BREAKER BOX POWERLINE COMMUNICATION DEVICE

- BROADCOM CORPORATION

A Power Line Communications (PLC) device includes a processing module, memory, and a plurality of PLC communication interfaces coupled to the processing module. Each PLC communication interface couples to a respective PLC media segment. The processing module, the plurality of PLC communication interfaces, and the memory are operable to receive a PLC communication from a first PLC device via a first PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces, process the PLC communication to identify a second PLC device, and transmit the PLC communication to the second PLC device via a second PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces. The PLC device may include one or more non-PLC interfaces that support non-PLC communications.

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Description

CROSS-REFERENCE TO PRIORITY APPLICATION

This application claims priority under 35 U.S.C. §119(e) to U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/503,060 filed Jun. 30, 2011, which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates to powerline communications and in particular, powerline communication devices, and systems of use therefore.

2. Description of the Related Art

With the growing need for the exchange of digital content (e.g. MP3 audio, MPEG4 video and digital photographs) there is a widely recognized need to improve digital communication systems. Powerline communication (PLC) is a technology that encodes data in a signal and transmits the signal on existing electricity powerlines in a band of frequencies that are not used for supplying electricity. Accordingly, PLC leverages the ubiquity of existing electricity networks to provide extensive network coverage. Furthermore, since PLC enables data to be accessed from conventional power-outlets, no new wiring needs to be installed in a building (or different parts of a building). Accordingly, PLC offers the additional advantage of reduced installation costs.

In some dwellings, PLC communications may be the best option for servicing communications, e.g., wireless communications incapable of penetrating walls or other structure, wireless communications deemed too insecure, installing wiring for other communication types is too expensive, etc. In many structures, however, the power mains, which service multiple differing dwellings, offices, etc., are serviced by a common feed, which allows PLC signals to propagate in undesired manners, which can limit the capacity available for PLC communications and to allow PLC signals to propagate to undesired locations and devices.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a system diagram illustrating a multiple unit complex serviced by a breaker box Powerline Communication (PLC) device constructed according to one or more embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a block diagram illustrating a PLC device constructed according to one or more embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 3A is a block diagram illustrating a single floor or area serviced by a PLC device constructed and operating according to one or more embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 3B is a block diagram illustrating a single floor or area serviced by a PLC device constructed and operating according to one or more embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 4 illustrates a Breaker Box-PLC Router having only two PLC interfaces and with PLC signal coupling circuitry and PLC signal shunt circuitry illustrated;

FIG. 5 is a system diagram illustrating a premises in which at least one PLC device resides that operates according to one or more embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 6 is a flowchart illustrating operations according to one or more embodiments of the present invention for determining capabilities of PLC communication devices coupled thereto and for bridging communications between differing and incompatible PLC communication standards;

FIG. 7 is a flowchart illustrating operations according to one or more embodiments of the present invention for servicing communications using both PLC communication standard format communications and non-PLC communication standard format communications;

FIG. 8 is a flowchart illustrating operations according to one or more embodiments of the present invention for servicing of PLC communications of differing PLC communication standards by multiple PLC interfaces;

FIG. 9 is a diagram illustrating a network and a plurality of devices that operate according to one or more aspects of the present invention in servicing communications; and

FIG. 10 is a flowchart illustrating operations according to one or more embodiments of the present invention for servicing communications.

FIG. 11 is a system diagram illustrating a PLC device and a PLC network (PLN) constructed and operating according to one or more embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 12 is a schematic perspective diagram illustrating the construct of a plurality of plugs and a plurality of receptacles constructed according to one or more embodiments of the present invention;

FIG. 13 is a block diagram illustrating the construct of a receptacle constructed according to one or more embodiments of the present invention; and

FIG. 14 is a block diagram illustrating construct of a power plug or receptacle according to one or more embodiments of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

FIG. 1 is a system diagram illustrating a multiple unit complex serviced by a breaker box Powerline Communication (PLC) device constructed according to one or more embodiments of the present invention. The multiple unit complex 100 may be an apartment complex, an office building, a shopping mall, or another type of building that is subdivided on the basis of workers, inhabitants, or upon another basis. The complex 100 is subdivided into a number of floors, spaces, offices, segments, etc., indicated as 102, 104, 106, 108, and 110. Each of these spaces 102-110 is serviced by a respective power main, e.g., power mains 1-5, respectively. These spaces 102-110 may also be simply referred to as having separate power mains service and may not correspond to a physical division of a space.

The complex 100 is serviced by a power distribution device 114, which may be a breaker box, fuse box, or another type of device that services the power mains 1-5. The power distribution device 114 may be housed in a utility room 112 corresponding to the complex 100. For example, each of power mains 1-5 may be serviced by a respective breaker or fuse. Further, each of power mains 1-5 may correspond to a separate service contract and may be separately metered. In any case, each of power mains 1-5 is separately fed by a respective feed from the power distribution device.

Each of the power mains 1-5 may have sub-feeds that receive power from the respective power feed of the power distribution device 114. In such case, each of power mains 1-5 may have one or more branches and/or loops included therewith. Each of the power mains 1-5 may have additional circuit protection or metering. As will be described further with reference to FIGS. 3A, 3B, and 5, each of the spaces 102-110 may include one or more Power Line Communication (PLC) devices that are operable to communicate using the power mains 1-5 as a communication media. Each of these PLC devices includes a PLC interface and may include one or more other types of communications interfaces as well.

