The promise of power line communications (PLC) has grown stronger over the past few months and will only increase in the future, a telecom conference was told last week. The ability to deliver telephony through electric lines should be widely available soon, three American executives predicted. "We’ve come an awful long way in the last year, year-and-a-half," Jeff Tolnar, VP marketing and business development of Chelmsford MA-based Amperion, Inc., told the United Telecom Council Canadian conference. "Power line communications is a viable market." The UTC first introduced the topic to Canadian delegates at its session in Vancouver last year (NL, March 25/02). Another round of presentations was held at the 2003 Canadian Utility Telecom Conference in Ottawa last week. The session, which provided updates on how the sector has progressed, was filled to overflowing by an appreciative, although skeptical, audience. Joe Cufari, VP business development of Germantown MD-based Current Technologies, LLC, said his company is able to offer broadband access as its primary PLC product. Secondary and tertiary telephony is also available, and eventually Current hopes to be able to provide video service. Tolnar concurred. Today’s technology does not have enough bandwidth to offer the three major services customers want – Internet, voice and video. But future improvements will make that possible, he predicted. "Anything you can do with IP, you can do over a power line," Tolnar maintained. Joe Marsilii, president/CEO of Main.net - Power Line Communications, Inc. of Reston VA, said his firm is currently conducting PLC trials in Europe, Asia and parts of the United States. Full deployment should occur in the next several months, he added. "It’s right around the corner," he assured delegates. Cufari told the audience there are several economic advantages to rolling out PLC. Deployment is fast and flexible. The average installation takes less than 30 minutes per transformer. There is a small incremental build, so each additional customer requires little incremental cost. If clients choose to sign up through Current’s web site, they can be registered in under a minute. In addition, the deployment can be done with a single truck roll, unlike the situation with DSL or cable modems. Current is conducting its trials in Cincinnati and in suburban Maryland, just outside Washington D.C. It is offering services at prices starting around US$25.95 per month, increasing with greater bandwidth. Every house has a minimum of 1.5 megs or the installation is not considered complete, Cufari said. Tolnar said Amperion is discussing offering service to residential customers but is concentrating on the small- and medium-sized business market. PLC permits small firms to use greater bandwidth than a T1 without overextending their reach. Amperion is testing its product in Dublin OH, Allentown PA and two smaller centres in the eastern United States that the VP was not at liberty to reveal. PLC is a supplement for fibre, Tolnar explained. It is not as fast, though. Fibre networks can reach speeds of Gigabits or terabits, while PLC is restricted to megabits. But that fulfills the demand of most utel clients, Tolnar said. Cufari said changing consumer tastes should help companies rolling out PLC. He described it as the battle between Microsoft and Sony. At one time the computer software giant controlled the family’s PC market, while the den was filled with Sony’s TVs, stereos and other products. But now that Microsoft has introduced the Xbox, customers can download applications for which they previously would have used other appliances. PLC is a perfect medium for such downloads, Cufari asserted.