HD-PLC technology uses regular power lines that supply electricity to transfer data.
Studies suggest that by 2025, the number of smart devices connected to the Internet around the world will reach 75 billion. The incredible growth of the Internet of Things phenomenon boosted the demand for stable, high-performance networking solutions. However, the existing telecommunication technologies, such as Wi-Fi, WiSUN or Ethernet are not always the most cost-effective solution for such applications. As a result, more and more businesses and individuals are turning to High Definition Power Line Communication, also known as HD-PLC. The commercial interest in HD-PLC — and powerline networking in general — is on the rise, with the global market for this technology set to reach $14 billion by 2022. And yet, it remains a relatively obscure technology and less of a household name compared to Ethernet or Wi-Fi. The purpose of this blog post is to change that, by exploring the basics of HD-PLC technology and its equipment, drawing comparisons between HD-PLC and legacy power line communication and outlining some of the most common HD-PLC applications.
HD-PLC Technology: What Is It?
HD-PLC is a variety of powerline communication technology that uses various kinds of existing cables to transfer digital data. Practical applications of powerline networking have become more widespread in recent years. However, the concept has existed in theory since the early 20th century — culminating with the arrival of HD-PLC in 2011. HD-PLC takes advantage of the difference in frequencies between electrical voltage and data signals. While electricity travels at relatively low wavelengths, the digital data frequency is much higher. This allows various cables — such as power supply lines or coaxial cables — to carry both signals without interference. In a PLC network, both signals travel via a cable until they arrive at a module that separates them into two individual streams. For instance, a single power line can supply both the electricity to power a desktop computer and the Internet connection that the computer can then access — all via a single adapter that can be plugged into a regular power outlet. At the same time, HD-PLC supports applications on a much larger scale, such as building automation and smart factories, with the ability to turn almost any existing cabling installation into a high-speed network.
HD-PLC Networks: What Equipment Do They Include?
Compared to other wired communication solutions, HD-PLC does not require significant investment into hardware and equipment to build a network. However, there is certain equipment that is required to design and build an HD-PLC network.
This equipment can be divided into two categories:
- Tools the developers need to create an HD-PLC network or solution
- Equipment that the end users of a network will interact with
The developer equipment includes:
- Evaluation kits: Evaluation kits are bundles of hardware and software that are used to test the feasibility and create the network layout. Evaluation kits usually include performance test software, power adapters, PLC plugs and connectors, breakout board and evaluation units.
- Modules: In a powerline network, the modules act as nodes that analyze the signal from the power lines and transform it into separate streams of electricity and data. These modules can work as standalone units or be built into various devices and equipment.
On the other hand, the end user equipment consists of:
- Cables: One of the main benefits of HD-PLC design is that it does not require the power lines to be built using specific cable or connector types. HD-PLC works with a variety of cables, such as twisted pair cables, coaxial cables and powerline cables.
- Adapters: The adapters are the final elements of a network that the users interact with. The adapters are small devices that usually feature several kinds of connectors, such as Ethernet, coaxial ports or serial ports that allow the user to connect an individual device to the network.
HD-PLC — What Are Its Key Benefits?
HD-PLC’s growing popularity is largely due to a few of its key benefits that differentiate it from other networking solutions:
Low Cost & Simplicity Compared To Other Wired Communication Standards
Unlike Ethernet or wireless networks, HD-PLC does not require significant investments. When it comes to network installation, the main cost drivers are wiring and equipment — and the more advanced the network type is, the higher the cost is. By comparison, HD-PLC requires less investment, as one of the costliest elements — the wiring — is usually already in place. It also requires a lot less effort to install and set up. In most cases, it’s a simple “plug-and-play” solution that even an amateur user can handle.
Better Coverage And Network Stability Than Wireless Networks
The second key benefit of HD-PLC once again stems from its powerline-based design. Using existing wiring allows for a more stable, reliable connection — especially in areas that would otherwise be hard or expensive to reach. Such areas include basements, elevator shafts, stairwells and other essential, yet hard-to-reach areas of a building. When it comes to such areas, wireless solutions such as Wi-Fi are far from ideal. Installing Wi-Fi repeaters or additional cabling would be expensive and time-consuming without providing an adequate ROI, since the network stability and coverage in these areas could still be compromised. On the other hand, HD-PLC is a solution that is faster, simpler, easier to deploy and can provide more than enough connectivity for the purposes of such areas.