Each of the PLC devices may be serviced by breaker box PLC device 116 that couples to each of the power mains 1-5 as shown in FIG. 1. Embodiments of the PLC device 116 will be described herein with reference to FIGS. 2 and 4 and various operations of the PLC device will be described with reference to FIGS. 6, 7, and 8.

FIG. 2 is a block diagram illustrating a PLC device 200 constructed according to one or more other embodiments of the present invention. The PLC device 200 supports PLC operations according to one or more PLC communication standards. The PLC device 200 may service a complex 100 and serve as the breaker box PLC device 116 of FIG. 1 in some embodiments. The PLC device 200 performs/supports the various operations and includes the various structures further described herein according to one or more embodiments of the present invention.

The PLC device 200 includes a processing module 202, memory 204, a plurality of PLC interfaces 206A, 206B, 206C, and 260D, and may include more PLC interfaces in other embodiments. The PLC device 200 may also include one or more other communication interfaces, including a Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN) interface 214, e.g., a WiMAX interface, a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) interface 216, e.g., an 802.11x interface, a Wireless Personal Area Network (WPAN) interface 218, e.g., a Bluetooth interface, a 60 GHz interface 220 (millimeter wave interface), a Local Area Network (LAN) interface 222, e.g., an Ethernet interface, a cable interface, e.g. Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) interface 224, an optical interface 226, a Near Field Communication (NFC) OF 228, an Infra-Red OF 230, and/or an RF Tag OF 232. The PLC device 200 may bridge communications between one or more of the PLC interfaces 206A-206D and one or more of the other communication interfaces 214, 216, 218, 220, 222, 224, 226, 228, 230, and/or 232.

The processing module 202 may include one or more of a system processor, a digital signal processor, a processing module, dedicated hardware, an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC), or other circuitry that is capable of executing software instructions and for processing data. In particular, the processing module 202 is operable to support Medium Access Control (MAC) management, communications bridging management, and other management of the communications circuitry of the PLC device 200. The memory 204 may be RAM, ROM, FLASH RAM, FLASH ROM, optical memory, magnetic memory, or other types of memory that is capable of storing data and/or instructions and allowing processing module to access same. The processing module 202 and the memory 204 supports operations of embodiments of the present invention as further described herein.

The processing module 202, the plurality of PLC communication interfaces 206A-206D, and the memory 204 are operable to receive a PLC communication from a first PLC device via a first PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces, process the PLC communication to identify a second PLC device, and transmit the PLC communication to the second PLC device via a second PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces.

The PLC device 200 may also operate to configure a first PLC communication interface of the plurality of PLC communication interfaces to communicate with the first PLC device according to a first PLC communication standard and to configure a second PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces to service communications according to a second PLC communication standard, wherein the first PLC communication standard and the second PLC communication standard are differing and incompatible PLC communication standards. In such case, a first one of the differing and incompatible PLC communication standards may be a HomePlug communication standard and the second one of the differing and incompatible PLC communication standards may be an ITU home networking (G.hn) communication standard. In other operations, the first PLC communication standard may be a narrowband PLC communication standard and the second PLC communication standard may be a wideband PLC communication standard.

Referring again to FIG. 1, the PLC device 200 may provide Internet access to a first group of devices via a first PLC communication interface and provide Internet access to a second group of device via a second PLC communication interface. In such case, the non-PLC communication interface is operable to support a non-PLC communication standard comprising at least one of a Local Area Network (LAN) communication standard, a Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN) communication standard, a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) communication standard, a coaxial communication standard, a millimeter wave communication standard, a cellular telephony communication standard, a Near Field Communication (NFC) standard, an infrared communication standard, and an optical communication standard.

FIG. 3A is a block diagram illustrating a single floor or area serviced by a PLC device constructed and operating according to one or more embodiments of the present invention. The PLC system installation 300 may be within a single unit dwelling, a multiple unit dwelling, an office building, an industrial building or within another building type or installation. The Power Mains shown in the installation 300 of FIG. 3A corresponds to a European architecture with the Power Mains forming a ring circuit with stubs extending there from. The installation of FIG. 3A is serviced by a breaker box-PLC router (not shown but shown in FIG. 1) constructed and operating according to one or more aspects of the present invention. The installation 300 also includes a PLC-Ethernet bridge 304, an ISP-PLC bridge 306, a PLC-Ethernet bridge 308, a PLC-WiFi bridge 310, and a PLC-Ethernet bridge 312. Also shown is client device 316 that receives communication service via PLC-Ethernet bridge 316. The breaker box PLC router that services the installation 300 may include an ISP-PLC bridge to provide Internet service to the PLC devices 304, 306, 308, 310, 312, and/or 314 via the power mains. The breaker box PLC router receives ISP service via another media, e.g., cable, optical, DSL, etc. The installation 300 may also include a PLC signal shunt 316 that shunts PLC signals.

FIG. 3B is a block diagram illustrating a single floor or area serviced by a PLC device constructed and operating according to one or more embodiments of the present invention. The PLC system installation 350 may be within a single unit dwelling, a multiple unit dwelling, an office building, an industrial building or within another building type or installation. The Power Mains shown in the installation 350 of FIG. 3B correspond to a United States architecture with the Power Mains in a branch format (not a ring format). The installation 350 of FIG. 3B is serviced by a breaker box-PLC router (not shown but shown in FIG. 1) constructed and operating according to one or more aspects of the present invention. The installation also includes A PLC-Ethernet bridge 354, an ISP-PLC bridge 356, a PLC-Ethernet bridge 358, a PLC-WiFi bridge 360, and a PLC-Ethernet bridge 362. Also shown is client device 366 that receives communication service via PLC-Ethernet bridge 366. The breaker box PLC router may also include an ISP-PLC bridge to provide Internet service to the PLC devices 354, 356, 358, 360, 362, and/or 364 via the power mains. The breaker box PLC router receives ISP service via another media, e.g., cable, optical, DSL, etc. . . . The installation 350 may also include a PLC signal shunt 366 that shunts PLC signals.

