French powerline vendor wires homes and hotels

CeBIT: Galling news for Wi-Fi operators - a French firm is showing off kit that can turn the power cabling of an office or hotel into a high-speed data network

French IT equipment manufacturer LEA is demonstrating a range of products at the CeBIT trade show in Hannover that allow a broadband connection to be shared around a building via the internal power network.

The big headache associated with networking across wiring that is also carrying an electrical current is signal loss, but LEA claims to have solved this problem. It is looking to distribute its products -- some of which are already available in France -- in the UK.

The key to LEA's systems is an ADSL router, which the company calls the ELEKTRA gateway. It forms a connection between a broadband-enabled telephone line and a standard electrical power point.

Once in place, the broadband bandwidth will be available from any other power point in the house, LEA says. To access it, the user must plug in a special plug that includes an Ethernet port through which the broadband can be accessed.

ELEKTRA was first demonstrated at CeBIT 2003, and LEA has made significant strides in the last 12 months. This year it is showing off a piece of kit called the NetPLUG Pro that is designed for a small office or a hotel.

Eric Berthaud, LEA's chief executive, told ZDNet UK that the NetPLUG Pro will support virtual private networks (VPNs), giving every network user a secure link back to the gateway. In a building with multiple floors, one ELEKTRA gateway will be needed on each floor -- and every one will be able to handle up to 48 rooms.

Both a PC and a VoIP phone can be plugged into NetPLUG Pro, offering the possibility that purchasers could dispense with their traditional telephone network and send calls over the Internet instead.

According to Berthaud, there are still several limits to what is possible with powerline broadband in the home or office. It's not possible to run a connection of more than 14 megabits per second (Mbps), and the bandwidth can only be shared on a cable that is a maximum of 150 metres long.

Despite these limitations, LEA says that powerline broadband is superior to Wi-Fi in many respects.

"You don't have to worry if the wall is made of concrete or contains large amounts of metal. You just plug the equipment in and you have a network," Berthaud said.

The company hopes to establish a deal with a reseller operating in the UK within the next few months.