Powerline deployed in SA and Uganda– IP-TV trial this autumn

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Powerline technology has always seemed to promise much but never seem to quite come to the boil. But Goal Technology Solutions (known as GTS) has rolled out operational 30 meg connections in South Africa and is currently deploying in Uganda for UTL. And come October this year it will be trialling IP-TV. Russell Southwood spoke to its CEO Adrian Maguire about why it had succeeded where others have failed.

GTS is a spin-off of the Power Line Communications division of Grintek Telecom. The GTS team worked for Grintek in this division for two years before setting up GTS in September 2004. Adrian Maguire, CEO, GTS is very honest about the early years:”The first two years we had relatively little success. We went through a number of suppliers who worked not quite well enough for commercial deployment and there were issues of cost.” But it is now the only integrator and value added reseller appointed by Mitsubishi Electric for the SADC region for its PLC technology. Maguire told us:”It’s DS2 technology but we’ve done quite a bit of local development. These are small tweaks to get reliability. And with that, it’s now gone over the curve of let’s see if it works.”

It went live with its first application in November 2005 with 130 houses in Pretoria. According to Maguire:”We were trialling second generation powerline technology and it was our first large-scale trial. The customer (Tshwane Municipality) wanted 4-6 meg per home but we were able to deliver a 30 meg connection per house.” The company is focused on providing “last-mile” solutions.

It has worked hard on the applications that can be delivered using the technology so that it does what it’s supposed to do. It has run voice and Internet, installed high-quality security cameras and deployed water meter reading devices. Maguire says:”The reliability is such that we don’t have to keep going back.” It will conduct its first IP-TV broadcast in October this year.

It has two further roll-outs under way: one in Durban and the other in Uganda. Durban Municipality has given GTS two “real-world” pilots to cut their teeth on: a school and two houses on a street some distance the mini sub-station. The Uganda deployment for a number of UTL office buildings in Kampala. In addition it will be rolling out soon to a number of security estates in South Africa. It is also looking at other African countries including DRC and Rwanda.

One of the key problems the technology had to solve was interference from local “noise”. According to Maguire:”Every time an electric tool or washing machine gets switched on, it generates noise. This newer technology waits for noise to reduce after the appliance’s motor starts. It samples the network 1500 times a second. Once the noise stabilises, we move the signal back again so it makes allowances for this kind of interference.”

What about costs? The connection to the customer is made using the equivalent of an ADSL modem that delivers a connection of between 6-200 meg. The CPE and network for the user costs US$280 or US$321 with a built-in VoIP codec. Maguire is keen to stress that it’s not necessarily the cheapest technology “but it can deliver better quality and higher capacity.” Will prices come down?”Equipment prices have dropped 35% since the beginning of 2005 and will continue to drop as the technology gains wider acceptance.”

Meanwhile Cactel Communications in collaboration with the University of Ghana, Legon, has launched a high speed broadband internet, telephony and wireless (wi-fi) communications pilot that harnesses the electricity distribution network to provide mile connectivity to the student and staff population at the main University campus, Legon.

It has provided 16 users with Powerline Communications (PLC) access to these telecommunication services across three sites on the Legon Campus. The demonstration will run for 3 months. The PLC network which is based on the university’s existing electricity network has linked the International Students Hostel, the ICT Directorate and the Registry with a high-speed broadband network, telephony and multimedia services such as video on demand and remote video surveillance via CCTV.

Cactel’s network also demonstrates the interoperability between PLC, Fibre and Wireless networks. Cactel has provided a PLC wi-fi hotspot in and around the ICT Directorate building available to anyone with a wireless-enabled laptop. Cactel’s PLC technology is based on the pioneering technology developed by DS2 of Spain, which provides up to 200mbps of data transfer along existing electricity infrastructure. Tecnocom, a global systems integration company, worked with Cactel in deploying this pilot project at the university.

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