New company battles physics to deliver power line Internet

Pam Boschee,
Technology Editor

High-speed Internet access over power lines may be tested by some U.S. utilities later this year. In Japan, power line telecommunication (PLT) begins a test run next month. Industry skeptics ask, “Will it work this time?”

Although power line infrastructure holds a gold mine of access, its wires and transformers-by virtue of the pesky physics involved-have presented significant barriers to previous prospecting. Ambient Corp.’s newly established PLT Solutions Inc. recently announced plans it hopes will enable it to win the jackpot.

PLT Solutions’ CEO, Michael Braunold, said the major infrastructure problem is related to the fact that the power coming into the home is 120 V. Because the transmission and distribution voltages are many times greater, stepdown transformers are required along the way to reduce the voltage level. Therein lies one of the problems.

Braunold said, “Those transformers, by definition, create a barrier, and the data-even if it was put somehow onto the line-couldn’t jump the transformers. There’s a physical barrier that prevents the data from going along.

“What our company has done is put together a very inexpensive way of doing it using proprietary coupler technology coupled with modems and chip sets, components which physically enable the data-in other words, the utility wire or the copper wire to be used as the bit type-and basically when it hits the transformer, you are able to jump the transformer. You’ve got a straight line into the house.”

As in most technological endeavors, a theory may be persuasive, but eventual acceptance-and in this case, profitability-depends on proof.

PLT Solutions’ first proving grounds will be Japan, with implementation slated in May. With deregulation possible in 2001, Japan’s utilities, according to Braunold, are eager to capture revenue generated by new ventures, such as Internet service provision or telecom.

Braunold said pilot projects with U.S. utilities are likely later this year. “We’re quite involved with the PMA (Power Marketing Association); we’ve been to their conferences, we met with a number of people, and we’re already having active discussions with a number of utility companies who’ve shown interest to participate.” (Non-disclosure agreements preclude identifying the utilities.)

Presuming the technology is proven, the next hurdle becomes economic feasibility. Braunold said, “The value proposition has not been that attractive, but obviously the landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years with the Internet and the telecos cashing in. The utility companies feel they want to get in on this-they’re interested now on looking at it a lot more seriously. And we’re coming with what we consider cost-effective implementation of technology where the couplers aren’t as expensive as they were in the past. If this technology even was offered a few years ago, I don’t think it would have been as attractive as it is today.”

PLT Solutions’ parent company, Ambient Corp., is a publicly traded company incorporated in the United States that invests in and operates technology companies in Israel and the United States

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