FIG. 4 illustrates a Breaker Box-PLC Router having only two PLC interfaces and with PLC signal coupling circuitry and PLC signal shunt circuitry illustrated. The Breaker Box-PLC Router 402 couples to a utility power source 404, which may be adjacent a utility meter 404, such as was described with reference to FIG. 1. The power mains configuration to which the Breaker Box-PLC Router 402 couples may be a ring structure or a two-leg branch structure. The Breaker Box-PLC Router 402 includes PLC signal shunts 410 and 402 that allow signals produced from PLC signal coupling 406 and 408 to propagate directionally away from the Breaker Box-PLC Router 402, respectively. The Breaker Box-PLC Router 402 further includes 1st PLC I/F 414 and 2nd PLC OF 416 that couple PLC signal coupling 406 and 408 to processing module/memory 202/204, respectively. The Breaker Box-PLC Router 402 may also include interfaces for other communication types 214, 216, 218, 220, 222, 224, 226, 228, 230, and 232.

A Breaker Box-PLC Router 402 includes PLC signal coupling and a PLC signal shunt for each power main serviced by the PLC device services. These signal coupling and signal shunt circuits may be included with each PLC interface of the PLC device 200 of FIG. 2. The PLC signal shunts prevent undesired PLC signal coupling.

The PLC devices of FIGS. 2 and 4 may be installed within existing or new dwellings, office buildings, and other structures that have 120 volt, 240 volt, or 480 volt wiring installed therein for providing power within the structure. Typically, power comes into a building at a breaker box or a fuse box. The breaker box or fuse box provides protection from shorts within the structure. In North American type installations, the distribution of power within a house is in a star type configuration wherein each circuit or each power circuit supplies power to a portion of the home. Contrasting to the star type structure, European structures typically have a ring structure in which a power loop is routed around the home and circles back to a breaker or fuse box in the basement of the structure. The European structure may also include circuits that extend away from the ring structure and provide electrical power to various locations within the structure. This power line/power distribution wiring may be employed using a PLC communications technique to route communications via the power lines within the structure.

According to embodiments of the present invention, the Breaker Box-PLC Router 402 isolates some circuits from others, filters, monitors, analyzes, and makes suggestions for changes. This can be extended by making sockets (or socketed interleaving dongles) and breakers themselves active participants. The Breaker Box-PLC Router 402 would typically be co-located within a breaker box or fuse box via an independent or integrated housing. It may also involve breaker element integration of functionality as well as socket functionality integration. This network device, in a star type power grid installation, routes communications between PLC devices coupled to the power line on the legs of the star extending from the breaker box/fuse box. In such case, the network device may provide filtering to reduce cross-talk amongst the communication devices on differing circuits within the structure. Further, this network device would provide routing and isolation of communications between the differing circuits within the homes.

The Breaker Box-PLC Router 402 may also serve as a bridging node for interchange between upstream fiber to downstream coax, telephone line, powerline, Ethernet, wireless bridging. The Breaker Box-PLC Router 402 can also act as an intranet switching element and firewall. Further, the ISP-PLC bridge 406 of FIG. 4 may also service this purpose. Each of these devices may support one or more downstream fiber paths at the same time. For example, in a home with only powerline wired routing, a fiber entering the home may be plugged into an AC plug-in node to perform fiber to powerline bridging. At a remote location, a powerline to fiber bridge might permit fiber cabling to an end-point user device. With any of these installations, fiber may be run to a development or neighborhood then with a single box mounted on a telephone pole, bridge communications to wire line or powerline such that spanning into a home/building can take place.

FIG. 5 is a system diagram illustrating a premises in which at least one PLC device resides that operates according to one or more embodiments of the present invention. The premises 500 may be a home, office building, apartment complex, hotel, industrial building, or another type of structure. In the particular example of FIG. 5, a WLAN access point 524 provides Internet access within the premises 500 and is also a PLC device constructed according to one or more embodiments of the present invention. Also shown within the premises 500 are a plurality of PLC devices 502, 504, 506, 508, 510, 512, and 514. One or more of these PLC devices 502, 504, 506, 508, 510, 512, and 514 may be provided by the premises 500 owner/operator while other of these PLC devices may be brought into the premises 500 by a customer. In particular, PLC device 502 services electronic device 528, PLC device 504 services device 530, PLC device 508 services electronic device 532, and PLC device 514 services electronic device 534. Each of these devices 528, 530, 532, and 534 may be owned by the premises 500 owner or may be owned by a premises 500 visitor.

According to one or more embodiments of the present invention, one or more of these PLC devices 502, 504, 506, 508, 510, 512, 514, and 524 supports one or more differing PLC communication standards. For example PLC device 502 supports PLC communication standard 1, PLC device 504 supports PLC communication standard 1, PLC device 506 supports PLC communication standards 1 and 2, PLC device 508 supports PLC communication standard 3, PLC device 510 supports PLC communication standard 3, PLC device 512 supports PLC communication standard 3, and PLC device 514 supports PLC communication standards 2 and 3, and PLC device 524 supports PLC communication standards 1 and 3. As will be further described herein the differing PLC communication standards may be wideband, narrowband, consistent with one another, and/or inconsistent with one another.