Higher Data Transmission Rate Than Narrowband Solutions
As previously mentioned, PLC technology is not exactly new and is quite widespread in the home automation and smart grid industries. However, most PLC solutions found in these industries are of inferior, narrowband standards — such as RS-485, G3 or PRIME. As a result, these solutions cannot achieve the same connection speeds and bandwidth as HD-PLC. By comparison, HD-PLC offers a connection speed, bandwidth and stability that are more than adequate for modern PLC applications, such as IoT devices and video streaming.
HD-PLC works with most cable types, such as the coaxial cable.
HD-PLC Vs. Narrowband Powerline Ethernet Solutions: What Are The Key Differences?
HD-PLC is far superior to other PLC solution in terms of performance and ROI.
As such, it is important to establish the key differences between HD-PLC and legacy powerline ethernet solutions:
- Speed: While legacy solutions such as BACnet or LonWorks are only capable of speeds between 5 and 78 kbps, HD-PLC offers a minimum data transfer rate of 10 Mbps.
- Number of nodes: RS-485, a traditional PLC protocol, can only support 256 nodes at a time. By comparison, HD-PLC supports as many as 1,024 nodes, allowing for larger networks.
- Range: The average range of a legacy PLC solution rarely exceeds 1,200 meters. On the other hand, HD-PLC can be implemented using multi-hop technology, which can help extend the range of the network to over 10 kilometers.
- Connection stability: HD-PLC networks are much less prone to suffer from data loss and interference. This is due to the unique Wavelet-OFDM modulation method that not only makes the signal more stable, but also allows for the high data transmission rate.
- Interoperability: Just like many other powerline communication solutions, HD-PLC is based on the IEEE-1901 standard. Because of that, HD-PLC adaptors are suitable as replacements for other types of PLC hardware, such as HomePlug or G.hn which share the Inter-System Protocol with HD-PLC.
What Are Some Of The Most Common Applications Of HD-PLC?
Due to its low cost, versatility and simplicity, the HD-PLC standard has been adopted as a networking solution by many industries, including:
- Building management
- Solar power
Within these industries, some of the most common applications of HD-PLC are:
- HVAC systems
- Smart meters
- Smart elevators
- Door security systems
- Lighting controls
- CCTV systems
- Building automation
- Car charging systems
- Home automation
HD-PLC Alliance: Objectives, Activities & Members
The key mission of the HD-PLC Alliance is to spread awareness and promote the adoption of HD-PLC technology across markets and industries.
Founded in 2007, the Alliance aims to establish HD-PLC as a go-to networking technology for private, commercial and public telecommunication needs via the following activities:
- Creating a unified communication environment by enabling compatibility between communication equipment
- Raising awareness about HD-PLC benefits through information campaigns and online content
- Promoting the inter-industry adoption of HD-PLC through collaboration with other alliances
Membership in the HD-PLC Alliances is open to all global and local companies that are proactively developing and providing HD-PLC services, as well as those that are interested in the technology.
Some of the benefits that the Alliance members enjoy are:
- Access to a global market platform for HD-PLC products
- An authoritative certification program for HD-PLC solutions
- An opportunity to connect and collaborate with other Alliance members
Smart metering is one of the most common applications of HD-PLC
Key Facts To Remember
The Internet of Things and devices that fall into the same category are present in business and our everyday lives, now more than ever. Their ever-growing importance has fueled the demand for affordable, reliable networking solutions that can support the requirements of IoT connectivity. As a result, HD-PLC has emerged as a solution that is in many ways superior to the more conventional network standards.
Here are the key facts you should know about HD-PLC:
- HD-PLC is a standard of power line communication — an architecture where existing cables are used to build a data transmission network
- A typical HD-PLC network works with most cable types, including coaxial cables, phone lines, the twisted pair and more
- HD-PLC’s main benefits are its low cost and simplicity, ability to cover hard-to-reach areas and higher performance than the slower narrowband PLC solutions
- HD-PLC is faster than narrowband PLC standards, supports more nodes per single connection and has a longer range
- Among the most common applications of HD-PLC are HVAC systems, smart grids, building and home automation systems and smart city infrastructure
- The organization behind the advancement of HD-PLC is the HD-PLC Alliance, whose goal is to accelerate and promote the adoption of the standard across markets and industries