Power-Line Communications technology seeing new life for networking applications

New article points out that PLC is similar to wireless: You don’t have to install or otherwise fuss with the medium -- it’s just there.

Jun 21st, 2012

A recent article from Electronic Design magazine authored by Lou Frenzel discusses the continuing viability of Power-Line Communications (PLC) as a "core network technology." As pointed out by Frenzel, PLC is similar to wireless in that "you don’t have to install or otherwise fuss with the medium -- it’s just there." PLC uses available AC power mains as a networking communications channel. As such, residential electric meters and emerging home-area networking (HAN) technologies play heavily into the PLC equation. PLC superimposes communications data on the 50- or 60-Hz channels of the existing AC power mains. Frenzel notes while the concept of using the power line as a communications path has been attempted for decades with varying success, new standards and technologies have boosted PLC, at least in the eyes of more than a few networking chip and equipment vendors.

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The article cautions that "while PLC is convenient and can save money, it [also] has its limitations." With PLC, issues such as noise and severe attenuation, common to any communications medium, must be accounted for. Communicated data first is used to modulate a carrier, which rides on the AC voltage. Amplitude shift keying (ASK) modulation was traditionally used for this purpose; more recently, frequency shift keying (FSK) has been used, due to its higher noise immunity. The medium can be unfriendly to higher frequencies and has a limited range of transmission. For higher speeds and improved noise mitigation, orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) is increasingly being used in modern PLC systems.

Read the full Electronic Design article here.

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