PUC Telecom and equipment maker Amperion Inc. are using Sault Ste. Marie as a testbed for the deployment of emerging powerline communications technology, the rollout of which will rely on wireless technology for the last mile. The Northern Ontario city is the first in Canada to try the new powerline Internet technology, which could boost broadband subscribership in cities of all sizes. Despite the pervasiveness of the power grid, the two companies will set up hotspots along PUC’s medium-voltage lines, allowing users within a 150-metre radius of the boxes to connect to the Internet. The equipment at these hotspots will transform the computer data into a format that can be sent through the power grid to PUC’s fibre backbone, which is connected to the Internet backbone. Jeff Tolnar, Amperion’s VP of sales, marketing and business development, explains that in the initial stages of the trial only computers with 802.11b-compliant network access cards will be supported, but that will change in the near future. "By the end of March we’ll be able to support a, b, or g, to go to a little higher speeds into the premises. So the on and off ramps are still Wi-Fi and inherent in that is the rate of connection with Wi-Fi. 802.11b has a connect speed of 11 megabits with a throughput in the 3 to 5 range." The PUC service will not only provide much needed competition to the broadband access market, it will also offer "roaming" whereby users can connect to the Internet through various hotspots located throughout the city, an advantage the wireline broadband players can’t offer. The City of Calgary is offering residents and visitors similar "roaming" capabilities through its near city-wide hotspot network (RoW, July 9/03). But Calgary’s model is a wholesale operation and allows other operators to interconnect. The expansion of the network beyond the four initial hotspots is up to other commercial operators in the city. Amperion and PUC have also agreed to work together to promote the use of powerline communications technologies to other utility telecoms in Canada. Tolnar explains that PUC will become a value-added partner for Amperion, approaching other utels and sharing information on how the technology works, and how the trial is progressing in Sault Ste. Marie. The two companies say that both Hydro-Québec and Telecom Ottawa have expressed interest in the technology, but neither firm has rolled out any equipment. Other firms such as Hydro One Telecom are less enthusiastic about the effectiveness of powerline communications, however.