Sub-station offers fast link to the Internet

9th January 1998 at 00:00
A Manchester primary is on the Web without a modem - thanks to a technological breakthrough. Phil Revell reports.

Children at Seymour Park primary school in Manchester are charged up about a ground-breaking technological advance being piloted in their school.

The school's Internet access is being delivered via an electricity sub-station in the playground. The technology, developed by Nortel and Norweb, allows electronic data to be transmitted down a power line and could revolutionise classroom Internet usage.

The school's computers are permanently connected to the Net and teachers and children have downloaded data at speeds of up to one megabit per second, 30 times faster than through the average computer modem - and with no telephone charges.

Headteacher Jenny Dunne said it had fascinated the children and delighted the staff, not least because of the 15 computers donated to the school by Norweb as part of the deal.

"It's been an extremely happy partnership," said Ms Dunne. "We had the IT expertise to support the pilot and the people that Norweb have sent to us have been excellent.

"Even in this short time we can see that it is going to upgrade the curriculum considerably."

One advantage is to the school's literacy drive. Children are researching the Tudor period using Internet material about Henry VIII's warship, the Mary Rose, now on show in Ports-mouth.

"Children are being driven to read at a higher level," said Ms Dunne. "Reading, evaluating and summarising - these are high-order skills." Ms Dunne is also planning to use the system for staff training and sees opportunities for community use. The speed also makes classwork easier.

"With a normal connection, children could lose interest waiting for pages to download. This way it arrives virtually instantaneously, maximising teaching time and keeping the children on task."

Even the well-known drop in speeds after lunch, when American users log on to the Net, did not affect the system. Teachers did, however, notice a dip when the street lights came on - a problem since rectified by Norweb.

The technological breakthrough lies in the way that researchers have been able to screen electrical interference out of data transmissions.

Signals travel to the local substation over power lines, then onwards by fibre optic cable links. Commercial access will be available later this year at costs which Nortel and Norweb describe as "competitive".

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