Internet access via wall sockets will have to wait

  • 2004-01-29
  • By Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - The possibility of logging online straight though the electric outlet on the wall - one of the latest innovations in surfing convenience - might not become a reality in Estonia. Eesti Energia, the state-owned power company, has abandoned the idea of using its vast distribution network for Internet connections.

With its sprawling retail network that delivers electricity to nearly 500,000 households and offices all over Estonia, Eesti Energia was poised to be a serious competitor on the IT market - big enough to even give Eesti Telefon (renamed into Elion last year) a run for its money. As early as spring 2001 Eesti Energia engineers were testing the appropriate hardware for outlet-based Internet access and even leaked information to the press about a possible launch of consumer service in the nearest future.
Here's how it was supposed to work: A special network adapter connects one's computer with a regular household electric plug. (USB adapters for local networks based on the PowerLine technology are already available and cost approximately $100.) Then a router device in the transformer and connected to an ISP carries the computer's signal through the electricity network and into the World Wide Web.
Alar Ehandi, head of the Look@World project that was begun by major Estonian IT companies for the "Internetization" of the country and IT awareness among the population, says he considers the idea of the wall Internet somewhat utopian, especially for Estonia.
"Technologically it is possible, but it is not [economically] feasible and would require major investments. For some really remote forest village it could be the best option, but for a bigger village it is easier to use a radio link or a mobile network post or ADSL," says Ehandi.
Linnar Viik, one of the most known Estonian IT visionaries, said diversity of Internet access channels was always welcomed because it created additional competition. "However that does not mean the price of Internet access via power lines would be competitive compared to the existing and rapidly emerging new channels," he says.
In Viik's opinion, the fact that electricity is available in most of Estonia's houses is a precondition for computer use and creates a good basis for wireless networks.
"It would be better to consider the digital TV standards now accepted in many countries as the best development option for higher Internet penetration in rural areas," he says.
Viik stresses that he hasn't yet seen an "Internet-from-the-wall" project that would be economically viable.
"Theoretically it is possible to create self-sustainable models when building a new, modern network from scratch, but that would traditionally take place in low-income regions of the world where it is unclear if people would be ready to pay for it," he says.
"Having said that, I would rather focus on the possibility of going online through the TV antenna in rural areas."