Tassie BPL's underground trial unfair, says WIA

Opponents of a new super-speed Internet being tested in Tasmania have slammed the trial, saying it will give an unfair result.

The Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA), a major opponent of Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) technology, says the conditions in Hobart do not reflect typical Australian cities. The BPL trial was launched this month by Tasmanian telco TasTel, a subsidiary of electricity distributor Aurora Energy.

Using new technology from its infrastructure provider, Mitsubishi, the telco is delivering broadband speeds of 200Mbps - over four times faster than similar trials undertaken in initial tests in Hobart last year.

The trial is underway in the new suburb of Tolmans Hill, at the foothills of Mt Wellington, near Hobart. The new suburb uses underground power, rather than on aboveground power lines. According to the WIA, this makes all the difference.

"They have chosen an underground network so they can avoid any interference complaints," said Phil Wait, Director, Wireless Institute of Australia.

The main concern with BPL, according to WIA and hordes of amateur radio operators across the world is radio interference caused by electrical signals.

Wait says that burying power cables provides a degree of shielding not accessible to aboveground power lines, the amount depending on factors such as the depth of the cable, the composition of the ground and moisture.

"They have picked their area quite carefully," he said.

WIA has yet to do any formal tests of the area. "We will test after the trial is 'loaded' [with customers] so we can see in real world conditions."

The WIA says it has already received a complaint from a radio amateur who detected HF radio frequency interference.

Aurora spokesperson Adrian Wild said the electricity provider was working closely with the Australian Communications and Media Authority on the trial.

"We have made numerous submissions to ACMA. They have got an interest as much as we have," he said.

TasTel will trial the technology for nine months, with Datafast the ISP, and "engine" to provide customers with VoIP.

The entry-level service costs $14.95 per month and customers get a 256Kbps/64Kbps (download/upload) service including VoIP. The monthly download limit is a tiny 20MB, with each additional megabyte costing 10c. Although the service is capable of delivering speeds of 200Mbps, the highest speed offered to customers is 12Mbps with a 1Mbps upload. This comes with a 2GB limit and is priced at $79.95.

According to Wild, there has been an "enormous" amount of interest in the trial so far.

Wait says this was because there were no broadband alternatives in the area, with Telstra yet to make the suburb ADSL-ready.

Wait said that the better alternative to such trials was other forms of broadband such as ADSL/ADSL2+ or the forthcoming WiMax.

"The idea of getting broadband out of a power point is good, but only if they get it to work [without radio interference]," Wait said.

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