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Power line communication (PLC), also called mains communication, power line telecoms (PLT), powerband or power line networking (PLN) or power area networking (PAN) are terms describing several different systems for using power distribution wires for simultaneous distribution of data. The carrier can communicate voice and data by superimposing an analog signal over the standard 50 or 60 Hz alternating current (AC). It includes Broadband over Power Lines (BPL) with data rates sometimes above 1 Mbps and Narrowband over Power Lines with much lower data rates. Traditionally electrical utilities used low-speed power-line carrier circuits for control of substations, voice communication, and protection of high-voltage transmission lines. High-speed data transmission has been developed using the lower voltage transmission lines used for power distribution. A short-range form of power-line carrier is used for home automation and intercoms.


Home control

Power line communications technology can use the household electrical power wiring as a transmission medium. This is a technique used in home automation for remote control of lighting and appliances without installation of additional control wiring.

Typically home-control power line communications devices operate by modulating in a carrier wave of between 20 and 200 kHz into the household wiring at the transmitter. The carrier is modulated by digital signals. Each receiver in the system has an address and can be individually commanded by the signals transmitted over the household wiring and decoded at the receiver. These devices may either be plugged into regular power outlets or else permanently wired in place. Since the carrier signal may propagate to nearby homes (or apartments) on the same distribution system, these control schemes have a "house address" that designates the owner.

Home networking

Another typical application of power line communications technology to interconnect (network) home computers, peripherals or other networked consumer peripherals. At present there is no universal standard for powerline communication. Standards for power line home networking have been developed by a number of different companies within the framework of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance and the Universal Powerline Association

Internet access (broadband over powerlines, BPL)

Broadband over power lines (BPL), also known as power-line internet or Powerband, is the use of PLC technology to provide broadband Internet access through ordinary power lines. A computer (or any other device) would need only to plug a BPL "modem" into any outlet in an equipped building to have high-speed Internet access.

BPL seems, at first glance, to offer benefits relative to regular cable or DSL connections: the extensive infrastructure already available would appear to allow people in remote locations to have access to the Internet with relatively little equipment investment by the utility. Also, such ubiquitous availability would make it much easier for other electronics, such as televisions or sound systems, to hook up.

However, variations in the physical characteristics of the electricity network and the current lack of IEEE standards mean that provisioning of the service is far from being a standardized, repeatable process, and the amount of bandwidth a BPL system can provide compared to cable and wireless is in question. Some industry observers believe the prospect of BPL will motivate DSL and cable operators to more quickly serve rural communities.

PLC modems transmit in medium and high frequency (1.6 to 30 MHz electric carrier). The asymmetric speed in the modem is generally from 256 kbit/s to 2.7 Mbit/s. In the repeater situated in the meter room the speed is up to 45 Mbit/s and can be connected to 256 PLC modems. In the medium voltage stations, the speed from the head ends to the Internet is up to 135 Mbit/s. To connect to the Internet, utilities can use optical fiber backbone or wireless link.

Differences in the electrical distribution systems in North America and Europe affect the implementation of BPL. In North America relatively few homes are connected to each distribution transformer, whereas European practice may have hundreds of homes connected to each substation. Since the BPL signals do not propagate through the distribution transformers, extra equipment is needed in the North American case. However, since bandwidth is limited this can increase the speed at which each household can connect, due to fewer people sharing the same line.

The system has a number of complex issues, the primary one being that power lines are inherently a very noisy environment. Every time a device turns on or off, it introduces a pop or click into the line. Energy-saving devices often introduce noisy harmonics into the line. The system must be designed to deal with these natural signaling disruptions and work around them.

Broadband over powerlines has developed faster in Europe than in the US due to a historical difference in power system design philosophies. Nearly all large power grids transmit power at high voltages in order to reduce transmission losses, then near the customer use step-down transformers to reduce the voltage. Since BPL signals cannot readily pass through transformers — their high inductance makes them act as low-pass filters, blocking high-frequency signals — repeaters must be attached to the transformers. In the US, it is common for a small transformer hung from a utility pole to service a single house. In Europe, it is more common for a somewhat larger transformer to service 10 or 100 houses. For delivering power to customers, this difference in design makes little difference, but it means delivering BPL over the power grid of a typical US city will require an order of magnitude more repeaters than would be required in a comparable European city. One possible alternative is to use BPL as the backhaul for wireless communications, by for instance hanging Wi-Fi access points or cellphone base stations on utility poles, thus allowing end-users within a certain range to connect with equipment they already have. In the near future, BPL might also be used as a backhaul for WiMAX networks.

