Amperion Delivers Broadband with Powerline, Wi-Fi

While the battle over
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

“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.

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