Comms regulator to revise BPL guidelines

As rollouts of broadband over powerline (BPL) technology gain pace in Australia, the nation's communications regulator will take another look at the rules for its deployment.BPL is a transmission medium that can see broadband delivered at speeds of up to 200Mbps through a normal electrical wall socket.

As rollouts of broadband over powerline (BPL) technology gain pace in Australia, the nation's communications regulator will take another look at the rules for its deployment.

BPL is a transmission medium that can see broadband delivered at speeds of up to 200Mbps through a normal electrical wall socket. Several electricity utilities in Australia are deploying the technology, particularly Tasmania's Aurora Energy which has a commercial pilot in progress.

While the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) already has a set of BPL guidelines for testing purposes, a spokesperson told a Sydney conference on Wednesday that the rules would be revised in the light of knowledge gained from the experiences of Aurora and others.

"We've learnt a lot from Aurora and Country Energy," ACMA's executive manager of spectrum markets Dr Hugh Milloy said. "The next step is to revise the trial guidelines."

One of the most critical issues for the regulator will be managing complaints by segments of the community that are concerned BPL will cause interference to radio-based telecommunications and stop them from operating.

"ACMA's role is to strike a balance between the argument for industry development and the interference management argument," said Milloy.

"The jury is still out on whether the signal is harmful or will stop something else from operating... We'll address any complaints professionally, but it's too early to judge what signal strengths will travel along those wires," he concluded.

But the debate spilled over into the conference's roundtable session, where participants were free to speak their piece on any aspect of the BPL technology.

"There are significant radio frequency (RF) issues with the Aurora site," said a spokesperson for the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA), which represents Australian amateur radio operators.

WIA director Phillip J. Wait further told the conference the RF problem was particularly bad in Australia because the nation is "a very heavy user of radio communications".

"We have a lot of services that don't exist in Europe," he said.

However both Aurora and Country Energy -- which is seeking to rollout its own commercial BPL pilot next year -- denied BPL created significant interference.

"There isn't a single example of BPL causing real, scientifically-verifiable interference," said Country Energy's manager of telecommunications enterprises Geoff Fietz.

A small BPL technical trial by his company had only generated one complaint, he said, which had turned out to be a problem unrelated to BPL.

"The result of all the research has been that Country Energy doesn't believe there is any issue," said Fietz.

A spokesperson for Aurora said they had visited an amateur radio operator's residence in Tasmania but had not detected any significant interference.

While both sides of the debate committed to working with ACMA on the issue, telecommunications analyst Paul Budde -- who chaired the conference -- had a different view.

The analyst took the WIA for task for not being prepared to sit down with the electricity utilities and work around the problem.

"When it's only a small segment of the Australian population affected, we can surely find a solution," he told ZDNet Australia .

Budde alleged he had invited the WIA several years ago to meet with the utilities on the issue, only to have his request turned down.

ACMA's Milloy said the regulator would take "a light touch" to BPL regulation, and that its approach would be multi-faceted.

Various methods such as applying standards, codes, licence conditions/fees and allowing the industry to self-regulate itself would be utilised, he said.

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