Bradford faces brownout over power line phone system

Energy Minister Max Bradford has backed off on his claim that voice and data over electrical power lines will very soon be a competitive alternative against the line monopoly of telecomms. In a letter to Computerworld, Bradford predicted a 'pervasive and reliable' telecomms network over power lines 'very soon'. But his offfice now says there is only 'potential' for such a network.

Energy Minister Max Bradford has backed off on his claim that voice and data over electrical power lines will very soon be a competitive alternative against the line monopoly of telecomms.

In a letter to Computerworld, Bradford responds to a correspondent who suggests he ask Communications Minister Maurice Williamson to deregulate telecomms as he (Bradford) is attempting to do with the electricity sector.

The minister — who last week pre-empted select committee deliberations on the future of the electricity industry by forcing through caucus an agreement to separate energy company retail and line businesses — says, in part, in his letter:

"... when the reforms in the electricity sector are completed, I believe there will be a separate line network for telecomms available through the electricity lines network. It is pervasive and reliable. The technology exists for electricity lines networks to carry both power and voice/data traffic, so Telecom may find the competitive alternative you are striving for, very soon." A subsequent request was made to Bradford's office for the minister to elaborate on what, from his description, seemed to be an impending major and quantum leap.

Press secretary Ann Howard said: "The minister did not mean to suggest that the technology was imminent but that there was the potential."

VTL consulting director Alex Smith, who was involved in the Southpower Orca trial to test the delivery of other services over the Southpower network, says delivery of telco services over electricity lines is technically feasible but economically doubtful. (The Orca trial is currently being assessed.)

"There's a UK trial with Norweb [a Nortel company] and a Scottish power company that allows data to go down the power lines from the last transformer. That's going to 250 homes.

"In the US about 15 homes are on a trial — they can't see the viability.

"We've looked at it here with Southpower but there's still a question mark over it because the transformer is the last point of demarcation. That's as far as you can go.

"You can't bypass the transformer — it comes down to the number of homes you can reach."

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