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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

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The Realities of IEEE 1901's Ratification

The ratification of IEEE's standard for delivery of broadband communications over power lines stands to trigger higher-volume production of a host of suitable low-cost appliances and networking systems. This is especially significant at a time when the smart grid’s proponents are under increasing pressure to deliver results.

Even though IEEE 1901—the world’s most mature, robust and advanced Broadband over Power Line (BPL) standard—was just ratified and published in 2010, it is already a mature and field-proven standard that has achieved a significant market penetration.

The real-world experiences of manufacturers of BPL products directly informed the development of the standard, as more than 90 organizations have contributed since IEEE’s 1901 Working Group launched in 2005. Consequently, many IEEE 1901-based products are already deployed and available in the marketplace. More than 30 companies offer pre-IEEE 1901 products that have been certified by either the HD-PLC Alliance or HomePlug Powerline Alliance. Effectively transforming any conventional electrical outlet into a networking node, the products support a range of compelling applications, among them:

  • high-definition video streaming,
  • Internet Protocol gaming,
  • expanded data communications,
  • simplified image and sound distribution,
  • enhanced home security and
  • enterprise services such as home automation, digital signage and triple-play communications.

Now, with the likelihood of IEEE 1901 being adopted as an embedded capability in appliances and networking systems, the standard is set to unlock other innovative smart grid applications that will make consumers eager for more. New entertainment playlists, for example, could be downloaded to electric vehicles while charging overnight, and entertainment could be delivered more simply to the seats of airplanes, trains and other mass-transit vehicles.

By specifying the high-performance, interference-free and secure transmission of data over standard, ubiquitous AC power lines, IEEE 1901 enables multimedia traffic where there would otherwise be impediments to RF signals and over distances that are beyond the normal range of wireless networks.

Whereas not so long ago there were 10 to 12 proprietary BPL approaches to consider across the industry, the field has narrowed, reducing the business risk associated with manufacturers' technology choices. The HD-PLC Alliance and HomePlug Powerline Alliance both specify BPL implementations that are based on IEEE 1901, and IEEE 1901 specifies a mandatory mechanism that allows coexistence both between those two technologies and between BPL and other technologies. The IEEE 1901 Inter-System Protocol prevents interference when the different BPL implementations are operated within close proximity of one another. The IEEE 1901 ISP also has been extended to International Telecommunication Union's family of home networking standards, and is the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology's recommended coexistence mechanism for broadband power line communications.

This industry coalescence around IEEE 1901 also affords manufacturers confidence that sufficient market opportunity exists to pursue R&D programs to develop what will be widely interoperable BPL products.

Furthermore, IEEE 1901 introduces sophisticated modulation techniques that are similar to what is used in WiFi and Wavelet Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing algorithms. These innovations overcome traditional BPL technical concerns, such as RF noise generated in power lines, regional discrepancies in voltages and other power-transmission characteristics around the world, and the complexities of transmitting data through transformers.

The result is that IEEE 1901-compliant networking products deliver high-performance, interference-free and secure data transmission in excess of 500 Mbps in LAN applications—even when multiple BPL technologies are connected to the same wire—and range of up to 1,500 meters for first-mile/last-mile services.

Upon this revolutionary capability will be built some of the smart grid’s most exciting consumer innovations—a development that comes just in time for manufacturers, utilities and other stakeholders around the globe.



  • Jean-Philippe FaureJean-Philippe Faure is chairman of the IEEE 1901 Working Group, a member of both the IEEE Standards Association Standards Board and IEEE Communications Society Standards Board and an IEEE-SA representative to the NIST Smart Grid Interoperability Panel. Since 1994, Faure has served as chief executive officer of Progilon, a leading provider of strategic consultancy in PLC technology, standardization and worldwide regulation. Previously, he helped develop home network technologies at Landis+Gyr and international relationships at Hewlett-Packard.

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About the Smart Grid Newsletter

A monthly publication, the IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter features practical and timely technical information and forward-looking commentary on smart grid developments and deployments around the world. Designed to foster greater understanding and collaboration between diverse stakeholders, the newsletter brings together experts, thought-leaders, and decision-makers to exchange information and discuss issues affecting the evolution of the smart grid.


Clark W. GellingsClark W. Gellings, a fellow at the Electric Power Research Institute, has had a long career in technical management at EPRI, serving in seven ... Read more


Marcus TochiaMarcus Torchia is research manager of intelligent grid strategies at IDC Energy Insights. He has 15 years of experience helping ... Read more


Jean-Philippe FaureJean-Philippe Faure is chairman of the IEEE 1901 Working Group, a member of both the IEEE Standards Association Standards Board and IEEE ... Read more


George ArnoldGeorge W. Arnold is national coordinator for smart grid interoperability at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He joined ... Read more


Wanda RederWanda K. Reder is chair of IEEE Smart Grid, immediate past-president for IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES), and has served on the IEEE ... Read more