Currently existing PLC communication standards include the HomePlug family of operations, including the 1.0, AV1.1, AV2, and GP operations, and the HD-PLC operations. Generally, the HomePlug family of PLC communication standards is incompatible with the HD-PLC communication standard. The HomePlug PLC communication standard is widely deployed while HD-PLC is primarily deployed in Japan.

The IEEE 1901 specification includes a newer PLC communication standard that has two different PHY layers, one based on OFDM modulation (interoperable with HomePlug AV1.1), and another based on Wavelet modulation (interoperable with HD-PLC). Each PHY layer is optional, and implementers of the communication standard may, but are not required to include both. Devices that use the OFDM PHY only would not interoperate with devices based on the Wavelet PHY. The OFDM PHY is derived from HomePlug AV.

The IEEE 1905.1 specification defines an abstraction layer for multiple home networking technologies. IEEE 1905.1 provides a common data and control Service Access Point to the heterogeneous home networking technologies described in the following specifications: IEEE 1901, IEEE 802.11x, IEEE 802.3x and Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) 1.1. The IEEE 1905.1 standard is extendable to work with other home networking technologies. The abstraction layer supports dynamic interface selection for transmission of packets arriving from any interface (upper protocol layers or underlying network technologies). End-to-end Quality of Service (QoS) is supported. Also specified are procedures, protocols and guidelines to provide a simplified user experience to add devices to the network, to set up encryption keys, to extend the network coverage, and to provide network management features to address issues related to neighbor discovery, topology discovery, path selection, QoS negotiation, and network control and management.

The IEEE 1905.1 layer resides between the media access control and Internet Protocol layers. The 1905.1 abstraction layer intends to make it easier to install and manage hybrid home networks and will also provide mechanisms for bridging data among different interfaces, i.e., plug and play.

ITU's G.hn specification is a competing counterpart to IEEE 1901 that primarily defines different ways to implement PHY and MAC layers of a PLC device. G.hn is a technology standard that enables service providers, consumer electronics companies, PC makers, and consumers to connect all types of devices via any wire in the home—coax cable, phone lines and powerlines.

There are a multitude of narrow and broadband PLC technologies beyond IEEE 1901 that already exist. For example, conventional tier two coexistence mechanisms are included in ISO/IEC 14908, G3 & G3 Lite, HP C&C, ISO/IEC 14543 which employ some form of CSMA/CA. Other PLC communication standard technologies do not support any type of coexistence other than tier one. Such standards include most current broadband PLC offerings, UPB, A10, INSTEON/X-10, Ariane Controls, CEBus, CEA 600.31, TDA 5051A, etc.

According to one or more embodiments of the present invention, one or more of the PLC devices 502, 504, 506, 508, 510, 512, 514, and 524 may serve as masters of the powerline media servicing the premises 500, may bridge communications across differing PLC communication standards, and/or may bridge communications between PLC communications and non-PLC communications. Several of these operations will be described herein subsequently. In some embodiments, each PLC standard will have a unique master, with differing PLC devices serving as masters for differing PLC communication standards. Likewise, each supported non-PLC communication standard may have its own master.

FIG. 6 is a flowchart illustrating operations according to one or more embodiments of the present invention for determining capabilities of PLC communication devices coupled thereto and for bridging communications between differing and incompatible PLC communication standards. Operations 600 commence with a PLC device receiving PLC communications from a first remote PLC device in a first PLC communication standard format (Step 602). The PLC device then converts the PLC communications from the first PLC communication standard format to a second PLC communication standard format (Step 604). Then, the PLC device transmits the converted PLC communications to a second remote PLC device in the second PLC communication standard format (Step 606).

Referring again to FIG. 5, PLC device 506 may bridge communications between PLC device 502 and PLC device 510. In such case, because the PLC device 502 only supports PLC communication standard 1 and PLC device 510 only supports PLC communication standard 2. PLC device 506, supporting both standards 1 and 2, bridges PLC communications between the PLC devices 502 and 510. Such bridging may occur unidirectionally or bidirectionally, based upon the particular operation employed.

FIG. 7 is a flowchart illustrating operations according to one or more embodiments of the present invention for servicing communications using both PLC communication standard format communications and non-PLC communication standard format communications. Operations 700 commence with a PLC device establishing PLC communications with another PLC device via a PLC communication standard format (Step 702). Then, the PLC device establishes non-PLC communications with a remote communication device via a non-PLC communication standard (Step 704). The non-PLC communication standards may be one or more of LAN communications, WWAN communications, WLAN communications, coaxial communications, millimeter wave communications, cellular telephony communications, near field communications, infrared communications, and/or optical communications. In such case, the usage of non-PLC with reference to FIG. 7 indicates only that the non-PLC communications do not operate according to a PLC communications standard.

Operation 700 continues with the PLC device receiving a communication from the other PLC device in a PLC communication standard format (Step 706). The PLC device then converts the communication from the PLC communication standard format to a non-PLC communication standard format (Step 708). Then, the PLC device transmits the communication in the non-PLC communication standard format to the remote communications device (Step 710). In such case, the communications transmitted according to one of the communication types previously described.

The operations 700 of FIG. 7 may be employed with one or more of the devices of the premises 500 of FIG. 5. In such case, PLC device 524 receives a PLC communication in a PLC communication standard format 1 and converts the PLC communication to a WLAN communication to thereby transmit the communication to a remote device that supports WLAN communications, e.g. 528. Likewise, one of the PLC devices of FIG. 5 may receive a communication in a WLAN or another communication format, convert that communication to a PLC communication format, and transmit the communication via the PLC media to another PLC device.

