RealTime IT News

Italy Explores Internet via Electrical Circuits

Imagine plugging your laptop or PC into an electrical socket and immediately being linked to the World Wide Web. No modems, telephone connections, per minute charges, or hotel phone bills. Sound impossible?

Recent experiments by Citytel, a telecommunications group under the Italian energy company, AEM, illustrated the realistic potential for Internet accessibility through electricity networks, completely bypassing traditional telephone links.

"The Citytel tests in Milan," reported the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, "appeared like a mirage--a possibility to throw off local telephone charges and travel without time limits or fees in the vast universe of the Internet."

Inasmuch as Milan was the first city to test electricity network links in Italy, the technology was developed in England by Nor.Web, a joint venture of Canada's, Nortel, and the Manchester-based public utilities company Norweb. The Digital PowerLine, as it is called, transmits data via electricity lines at 1 million bits per second--17 times faster than contemporary modem capability--transforming domestic power systems into local area networks.

In 1995 the Italy's national electrical company, ENEL, began testing digital transmission in the city of Rome. While not connected to Internet usage, ENEL has succeeded in offering customers access to their electricity accounts through television and decoder connections.

Nor.Web, in recent months, has been testing the new system in the Manchester area with, according to one report, major success and customer satisfaction. There are still, however, technical difficulties to overcome before the system will allow the ease required for mass marketing of electrical access.

Currently, two boxes--one connected to the PC and a second directly liked to the power counter--are required. These boxes must also be connected which often causes major problems in Italy since most electrical boxes are situation in basements while users may be on the sixth or seventh floor.

"Vast rewiring of domestic homes would be required before most users could easily access electrical networks," said a representative of ENEL. In the meantime, however, AEM, ENEL, and Nortel are expanding their tests of Nor.Web technology in hopes of offering Internet access without telephone lines or connections in the not-to-distant future.