Powerline Update

2003 Update on the Powerline Industry

Industry Overview

What has changed

Both Europe and the US are bullish about broadband, yet Powerline now is in the last place of all technological solutions.

There is no revolutionary change. A few companies left the Powerline community, a few new ones joined. Pacific-Asian companies became active.

Ascom, the Bern-based company is facing problems with its Powerline technology. Powerline was a key part of the company's revival strategy (Ascom executives predicted in 2001 that it would achieve sales of between SFr200-300 million. It actually generated an operating loss of SFr67 million). And towards the end of 2002 doubt continues about the viability of Powerline, as reports that German electricity utility, RWE AG, reveal that it will stop using Ascom's Powerline technology.

Siemens announced that it was pulling the plug on development of its version of digital power line technology, although intended to keep its options open about re-entering the market at some future date. The company said it saw a greater potential market in developing ADSL products instead. Siemens cited regulatory delays as the reason for its decision as it saw no chance of an immediate mass market application for Powerline, thereby making the growth of the market “uncertain”.

The German utilities group, RWE, is reported to be winding up its Powerline service. Only launched last year, attempts to find a buyer for its Powerline service are ongoing. Apart from technical problems, it is reported that the closure of the Powerline service follows the increasing use by security services of the frequencies which were to have been used by Powerline. Sector experts indicate that, while Powerline had hoped to attract 120,000 customers by the end of 2002, only 2,000 customers were counted early this year, although the company disputes that demand for the service was insufficient to merit its continuation.

In the market, Access applications are further delayed because regulation and standards making are exceedingly slow to come. From todays view it begins to look doubtful if PLC access will be able to compete with xDSL and cable on the grounds of economy, regulatory hurdles and timing, at least in Europe.

In-house applications, by contrast, are less encumbered by regulation and those PLC-LANs (P-LANs) are being successfully introduced world wide.

More than 80 “trials” have been conducted worldwide in Access alone, mostly in European countries. The major Powerline vendors have come to call these “Introductory Systems” rather than trials. With legalisation of Powerline in many countries now accomplished we must speak of Introductory Systems rather than trials.

Public acceptance has been slower than anticipated. In the European market there is no primary need for Powerline as alternative competitive systems are already in place, or, becoming economically attractive.

PLCforum

The PLCforum has today about 100 international members and meets about 4 times a year. Up to 2002 it was dominated by Telecommunications Network Operators and large Electrical Utilities. Its primary interest thus was PLC access.

The PLCforum maintains liaison with ETSI, the EC, the international standards bodies and the UTC in an effort to establish itself as focal point for the industry.

While the principal purpose of founding the PLCforum had been to have only one worldwide organization, there are still several organizations that jointly look out for this industry.

The interests of the in-house Powerline applications seemed underrepresented by the PLCforum, particularly for the US, where the majority of PLC efforts are focussed on in-house PLC applications and products.

HomePlug

The HomePlug Alliance based in the US keeps its membership at close to 70 companies and meets two times a year. It has developed its 1.0 specification on schedule and is proceeding to certify implementations by member companies.

The US based UTC is also active, as are other associations. But those are not dealing exclusively with Powerline.

Work in standards organizations is proceeding on “schedule” but for many progress is much too slow. CENELEC is supposed to develop the specifications for layers 1 and 2, where emmission levels and power density spectral use are concerned.

ETSI should work out the higher layers of the interface. One problem has been that layer 1, the “physical” layer, depends heavily on the chip implementation and is, in most cases, considered proprietary.

That so far has stymied all efforts to get to true interworking standards.


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