According to another aspect of the PLC/non-PLC bridging operation of the present invention, upstream communications may be transmitted in one format and downstream communications may be transmitted in another format. For example, if the PLC communications may be transmitted at a higher data throughput rate, downstream communications may be transmitted via the PLC media. Further, the upstream communications may have a lesser throughput rate and may be transmitted via a non-PLC communication standard format, e.g. WLAN communications. These principles may be expanded further with differing communication types to subdivide between PLC communications and non-PLC communications.

FIG. 8 is a flowchart illustrating operations according to one or more embodiments of the present invention for servicing of PLC communications of differing PLC communication standards by multiple PLC interfaces. A PLC device that performs the operations 800 of FIG. 8 includes a processing module, memory coupled to the processing module, a first PLC interface coupled to the processing module, and a second PLC interface coupled to the processing module. The structure of such a device was described with reference to FIGS. 2 and 3 and will be further described herein with reference to subsequent FIGs.

The operations 800 of FIG. 8 begin with the PLC device determining that the PLC device will service communications with a first remote PLC device according to a first PLC communication standard (Step 802). Such operation 802 may be determined based upon a request received by the PLC device from the first remote PLC device. Operation continues with the PLC device configuring the first PLC interface to service communications according to the first PLC communication standard (Step 804).

Operations 800 continue with the PLC device determining that the PLC device will service communications with a second remote PLC device according to a second PLC communication standard (Step 806). Such operation 806 may be determined based upon a request received by the PLC device from the second remote PLC device. Operation continues with the PLC device configuring the communication interface to service communications according to the second PLC communication standard (Step 808).

Operation further continues with the PLC device servicing communications with the first remote PLC device according to the first PLC communication standard (Step 810) and with the PLC device servicing communications with the second remote PLC device according to the second PLC communication standard (Step 812). From Step 812, operations may be repeated based upon current communication requirements.

The operations 800 of FIG. 8 may be modified based upon the teachings previously described herein. In particular, the first PLC communication standard and the second PLC communication standard may be differing and incompatible PLC communication standards. As such, a first one of the differing and incompatible PLC communication standards may be a HomePlug communication standard and a second one of the differing and incompatible PLC communication standards may be the G.hn communication standard.

FIG. 9 is a diagram illustrating a network and a plurality of devices that operate according to one or more aspects of the present invention in servicing communications. The network includes a plurality of communication networks including packet data networks 902 and 904, which may form a portion of the Internet, the World Wide Web, or a combination thereof. The networks further include a cellular network 906, a LAN 908, a PLC network 910, a WLAN 912, and a WAN 914. These networks service client devices 918, 920, and 922, and may support various other client devices as well. An operator server 916 couples to PLC network 910 and WLAN 912, and indirectly couples to the other networks illustrated. The operator server 916 may service a business such as a coffee shop, a restaurant, an apartment complex, or another business. Media sever 924, web server 926, and financial server 928 couple to packet data network 902 and are operable to support corresponding transactions with one or more of client devices 918, 920, and/or 922. The operator server 916 may be incorporated with a PLC interface and a WLAN interface, as was previously described with reference to FIG. 2.

According to various embodiments of the present invention, multiple communication paths are employed to service communications between devices, e.g., between financial server 928 and client device 922, between web server 926 and client device 920, and/or between media server 924 and client device 918. In one particular embodiment, the network of FIG. 9 services a Multi-Tenant Housing complex or Office Space using both PLC communications via PLC network 910 and a wireless path, e.g., cellular network 906, WLAN 912, and/or WWAN 914.

According to one aspect of the present invention, PLC communications are used in conjunction with other communications such that alternate communication pathways are used to service transactions, i.e., one network used for some things and the other network used for other things, e.g., establishing communication services, utility management services, financial data exchanges, establishing passwords, establishing account information, and/or splitting data types and/or other services wherein secure communications are required. In such case, the communications are portioned across multiple transmission paths using half-duplex splitting or dual full duplex splitting, with intelligent bonded splitting and stitching. These operations may be serviced in the background such that they are unknown to a serviced application, driver, or user. The software that services these operations may be controlled by a user or controlled by a server of the transaction. Splitting of data may be based on data type, QoS, security variations found in underlying exchange data, or upon other criteria. Cross channel coding (e.g., redundancy), cross channel encryption, cross channel protocol division (e.g., ACK/NACK and data pathways), may also be serviced using the multiple communication paths.

For example, in a multi-tenant building, access to a PLC network may be limited based upon password security. In such case, the PLC network password security may be serviced using secure WLAN, a WWAN, or cellular communications. Of course, the complement to these operations is the use of a secure wireless network to transfer password login/access information for the PLC network.

In a sales transaction between financial server 928 and client device 918, for example, the credit card information transmitted from the client device 918 to the financial server may be divided up between a wireless link with the cellular network and a wired link to the LAN 908. By dividing up the financial transaction the possibility of theft of this information is reduced.

With the network of FIG. 9, either the client or the server (which could also be point to point server to server or client to client) may control the middling portion (routing backbone) selection as well to further minimize the chance for middling snoopers to be able to penetrate underlying security. For example, some pathways (port selections) flow through a first backbone routing network while other pathways flow through another routing network.

The PLC device 200 of FIG. 2 is operable to service the operations described with reference to FIG. 9. In such case, the PLC device 200 includes one or more interfaces to access the Internet, a PLC interface, and one or more wireless interfaces to service the client devices. In such case, the PLC device 200 may include multiple drivers and application software operable to service splitting communications among multiple interfaces. The Internet access may be performed by cable modem communications, cellular GSM LTE communications, and/or WiMAX communications, for example, with the PLC device 200 selectively using multiple interfaces to service the communications.

