Panasonic: lamps and elevators networked via power lines


In the USA and Europe, powerline adapters have been a popular method for many years to extend the range of WLAN in the home using power lines as data conductors. The Japanese electronics group Panasonic now wants to achieve a breakthrough in large-scale applications and in private customer business with higher bandwidths, chips that it has developed itself and its own protocols.

“We believe that we can increase the number of licenses for our technology by a hundred times,” says Panasonic’s manager Michimasa Aramaki. He even believes it is possible that by 2030 a billion chips could be built into devices such as street lights or refrigerators, with which they can exchange data over power lines more securely and more cheaply than with wireless WiFi.

This approach is particularly widespread in Japan in building management. Because elevators, offices and apartments and new sensors can be networked without additional cabling. Electricity companies also use the technology to efficiently read smart ammeters from a distance. Aramaki even thinks it can be used in robots.

As a first step, Panasonic is currently focusing on corporate customers. Years ago, the company founded the HD-PLC alliance to set a standard. With new chips and protocols, Panasonic wants to extend the range of the power line LAN to up to ten kilometers. In addition, users can increase the previously low data transfer rate by bundling channels to 1Gbps and, in addition to traditional power cables, also use coaxial cables that, for example, transmit signals from satellite dishes to televisions.

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A practical example in cities are street lights. So far, their networked versions are similar to cell phones. They exchange data with the control center via the radio network using a SIM card. With the power line data network, small LAN islands of, for example, a dozen lamps can now be formed, which are connected to the control center more cheaply with just one SIM card.

Another example is the networking of elevators and factories in which the use of WiFi is not possible for security reasons. The Japanese are also promoting the idea of ​​piggybacking data on electricity, as a good addition to the super-fast 5G data networks that are spreading rapidly, especially in Asia. Because their radio waves have even bigger problems than those of the 4G networks in penetrating closed rooms.

The networking of private apartments also offers potential for Panasonic for another reason. The more smart devices populate the homes, the more WiFi and Bluetooth signals compete in the local airwaves. A typical kitchen Japanese microwave can then interfere with the Bluetooth signal between the cell phone and the cordless headphones.

In line with this, the Japanese legislature is currently deregulating in many areas so that new technologies can spread better. So maybe Panasonic’s stamina with powerline internet will pay off. The group has been developing the technology for more than ten years, and the profits should come later.


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