audio and video applications streaming over powerlines. Cisco also has technology (Long Reach Ethernet) which allows you to run ethernet networks over any kind of wire including power lines.

Network offers power to compete – NZ Herald

Plugging into cyberspace – abcnews.com

Are powerline nets finally ready? – Techreview.com

HomePlug completes powerline network spec – EE Times

HomePlug Alliance releases spec – Network Fusion

Telecommunications Online: Old wires breed new possibilities – telecoms.mag.com

Powerline: The future of broadband? - CNet

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