The PLC device operates as a PLC hub with integrated WLAN circuitry, for example, with the processing module 202 operable to solely make communication splitting decisions, which include both splitting upstream communications via the Internet backbone and one or more Internet communication pathways, and downstream communications via one or more of PLC interface and wireless interfaces. In any operation, the PLC device 200 is capable of initiating and/or servicing secure communications between a serviced client device and another remote device.

FIG. 10 is a flowchart illustrating operations according to one or more embodiments of the present invention for servicing communications. The operations 700 of FIG. 10 consider a server providing credit card or account information to a client that must be serviced via SSL. In such case, the server first asks client device if more than one access means is available, e.g., multiple transmission paths available (Step 1002). In response, the client notifies the server of how many and what type of access paths are available (Step 1004). The server and client then activate two or more access paths, as are required to service the transaction (Step 1006).

Then, the Server actively coordinates a log in, account information, sales transaction data, and/or other secure operations and information exchange across the multiple access paths (Step 1008). The server and client communicate with one another across the multiple access paths, splitting data across the multiple paths as agreed (Step 1010). In doing so, each of the Server and Client are required to split data prior to transmission and to stich data together that are received via the multiple access paths. For each, a server to client flow uses the server portl and the client portA, the server portl to the client portB, the server port to the client portA, and the server port 2 to client portB (n times N) pathways across which a single secure exchange could take place. This extends to point to point (client to client or server to server) as well. After the transaction is completed, the multiple (or some of the) access paths are released (Step 1012). From step 1012, operation ends.

FIG. 11 is a system diagram illustrating a PLC device and a PLC network (PLN) constructed and operating according to one or more embodiments of the present invention. The system of FIG. 11 includes a PLC breaker box 1101 constructed according to one or more embodiments of the present invention. The PLC breaker box 1101 couples to one or more meters 1103, which are fed by a power main 1107. The power main 1107 is a power distribution network that may service a multitude of PLNs, such PLNs potentially bridged into the one more PLNs of FIG. 11.

The PLC breaker box 1101 feeds two circuits, illustrated as a left circuit and a right circuit. In other embodiments, more circuits may be serviced by the PLC breaker box 1101. The PLC breaker box 1101 includes one or more circuit breakers, each of which services a circuit. With the embodiment of FIG. 11, the circuit breaker 1121 services the left circuit and provides only circuit breaker functionality. The circuit breaker 1121 is fed by an uplink filtered main breaker 1171, which prevents undesired back feeding of downlink PLC communications to be fed to the meter 1101. However, the uplink filtered main breaker 1171 may allow PLC data to be selectively transmitted back into the power main 1107. The meter 1103 may also include a filter for isolating all circuitry from PLC communications as well as noise, e.g., harmonic noise.

The PLC breaker box 1101 further includes a main breaker 1173 that feeds filter breaker 1125 and PLC filter breaker 1123. The filter breaker 1125 services noisy device 1141 and reduces or precludes the noise, e.g., harmonic noise, generated by the noisy device 1141 from entering the PLC breaker box 1101, which could potentially interfere with PLC communications. The PLC filter breaker 1123 selectively precludes PLC communications from back feeding to the main breaker 1173. However, in some embodiments, the PLC filter breaker 1123 may allow downstream PLC communications to be coupled to the main breaker 1173 for selective transmission to the power mains 1107.

The PLC breaker box 1101 also includes a multiport PLC switch with PLN bridging 1111. The PLC switch 1111 includes a controller 1113, a switch fabric 1115, and a plurality of PLN ports 1117, 1118, and 1119, each of which is operable to couple PLC communications to a respective portion of a PLN via appropriate signal coupling, e.g., uplink filtered main breaker 1171, power mains between uplink filtered main breaker 1171 and circuit breaker 1121, and PLC filter breaker 1123. Generally, each PLN port couples PLC signals to a respective PLN segment, i.e., respective isolated power mains. In this fashion, the plurality of PLN ports each service a respectively isolated portion of the overall PLN.

The system of FIG. 11 also includes a plurality of plugs and corresponding receptacles constructed according to various aspects of the present invention. A smart plug 1151 services a non-communication device 1130 and includes communication functionality and other components. A filter plug 1153 filters the left PLN segment from noisy device 1131. Plug 1155 services wireless device 1133, which may be WLAN access point, WPAN device, etc. A wireless plug/hub 1157 includes PLC to wireless communication capability and may communicate wirelessly with wireless devices 1133, 1135, and 1137.

A plurality of plugs and corresponding receptacles service the right circuit illustrated in FIG. 11. Plug 1159 services wireless and PLC device 1137, plug 1161 services PLC communication device 1139 and isolation plug 1163 services PLC communication device 1141. The structure of isolation plug 1163 will be described further with reference to FIG. 13. Generally, the isolation plug 1163 isolates the right circuit from noisy device 1143, which couples to right circuit via plug 1165.

As will be described further with reference to FIG. 14, the multiport PLC switch with PLN bridging support 1111 may service other communication types as well, with corresponding communication interfaces. Further, the multiport PLC switch with PLN bridging support 1111 may support multiple PLC communication standards and bridge between these multiple PLC standards as well.

While the structure of FIG. 11 illustrates a star power mains structure, such as is prevalent in North America, the PLC breaker box 1101 could also service a European ring power mains structure as well. Further, each of the circuit breakers 1121, 1123, and/or 1125 may simply be links, without providing breaker functionality.

