RealTime IT News

Amperion Delivers Broadband with Powerline, Wi-Fi

While the battle over competition between the Bells and ISPs begins to shift to state regulatory bodies, a potential dark horse competitor is preparing to challenge both telcos and cable operators for the broadband market.

That dark horse is the power utility. Utilities around the world already have vast, pervasive, high-quality networks, whereas, in many parts of the world, local telephone companies have difficulty providing dial-up Internet services. And while, in the U.S., power companies are not allowed to provide Internet services, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows them to form "exempt companies" which are wholly owned subsidiaries. Exempt companies, like AEP Communications, a subsidiary of American Electric Power , are allowed to provide Internet services.

The sticking point has been the slow development of Powerline communication (PLC) equipment, which allows utilities to insert data signals into their power lines.

But companies like Chelmsford, Mass.-based Amperion are beginning to change that. Amperion focuses on medium-voltage power lines, which don't connect directly to homes, but are located within a few hundred meters of every home and business, according to the company. On Wednesday, Amperion unveiled its Amperion Connect Powerline system and PowerWiFi access.

The Amperion Connect system is a suite of hardware and software products that enable broadband access, backhaul and internal utility services. PowerWiFi extends the solution to the last mile, using 802.11b to link end-users to the powerline network.

The company added that its technology easily integrates with other access technologies, including low-voltage powerline, HomePlug standardized powerline equipment, and DSL. Amperion said it has seen results of up to 18 mbps throughput with a direct powerline connection and up to 6 mbps with a WiFi connection, speeds which should make the technology an attractive option to both small businesses and residential users.

"PowerWiFi access enables us to deliver broadband quickly and inexpensively," said Philip G. Hunt, founder and CEO of Amperion. "The proven flexibility and economies of scale offered by WiFi, combined with the pervasiveness of power lines, gives us an inherently safe means of delivering broadband to the widest number of families and businesses. Amperion Connect provisions broadband to a neighborhood in the quickest manner, resulting in service in hours instead of days."

For utilities, the technology -- which can be quickly added to existing infrastructure -- offers new revenue streams and new methods of operating their networks. The utilities can choose to lease their lines or create subsidiary service providers. Either way, service providers could use the technology to reach customers that were previously unreachable with broadband.

"The Amperion team's PLC expertise and vision has resulted in an economical last mile solution that provides broadband to virtually everyone, everywhere," said Sandra K. Williams, senior counsel of Dublin, Ohio-based AEP, one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S. and one of Amperion's investors. "PowerWiFi access deploys 802.11 in a distributed architecture that ensures density of coverage, high speed, and transforms WiFi into a ubiquitous, high reliability broadband network."

In addition to its status as an investor, AEP is also one of three utilities performing market trials with Amperion's technology. While AEP has not yet deployed Amperion Connect, the other two, including Allentown, Pa.-based giant PPL Corp. and an undisclosed utility, have deployed the technology. Amperion spokesperson Amy Burnis added that the company is in talks with other utilities as well. "We have a pretty good demand for our product," she said.

Amperion, founded in June 2001, is backed by AEP, Cisco Systems , and venture capital firm Redleaf.