The second major issue is signal strength and operating frequency. The system is expected to use frequencies in the 10 to 30 MHz range, which has been used for decades by amateur radio operators, as well as international shortwave broadcasters and a variety of communications systems (military, aeronautical, etc.). Power lines are unshielded and will act as antennas for the signals they carry, and have the potential to completely wipe out the usefulness of the 10 to 30 MHz range for shortwave communications purposes.

Modern BPL systems use OFDM modulation which allows the mitigation of interference with radio services by removing specific frequencies used. A 2001 joint study by the ARRL and HomePlug powerline alliance showed that modems using this technique "in general that with moderate separation of the antenna from the structure containing the HomePlug signal that interference was barely perceptible" and interference only happened when the "antenna was physically close to the power lines".

Much higher speed transmissions using microwave frequencies transmitted via a newly discovered surface wave propagation mechanism called E-Line have been demonstrated using only a single power line conductor. These systems have shown the potential for symmetric and full duplex communication well in excess of 1 Gbit/s in each direction. Multiple WiFi channels with simultaneous analog television in the 2.4 and 5.3 GHz unlicensed bands have been demonstrated operating over a single medium voltage line. Furthermore, because it can operate anywhere in the 100 MHz - 10 GHz region, this technology can completely avoid the interference issues associated with utilizing shared spectrum while offering the greater flexibility for modulation and protocols found for any other type of microwave system.

Utility applications

Utility companies use special coupling capacitors to connect low-frequency radio transmitters to the power-frequency AC conductors. Frequencies used are in the range of 30 to 300 kHz, with transmitter power levels up to hundreds of watts. These signals may be impressed on one conductor, on two conductors or on all three conductors of a high-voltage AC transmission line. Several different PLC channels may be coupled onto one HV line. Filtering devices are applied at substations to prevent the carrier frequency current from being bypassed through the station apparatus and to ensure that distant faults do not affect the isolated segments of the PLC system. These circuits are used for control of switchgear, and for protection of transmission lines. For example, a protection relay can use a PLC channel to trip a line if a fault is detected between its two terminals, but to leave the line in operation if the fault is elsewhere on the system.

While utility companies use microwave and now, increasingly, fiber optic cables for their primary system communication needs, the power-line carrier apparatus may still be useful as a backup channel or for very simple low-cost installations that do not warrant a fibre drop.

There are also some very low-bit rate power line communication systems used for automatic meter reading.


Technology is available from designs based on a number of different non compatible silicon vendor. These include Intellon's INT6000 silicon which meets the HomePlug AV specification (not interoperable with HomePlug 1.0 or Intellon's proprietary 85 Mbit/s Turbo mode) or DS2 DSS9 silicon which complies with Universal Powerline Association standards and other solutions from Panasonic and SiConnect. Some solutions are based on OFDM modulation with 1536 carriers and TDD or FDD channel access method. DS2 silicon may operate between 1 and 34MHz. It provides a high dynamic range (90 dB) and offers frequency division and time division repeating capabilities. These characteristics allow the implementation of quality of service (QoS) and class of service (CoS) capabilities. Technologies deliver speeds of up to 200 Mbit/s at the physical layer and 130 Mbit/s at the application layer although actual throughput rates are much lower.

Potential for interference

Some groups oppose the proliferation of this technology, mostly due to its potential to interfere with radio transmissions. As power lines are typically untwisted and unshielded, they are essentially large antennas, and will broadcast large amounts of radio energy (see the American Radio Relay League's article). Because of their lack of shielding, the BPL systems are also at risk of being interfered with by outside radio signals.

Recently, power and telecommunications companies have started tests of the BPL technology, over the protests of the radio groups. After claims of interference by these groups, many of the trials were ended early and proclaimed successes, though the ARRL and other groups claimed otherwise. Some of the providers conducting those trials have now begun commercial roll-outs in limited neighborhoods in selected cities, with some level of user acceptance. There have been many documented cases of interference reported to the FCC by Amateur Radio users. Because of these continued problems, Amateur Radio operators and others filed a petition for reconsideration with the FCC in February 2005. Austria, Australia, New Zealand and other locations have also experienced BPL's spectrum pollution and raised concerns within their governing bodies. In the UK, the BBC has published the results of a number of tests to detect interference from BPL installations. They have also made a video (Real Media format), showing broadcast of data and interference from in-home BPL devices.

