Council flats get broadband via power line

A council-funded scheme in Solihull will see broadband connectivity supplied to qualifying tenants through their electricity sockets

Residents of council flats in the West Midlands town of Solihull are to get free or subsidised broadband through their three-pin power sockets.

On Wednesday, the wide area networking company CI-Net announced that it was the technology partner for the project, which is run by Solihull Community Housing (SCH), the management organisation for around 11,000 council homes. Using a "pre-WiMax" 5.8GHz wireless connection based on the roofs of the buildings, a broadband connection will be distributed to residents through the buildings' electrical wiring.

Not only is Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council hoping to use the scheme to bridge the digital divide, it also intends to use the resulting hotspot area to attract businesses to "a part of north Solihull designated a deprived area", it said on Wednesday.

"One of our technical challenges was finding a low-cost, low-maintenance, reliable way of providing internet connectivity," said Chris Deery, SCH's head of IT. "We wanted to minimise the civil engineering work required to deliver broadband to the multi-storey buildings, as well avoid causing disruption to individual tenants during implementation. We also wanted a solution with the ability to expand over time, so we could start with one building and roll it out to more tenants in future."

A base station located five miles away in Yardley will send the broadband signal to the rooftop receiver, which will then send the connectivity through electricity cabling to each flat. Qualifying tenants will be given connector units, which can be plugged into any three-point socket. The aim is to provide tenants with throughput speeds equivalent to those offered by 8Mbps DSL connections.

Funded by the council, SCH plans to hook up the first building in the project next month. Surveys among users of the system will be used to "justify rolling it out to other buildings and potentially to other parts of Solihull", SCH said.

Charities are also involved in the project — ReCOM is providing recycled PCs and the Colebridge Trust will provide IT and internet training to tenants.