Nor.web aims for commercial plug n'surf by Christmas

UK customers in the NorthWest could be plugging into Cyberspace via their existing electricity lines by the end of this year.

Utility company Norweb has been piloting a revolutionary service in the UK, Germany and Sweden for almost one year. In the UK, pilot customers in Manchester have been sending and receiving data down low-voltage power cables rather than telephone wires. The trials are due to finish trials this summer, with a roll out of commercial services by the end of 1999.

"There are trials with commercial partners. We hope this will go live by the end of this year," said a spokesman for Norweb.

The telecom company, part of United Utilities, formed a joint venture with Nortel known as Nor.web to develop Digital Power Line (DPL) technology. The system converts the low voltage segment of the existing power supply network into an Intranet, so the users is wired up is a Local Area Network permanently rather than dialling up to a modem every time they want to surf.

There are several advantages to DPL, according to Nor.web, including speed -- data can be transferred over existing electricity power lines up to 1 Mbit/second -- users can ditch the tiresome modem dial-up stage, there is no need to fork out for a second telephone line and monthly charges are fixed so there are no additional phone bills. DPL requires PCs that are 386 standard, Internet capable and have an Ethernet card or capable of taking one.

But the technology has come under fire for interfering with radio frequencies. Nor.web countered claims earlier this year that DPL-induced interference may disrupt civil aviation and emergency services.

And with faster rival technologies, such as ADSL, finally emerging some observers believe Nor.web's ambitious DPL plans may end up being a damp squib.

Details of the state of play of DPL trials emerged at a conference in Brussels this week. Company official said they were confident that a commercial service would be up and running by the year end.