Despite claiming it had no intention of pursuing commercial applications for its broadband-enabled network four months ago TransGrid was called out yesterday by NSW Government Minister for Information Technology, Kim Yeadon.
Yeadon confirmed what most had suspected since sources close to TransGrid leaked that it was in the process of enabling its Electricity Transmission Network to carry communication signals along fibre optic cable that is embedded in the network's earth wire (see ARNnet February 9, 2001).
TransGrid provides electricity to numerous utilities and some direct customers across NSW, and as rumour had it, would us the electricity network to piggyback broadband Internet and telecommunications services throughout NSW, with links into Victoria and Brisbane. The company uses the communications network to provide "protection and control" of its power network, using the high-bandwidth cable to send switching information between power exchanges.
The state government-owned utility previously used microwave technology to send this information, but has been forced to migrate to fibre after the Federal Government began restricting the number of microwave spectrum's available. However, the half-inch thick fibre cabling line will far exceed TransGrid's internal communication requirements and provide it with the option to sell off the excess capacity to any carrier willing to pay for the service.
The rollout of 1,300 kms of fibre across TransGrid's network has been completed according to Yeadon, and discussions with potential carriers are underway. Yeadon expects TransGrid to have signed carriers by the end of the year, with services aimed at providing telecommunication services to regional and rural areas.
"I'm sure it will be attractive to some carriers," claims Joe Zahra, TransGrid manager corporate. "Effectively, our network provides a natural backbone between the capitals, and if you capture the traffic between Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and maybe Canberra on the way through then that's a fairly big market."
ARN revealed back in February that TransGrid was considering commercially exploiting the excess capacity of the communications network, but Geoff Johnson, research director at analyst Gartner, said that it would be a "tough sell" in the industry.
"It's a carrier's carrier service," said Johnson. "You could write down the number of [carriers] that could afford this service on the back of an envelope."
The use of protection earth wires embedded with fibre optic as a broadband telco service is used in Europe and the UK and, according to Johnson, needs a large market to support the venture.