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Powerline Telecommunications: Mission Impossible?

PLT: History of Developments and Debacles
Fortnightly Magazine - July 1 2000

never economical. She added that the partners had abandoned powerline work.

But others tell a different story. An engineer who worked for Nortel during the field testing says the company made the technology work in the U.K., and perfected it in the United States with Southern Co., just as Nortel pulled the plug on the operation in mid-1999.

"Nortel pulled out because it no longer wanted to invest in a technology that competed against rival investments in cable, xDSL, and wireless. There was just not enough money to invest in a another competing technology," says the engineer.

He adds that the sale of NOR.WEB DPL assets has attracted many bidders in the telecom industry. Nevertheless, Nortel's notorious economic failure has driven many of the utilities doing work in PLT underground, say analysts. They suggest utilities' secrecy is driven in part by not wanting to raise false hopes among shareholders. Other experts say the secrecy is due to myriad regulatory, financial, and technological uncertainties that the industry has yet to answer with regard to the technology. A few companies admit to having experimented with PLT, however. In the late '90s, UtiliCorp United paid Novell $10 million to develop PLT, but after three years of development by Novell that project also closed. Technology company Enikia is holding trials with U.S. utilities this summer, and has commitments from some European utilities to do testing with them. (See sidebar, "New Players: Will the Latest Hope for PLT Success Pan Out?") Enikia is keeping the identity of the utilities conducting the U.S. and European trials a mystery.

 

New Players: Will the Latest Hope for PLT Success Pan Out?

Three things distinguish technology company Enikia from its counterparts working on powerline telecommunications technology for utilities.

n A customer that does not mind going public. The New Jersey-based company has a strategic alliance with ONELINE AG, a PLT company affiliated with German utilities PreussenElektra AG and VEBA AG, to develop end-to-end broadband services via electric wires.

n Proven products. Enikia has developed an information appliance network technology that allows broadband communications networking throughout a building via existing power cabling. Enikia's first-generation powerline home networking chipsets support 10 megabits per second capacity over an in-home local area network.

n a founding member of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. In its partnerships with U.S. and European utilities, Enikia hopes to develop the technology that will allow utilities to offer voice, Internet, and data via the powerlines to homes and on the distribution network. Field trials were to begin this summer in the United States and Europe, according to company officials.

A challenge that remains for the company in developing in-home powerline networks is the need for technology for the distribution networks.

"What we are looking to do is bring our technology and our expertise to the access environment and take our initial ideas of access technology and create a product [for the distribution network]," says Jarek Chylinski, Enikia's vice president of global marketing. He says Enikia would be the only company to offer the end-to-end product.

David Healey, vice president of