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Broadband powered to the regions
by Richard Powell at 08:00 18/02/03 (IT)
Freelancers in rural areas could have high-speed business Internet connections if trials using overhead power lines are successful.
The Scottish power and telecoms company, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), is currently trailing broadband provision along its power lines in Crieff and Campbeltown in North Scotland.

If the tests are successful, the programme could be extended to other areas of the country where home-working professionals have previously been overlooked because BT says there are too few users to ‘unbundle’ the local exchange.

The tests in Scotland are being part-funded by the Department of Trade and Industry's Broadband Fund and were recently opened by the Enterprise Minister, Wendy Alexander, sister of the former e-Minister, Douglas Alexander.

Scotland was allocated £4.4 million from the £30 million Broadband Fund, designed to encourage innovative uses of broadband technology last year.

According to SSE, key beneficiaries of broadband via power lines in North Scotland will be schools and colleges.

Dr Keith MacLean, Director of SSE Telecom, said: “This is very good news for Internet users in rural towns in Scotland who currently have to rely on extremely slow access to the Internet.

“At the moment, most Internet access in rural areas is at speeds no greater than 56kbps by modem, whereas in many urban areas broadband Internet access at up to 512kbps can be delivered by, for example, cable networks. These projects will take access speeds in Crieff and Campbeltown as high as 2,000 kbps, opening up a huge range of educational, business and entertainment opportunities through the Internet.”

Dr MacLean acknowledged electricity networks in a number of European countries were already being used to deliver broadband communications, but added: "this is a first in Scotland."

Electricity wires are the most common form of home connections, more prevalent than cable TV lines or telephones.

Although the idea of sending information over power lines isn't new, keeping the information stable at high-speeds has proven difficult because of hurdles including transformers and network interference from domestic hair dryers and microwave ovens.

In 1997, the US networking giant, Nortel, launched a joint venture with the British energy company, United Utilities, called Nor.Web in Manchester.

The trial revealed that the initial transmissions worked, however, nearby lampposts acted as antennae which picking up users' communications and re-broadcast them as radio waves. The trials were subsequently halted.

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Richard Powell, © Shout99.com 2003

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