Singapore Power Kicks Off PLC Market Trial

According to surveys conducted by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, it showed that broadband adoption within the business community in Singapore is widespread.

“If we lag behind in the adoption of broadband, we risk lagging behind others in doing business in general. Adoption of broadband access is widespread at home as well, but there is room for increasing the number of subscribers,” said Lam Chuan Leong, chairman of the Infocomm (IDA).

Up until now, Singapore was only able to offer Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), cable, asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and fiber. Very soon, there will be a new channel coming its way as SP Telecommunications, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singapore Power, is all set to unleash the potential of the PowerLine Communication (PLC) technology to local Internet users in a market trial that will last for three to six months.

The trial will give 500 users the privilege of experiencing the technology for free. And selection of the trial participants will be at the discretion of SP Telecommunications’ partners, Little Green Apples Pte Ltd (LGA) and Pacific Internet Ltd (PacNet).

Together, the three companies will provide a mix of selected commercial, residential and educational users the opportunity of cruising the cyberspace at Internet access speeds of up to 45 Mbps data rate (27 Mbps upstream and 18Mbps downstream).

Potentially, at 45 Mbps, the surfer will be able to assess the Internet at a speed that is more than 50 times faster than the current broadband capability. Hence, users will no longer be bogged down by slow Internet surfing time and the current limitations of accessing broadband tied to a fixed location in the house.

The aim of the trial is to provide a realistic environment for SP Telecommunications to test out the actual technical implementation of PLC and to gain a better insight of the various business and operation processes on a larger scale. Another objective of this market trial is to seek customer feedback and gauge user acceptance from the different segments of the end-user market.

“When PLC is ready for commercialization, SP Telecommunications will provide an alternative ‘last mile’ connectivity to Service Providers who do not own the necessary infrastructure to reach their customers,” said Teo Heng Lam, general manager of SP Telecommunications.

SP Telecommunications will also provide Facilities/Service Based Providers with another ‘last mile’ alternative infrastructure without having to incur heavy expenses for digging and laying additional cables.

Advantages of PLC

By enabling fast data transmission over the existing power network, PLC has the capability of bringing high-speed broadband Internet access, narrowband services (such as home automation and security), telephony and fax services and Local Area Network (LAN)services to each and every power socket in the home and office once the low voltage network serving the premise is conditioned to accept the PLC technology. All a consumer would then require is a PLC adapter, which doubles up as a modem, to connect to the power socket.

The beauty of PLC also lies in the fact that no messy additional wiring is required in order to set up a home network and addresses the problem of moving the access point within the house.

In addition, ardent net surfers need no longer have to dial out for Internet access as the main voltage and the associated communications signals are available almost immediately upon plugging in. This literally translates to the ease and convenience for the user to get connected to the broadband world, 24-hours a day.

The president of Singapore Power, RADM (Retired) Kwek Siew Jin commented that PLC will not only be attractive to utility companies but to telcos as well as they will find PLC a more convenient and less expensive option as compared to the traditional laying of telecommunication wires to their customers’ premises and in-house LAN wiring, or ‘final inch’.

“PLC is the single most exciting happening in Internet communications. It is not about the last mile. Soon it will be about the last device,” added Daniel Ang, CEO of Little Green Apples Pte Ltd.

Lessons From The Past

“Although PLC technology is described as revolutionary, utilities all around the world, including PowerGrid in Singapore, have used a simpler form of powerline technology for their own network operations for many years – mainly for monitoring and protection purposes and also for ripple control of street lightings. However, such data is transmitted at low speeds. We never doubted that the possibility of higher speeds existed, and have kept a close watch on the technology that enables the transmission of high bandwidth data over powerlines,” stated Kwek.

“Even before the formation of SP Telecommunications, we had been keeping a close watch on the progress of PLC in Europe since 1996,” he added.

According to Kwek, PLC has gained a lot of interest in Europe. After a few disappointing trials in the late 1990s, the use of PLC technology is steadily gaining widespread acceptance throughout the continent. It is being tested by many utilities around the world including Endesa and Iberdrola in Spain, EDF in France, Sydkraft in Sweden as well as companies in Iceland, Chile, Turkey, Australia, Brazil, Korea and Japan.

“In Germany, utility companies have started to offer PLC services commercially. RWE launched its PLC services in July 2001 in the cities of Essen and Mulheim. It is expecting 150,000 customers by end 2003. Another German utility, MVV started offering PLC in Mannheim in July 2001 and will have an infrastructure ready for connection for 130,000 households by end 2002,” he said.

Singapore will be the first country in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to try PowerLine Communications Technology.

ASEAN comprises Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei.

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