Smart plug 1151, may listen for PLC communications on the left circuit, and report such communications to the PLN switch 1111. The filter plug 1153 and other of the filter components primarily filter harmonics of the power mains power frequency, e.g. 50 Hz or 60 Hz, which are often produced by AC/DC power converters, fluorescent lighting, and other power harmonics generating loads.

In another embodiment, the left and right circuits could be bridged from a communication standpoint, without bridging power flow. Such PLN bridging could be done via the wireless plug/hub 1157 and supporting wireless devices. Any of the plugs of the system of FIG. 11 could support active or passive bridging of PLC communications.

FIG. 12 is a schematic perspective diagram illustrating the construct of a plurality of plugs and a plurality of receptacles constructed according to one or more embodiments of the present invention. Various constructs of plugs and receptacles are illustrated in FIG. 12. Generally, PLC, other communication functionality, PLC communication filtering, power harmonic filtering, and isolation may be built into the plugs and receptacles and the switch illustrated in FIG. 12. Switch 1261 serves as a switch for an electrical circuit, which may control a light, a fan, or another switched device, for example. This switch 1261 may include a PLC I/F, a wireless I/F, and/or another type of wireless I/F. Each of the plugs and/or receptacles may also include a PLC I/F, a wireless I/F, and/or another type of wireless I/F. Further, each of these components may also include signal isolation circuitry, filtering circuitry, and/or other circuitry that facilitates or improves PLC communications. Thus, switch 1261 may have filtering circuitry to isolate fluorescent or other noisy lighting or other noisy loads from a service circuit.

Particularly, plug 1213 includes three prongs 1223 and tab 1221. Plug 1213 is constructed to be inserted into receptacle 1231 of plate 1211 to mate with tab 1233, which also includes a normal plug 1235. Each of the plug 1213 and receptacle 1231 may include the circuitry described above to facilitate or assist in servicing PLC, wireless, and other wired communications.

Plug 1251 is referred to as an isolation plug in that it isolates portions of a power mains circuit from other portions of a power mains circuit. The construct of the isolation plug 1251 is described more particularly with reference to FIG. 13. The isolation plug 1251 includes five prongs 1253 and is constructed to fit within receptacle 1245 of plate 1241. The receptacle 1245 includes five receiving holes 1247 to receive the five prongs 1253 of the isolating plug 1251. The receptacle 1245 also includes tab 1243 to mate with corresponding tab of the isolating plug 1251. The tabs 1233 and 1243 of receptacles 1231 and 1245, respectively, mate with the corresponding tabs of plugs 1213 and 1251 to cause the plugs to firmly engage the corresponding receptacles.

FIG. 13 is a block diagram illustrating the construct of a receptacle constructed according to one or more embodiments of the present invention. The receptacle 1321 receives power from a PLC breaker box 1301 via power mains 1311, upon which PLC communications are serviced. The conductors of the power mains 1311 terminate to connections 1323 of the receptacle 1321. The receptacle 1321 includes a plurality of prong receiving openings 1325, each of which receives a corresponding prong of an isolating plug, e.g., 1251 of FIG. 12. An isolated leg of the power mains 1313 is serviced via differing connectors of the receptacle 1321.

Isolating plug 1341 is constructed to be received by the receptacle 1321. With the embodiment of FIG. 13, the isolating plug 1341 includes isolation circuitry 1349 to isolate the left leg 1311 of the power mains circuit from the right leg 1313 of the power mains circuit. Further, the isolating plug 1341 includes noise filtering circuitry 1353 to remove harmonic or other noise from the left leg 1311 of the power mains. The isolating plug 1341 also includes at least one communication interface, which may be a WiFi interface 1361, a LAN I/F, a cellular I/F, or another communication I/F. Further, the isolating plug 1341 may also include a PLC I/F, which may be operable to bridge communications between the PLC serviced by power mains circuit 1311 and one or more of wireless and wired communications.

Some or all of the circuitry and/or elements of the isolating plug 1341 could also be formed in the receptacle 1321. Of course, a modular construct could be employed in which one or more of the receptacles and plugs shown in FIGS. 11-13 shares functionality described herein. In such case, a contractor or home owner could separately purchase the receptacle, plugs, and switches and install them as required. The receptacles, which included some of the functionality illustrated, would first be installed. These receptacles may function as normal receptacles until the plugs are inserted; in which case, they support the functionality of the plugs.

FIG. 14 is a block diagram illustrating construct of a power plug or receptacle according to one or more embodiments of the present invention. The power plug/receptacle 1400 includes many of the elements previously described with reference to FIG. 2, such elements not described additionally with reference to FIG. 14. Further, the power plug/receptacle 1400 includes a PLC OF 1402 and isolation/filtering circuitry 1404 that provides one or more of isolation between circuit side 1 and circuit side 2 and noise filtering.

Circuitry described herein that performs particular functions may be a microprocessor, micro-controller, digital signal processor, microcomputer, central processing unit, field programmable gate array, programmable logic device, state machine, logic circuitry, analog circuitry, digital circuitry, and/or any device that manipulates signals (analog and/or digital) based on hard coding of the circuitry and/or operational instructions, which may be considered singularly or in combination a “processing module.” The processing module, module, processing circuit, and/or processing unit may be, or further include, memory and/or an integrated memory element, which may be a single memory device, a plurality of memory devices, and/or embedded circuitry of another processing module, module, processing circuit, and/or processing unit. Such a memory device may be a read-only memory, random access memory, volatile memory, non-volatile memory, static memory, dynamic memory, flash memory, cache memory, and/or any device that stores digital information. Note that if the processing module, module, processing circuit, and/or processing unit includes more than one processing device, the processing devices may be centrally located (e.g., directly coupled together via a wired and/or wireless bus structure) or may be distributed located (e.g., cloud computing via indirect coupling via a local area network and/or a wide area network). Further note that if the processing module, module, processing circuit, and/or processing unit implements one or more of its functions via a state machine, analog circuitry, digital circuitry, and/or logic circuitry, the memory and/or memory element storing the corresponding operational instructions may be embedded within, or external to, the circuitry including the state machine, analog circuitry, digital circuitry, and/or logic circuitry. Still further note that, the memory element may store, and the processing module, module, processing circuit, and/or processing unit executes, hard coded and/or operational instructions corresponding to at least some of the steps and/or functions illustrated in one or more of the FIGs. Such a memory device or memory element can be included in an article of manufacture.

