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Power Line Communications (PLC)

Power line communication (PLC), also known as power line carrier, is a system for transmitting information on an electrical conductor used for carrying electric power from high voltage transmission lines, distribution lines, and to lower voltage lines used inside buildings. All PLC systems operate by applying a modulated carrier signal on the existing electrical wiring system. There are different types of powerline communications, depending on frequency bands used.

A good example of PLC that uses high-frequency communication (MHz range) is broadband over powerlines (BPL). BPL employs PLC to provide broadband data and voice services through the use of existing electrical power lines. Typically BPL services operate by modulating in a carrier wave of between 1.6 and 80 MHz into electrical power lines. In the U.S., BPL services are offered by, for example, CURRENT communications Services, LLC [1], a joint venture between Current Communications and Cinergy, and the City of Manassas Uttilities [2].

PLC has long been used, with medium-frequency modulation (kHz range), for remote measurement and reporting purposes . The applications are for example for utilities to control and perform telemetry of electrical equipment such as meters (AMR), SCADA, demand side management and power quality monitoring systems.

PLC can also be used for home automation, e.g. for remote lighting and appliance control and/or monitoring. Many of such monitoring and control devices for home automation are available commercially today. These devices can operate on X10 -- "a communications language that allows compatible products to talk to each other using the existing electrical wiring in the home" [3], INSTEON -- "a robust, redundant dual-band mesh network that combines wireless radio frequency (RF) with the home's existing electrical wiring" [3]. Typically home-control/monitoring PLC devices modulate in a carrier wave of between 20 and 200 kHz into the household wiring, or UPB -- "The UPBā„¢ is a highly reliable, cost effective, 2-way communications technology which enables control products to utilize existing powerlines for both residential and commercial applications" [4].


PLC can be used to provide broadband internet access to home, remote telemetry and home automation. PLC is one of the technologies being used in Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) systems.


[1] Broadband over Powerline services offered by CURRENT Communications Services, LLC. URL: http://www.current.net/
[2] Broadband over Powerline services in the City of Manassas, VA. URL: http://www.manassascity.org/index.aspx?nid=78
[3] What is X10? URL: http://www.smarthome.com/about_x10.html
[4] How UPB compares to X-10. URL: http://pulseworx.com/upb/x10_compare_upb_.htm

Key Technology Area: 
Integrated Communications

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