Power Line Communications and Other Emerging Technologies

The long term theme of our applied research is “Telecommunications Employing Emerging Technologies”. Current emerging technologies include for example power line communications, variants of low power wireless, vehicular communications, biometric communications, etc.

Since 2000, we have been focusing on Power Line Communications. Power Line Communications will play a crucial role and provide many communications links within the highly anticipated and still to be developed Smart Grids of the future. Our research emphasizes very robust, high speed digital Narrow Band power line communications. Typical applications are in split meters, smart meters and smart grids.

The topic of power line communications has stimulated much interest, and also attracted talented post-graduate students proficient in power electronics. In fact the largest body of published practical and experimental work in our group has been work on coupling the low power communications signals to the electrical power network. We are also cooperating with a local company who developed a unique concept of utilizing split meters, deployed these in a pilot smart grid, and is currently operating a network with tens of thousands of installed units. We are interested in making contributions to the topology and network related problems encountered.

We have also started measurements on selected noise topics, such as better characterization of impulsive noise and in-building wiring acting as receiving antennae. A pilot broadcast/multicast video messaging system for deployment in low income rural communities, using narrowband PLC is also being investigated.

Our applied research has as further goal implementing and evaluating the combined channel coding and modulation techniques which we develop, on practical power line communication systems.

Previous applications of our research 1983–1999 involved digital communications for magnetic and optical recording sytems, metallic cable systems and VHF radio communication systems.

Power Line Communications has been around in a rudimentary form since the late nineteenth century, when a few European utilities experimented with remotely switching their power systems. Until the 1970’s, such telemetry purposes were the primary goal. It involved very low frequency signals and low data rates in the kilowatt or higher power range. A prime example was ripple control to switch off electrical warm water geysers in times of peak demand. During the 1980’s and especially 1990’s, research accelerated to send low power (at most a few watts) high data rate signals over wider bandwidths. Broadband power line communications evolved, occupying frequency bands up to 30 MHz or higher, achieving data rates of megabits/s. This has been promoted as a medium to provide all modern telecommunications services. Problems with interference and quality of service may make its most important future application however in remote rural communities. Narrowband power line communications uses frequencies up to 150 kHz (Europe, CENELEC Standard) or 450 kHz (USA and elsewhere, FCC Regulations.) Currently (2010) there is a school of thought that high speed narrow band communications is the best candidate for the multitude of low systems level communications links in the Smart Grids of the future. Communications over the power line channel which was not at all designed with telecommunications in mind, remains a difficult and challenging task, making recourse to a wide range of techniques in Electrical Engineering, Information Theory and Computer Science. Refer also to our comprehensive book on Power Line Communications listed on this web page.

Our current research topics include:

  • Coding and Modulation,
  • Coupling, i.e. the Communications Signal to the Power network,
  • Noise Measurement and Characterization,
  • Systems, Multimedia, Networks and Deployment,
  • Smart Grids.