New FCC rules require BPL systems to be capable of remotely notching out frequencies on which interference occurs, and of shutting down remotely if necessary to resolve the interference. BPL systems operating within FCC Part 15 emissions limits may still interfere with wireless radio communications and are required to resolve interference problems. A few early trials have been shut down, though whether it was in response to complaints is debatable.

Narrowband power line communication

Narrowband power line communications started soon after the beginning of wide-spread electrical power supply. Around the year 1922 the first carrier frequency systems began to operate over high-tension lines in the frequency range 15 to 500 kHz for telemetry purposes, and this continues to the present time . Consumer products such as baby alarms have been available at least since 1940.

In the 1930s, ripple carrier signalling was introduced on the medium (10-20 kV) and low voltage (240/415V) distribution systems. For many years the search has been going on for a cost effective bi-directional technology suitable for applications such as remote meter reading. For example, the Tokyo Electric Power Co was running experiments in the 1970’s which reported successful bi-directional operation with several hundred units. Since the mid-eighties there has been a surge of interest in using the potential of digital communications techniques and digital signal processing. The drive is to produce a reliable system which is cheap enough to be widely installed and able to compete cost effectively with wireless solutions. The narrowband powerline communications channel presents many technical challenges. A mathematical channel model and a survey of work can be found in reference no. 5.

Applications of mains communications vary enormously, as would be expected of such a widely available medium. One natural application of narrow band power line communication is the control and telemetry of electrical equipment such as meters, switches, heaters and domestic appliances. There are a number of active developments that are considering such applications from a systems point of view, such as 'Demand Side Management' . In this, domestic appliances would intelligently co-ordinate their use of resources, for example limiting peak loads.

Control and telemetry applications include both 'utility side' applications, which involves equipment belonging to the utility (i.e. between the supply transformer substation up to the domestic meter), and 'consumer-side' applications which involves equipment in the consumer's premises. Possible utility-side applications include automatic meter reading, dynamic tariff control, load management, load profile recording, credit control, pre-payment, remote connection, fraud detection and network management, and could be extended to include gas and water.

A project of EDF, France, includes demand side management, street lighting control, remote metering and billing, customer specific tariff optimisation, contract management, expense estimation and gas applications safety .

There are also many specialised niche applications which use the mains supply within the home as a convenient data link for telemetry. For example, in the UK and Europe a TV audience monitoring system uses powerline communications as a convenient data path between devices that monitor TV viewing activity in different rooms in a home and a data concentrator which is connected to a telephone modem.

Transmitting radio programmes

Sometimes PLC was and is used for transmitting radio programmes over powerlines or over telephone lines. Such devices were in use in Germany, where it was called "Drahtfunk" and in Switzerland, where it was called "Telefonrundspruch" and used telephone lines. In the USSR PLC was very common for broadcasting, because PLC listeners cannot receive foreign transmissions. In Norway the radiation of PLC systems from powerlines was sometimes used for radio supply. These facilities were called Linjesender. In all cases the radio programme was fed by special transformers into the lines. In order to prevent uncontrolled propagation, filters for the carrier frequencies of the PLC systems were installed in substations and at line branches.

An example of the programmes carried by "wire broadcasting" in Switzerland:

  • 175 kHz Swiss Radio International
  • 208 kHz RSR1 “la première” (French)
  • 241 kHz “classical music”
  • 274 kHz RSI1 “rete UN” (Italian)
  • 307 kHz DRS1 (German)
  • 340 kHz “easy music”


Power-line technology enables in-vehicle network communication of Data, Voice, Music and Video signals by digital means over Direct Current (DC) battery power-line. Advanced digital communication techniques tailored to overcome hostile and noisy environment are implemented in a small size silicon device. One power line can be used for multiple independent networks.

Prototypes are successfully operational in vehicles, using automotive compatible protocols such as CAN-bus, LIN-bus over power line (DC-LIN) and DC-bus developed by Yamar.

Automotive Applications include Mechatronics (e.g. Climate control, Door module, Immobilizer, Obstacle detector), Telematics and Multimedia.


  • Reduction in cost and weight as compared to ordinary wiring.
  • Flexible of modification.
  • Simplicity of installation.
  • Operation over 12V - 42V power networks.