Nortel to offer Net access through power lines

Will plugging in replace logging on?

A pair of UK companies today attempted to change the face of Internet access, revealing new technology that uses electric power lines to provide over 1Mbit/sec data access for home users. Access would be gained through electrical outlets, rather than phone lines.

Telecommunications giant Northern Telecom (Nortel) and voice and data services company Norweb Communications, a division of British electricity, gas and telecom provider United Utilities, said that the technology uses a signalling scheme to separate data from electrical interference on the power line, allowing users to connect even if power goes out. Fiber-optic cabling connected to a central switch carries data between substations and homes, much as it would work on a network of computers.

Customers would need a £200 (roughly $324) circuit card and communications software for their PCs, to handle subscription authentication, security and subscriptions. Nortel's signalling scheme carries data between the local electricity substation and home. Substations are linked by fibre-optic to a central switch to provide access to the rest of the world.

The technology can support up to 200 homes on the same local electricity network but capacity can be upgraded via add-in cards. Nortel expects lowest access speeds of 500Mbits/sec.

Nortel and Norweb expect that electricity companies will offer telecommunications services and that ISPs will support the technology.

Nortel vice-president Peter Dudley said that apart from speed, the key advantages of the technology - which has not yet been given a name - are ubiquity, a permanent connection without tying up phone lines, and cheap set-up costs.

Nortel and Norweb will run trials of the new service in the north-west of England from the April-June quarter of next year. Assuming trials go well, they plan to roll it out throughout the UK, then start rolling it out in Europe and Asia Pacific. A North American roll-out is unlikely in the near future, due to geographical dispersion of households and lack of proximity to power stations in many areas.

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