Lauded as the world`s first, the Seymour Park Primary School in Trafford, Greater Manchester, UK, connected 12 computers to the Internet by power line. The 12 computers operate concurrently from one connection at speeds to 1 megabit per second. This technology, developed by Nortel (Harlow, UK) and norweb Communications (Chorley, UK), replaces traditional telephone grids. Nortel`s Robert Spaulding claims that this technology supplies Internet and data access for the general public at up to 10 times the speed of today`s fastest home system.
Accessing the Internet through electrical power lines has several benefits for consumers and educators. For example, it lowers customers` costs. In countries such as England, where customers must pay for local calls, using the Internet through the telephone grid is very expensive. The new technology lowers the cost of using the Internet and enables more people to have access to it.
The high data-transfer rate overcomes the obstacle of slow telephone connection rates, which are a barrier to Internet use by schools. "The high-speed connection lets us really take advantage of the educational potential of the Internet," says Jenny Dunn, head teacher at Seymour Park. "With a normal connection the children could lose interest waiting for pages to download. The new system means information arrives virtually instantaneously, thereby maximizing teaching time and keeping children on task. This setup is amazingly flexible in educational terms, and not only gives us the additional medium with which to improve standards, but prepares us for the National Grid for Learning."
How it`s done
Electric companies deliver the technology to customers by turning low-voltage distribution segments of the electricity infrastructure, between the customer and the local substation, into a local area network. The signaling system carries the data between the substation and home. Fiber-optic circuits link each station to a central switch and then to the Internet. A small box installed next to the meter sends and receives data, and a coaxial cable links the box to a personal computer. An extra card and communications software that handles customer subscription, security, and authentication services must be added to the PC. The software automatically updates itself and the card from the network. The technology stops the electrical noise occurring on power cables from interfering with communications signals.
Growth in the use of this technology is promising. More than 150 companies, including major power utilities from around the world, are inquiring about the technology, and 30 of them are discussing the technology in detail with Nortel and norweb. "The technology is working well and is delivering the performance and benefits we expected," says Peter Dudley, a Nortel vice president. "Taken together with the level of business interest from utilities around the world, we have a high commercial expectation."
In addition to educational uses, Nortel claims its technology will enable greater use of electronic commerce, teleworking, entertainment, and Internet telephony.