The present invention has been described above with the aid of method steps illustrating the performance of specified functions and relationships thereof. The boundaries and sequence of these functional building blocks and method steps have been arbitrarily defined herein for convenience of description. Alternate boundaries and sequences can be defined so long as the specified functions and relationships are appropriately performed. Any such alternate boundaries or sequences are thus within the scope and spirit of the claimed invention. Further, the boundaries of these functional building blocks have been arbitrarily defined for convenience of description. Alternate boundaries could be defined as long as the certain significant functions are appropriately performed. Similarly, flow diagram blocks may also have been arbitrarily defined herein to illustrate certain significant functionality. To the extent used, the flow diagram block boundaries and sequence could have been defined otherwise and still perform the certain significant functionality. Such alternate definitions of both functional building blocks and flow diagram blocks and sequences are thus within the scope and spirit of the claimed invention. One of average skill in the art will also recognize that the functional building blocks, and other illustrative blocks, modules and components herein, can be implemented as illustrated or by discrete components, application specific integrated circuits, processors executing appropriate software and the like or any combination thereof.

The present invention may have also been described, at least in part, in terms of one or more embodiments. An embodiment of the present invention is used herein to illustrate the present invention, an aspect thereof, a feature thereof, a concept thereof, and/or an example thereof. A physical embodiment of an apparatus, an article of manufacture, a machine, and/or of a process that embodies the present invention may include one or more of the aspects, features, concepts, examples, etc. described with reference to one or more of the embodiments discussed herein. Further, from figure to figure, the embodiments may incorporate the same or similarly named functions, steps, modules, etc. that may use the same or different reference numbers and, as such, the functions, steps, modules, etc. may be the same or similar functions, steps, modules, etc. or different ones.

Unless specifically stated to the contra, signals to, from, and/or between elements in a figure of any of the figures presented herein may be analog or digital, continuous time or discrete time, and single-ended or differential. For instance, if a signal path is shown as a single-ended path, it also represents a differential signal path. Similarly, if a signal path is shown as a differential path, it also represents a single-ended signal path. While one or more particular architectures are described herein, other architectures can likewise be implemented that use one or more data buses not expressly shown, direct connectivity between elements, and/or indirect coupling between other elements as recognized by one of average skill in the art.

The term “module” is used in the description of the various embodiments of the present invention. A module includes a processing module, a functional block, hardware, and/or software stored on memory for performing one or more functions as may be described herein. Note that, if the module is implemented via hardware, the hardware may operate independently and/or in conjunction software and/or firmware. As used herein, a module may contain one or more sub-modules, each of which may be one or more modules.

While particular combinations of various functions and features of the present invention have been expressly described herein, other combinations of these features and functions are likewise possible. The present invention is not limited by the particular examples disclosed herein and expressly incorporates these other combinations.

The present invention has also been described above with the aid of method steps illustrating the performance of specified functions and relationships thereof. The boundaries and sequence of these functional building blocks and method steps have been arbitrarily defined herein for convenience of description. Alternate boundaries and sequences can be defined so long as the specified functions and relationships are appropriately performed. Any such alternate boundaries or sequences are thus within the scope and spirit of the invention.

Moreover, although described in detail for purposes of clarity and understanding by way of the aforementioned embodiments, the present invention is not limited to such embodiments. It will be obvious to one of average skill in the art that various changes and modifications may be practiced within the spirit and scope of the invention.

Claims

1. A Power Line Communications (PLC) device comprising:

a processing module;
memory coupled to the processing module;
a plurality of PLC communication interfaces coupled to the processing module, each PLC communication interface for coupling to a respective PLC media segment, wherein the processing module, the plurality of PLC communication interfaces, and the memory are operable to: receive a PLC communication from a first PLC device via a first PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces; process the PLC communication to identify a second PLC device; and transmit the PLC communication to the second PLC device via a second PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces.

2. The PLC device of claim 1, wherein the processing module, the plurality of PLC communication interfaces, and the memory are operable to:

configure a first PLC communication interface of the plurality of PLC communication interfaces to communicate with the first PLC device according to a first PLC communication standard; and
configure a second PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces to service communications according to a second PLC communication standard, wherein the first PLC communication standard and the second PLC communication standard are differing and incompatible PLC communication standards.

3. The PLC device of claim 2, wherein:

a first one of the differing and incompatible PLC communication standards comprises a HomePlug communication standard; and
a second one of the differing and incompatible PLC communication standards comprises an ITU home networking (G.hn) communication standard.

4. The PLC device of claim 2, wherein:

the first PLC communication standard is a narrowband PLC communication standard; and
the second PLC communication standard is a wideband PLC communication standard.

5. The PLC device of claim 1, further comprising a non-PLC communication interface coupled to the processing module, wherein the processing module is operable to bridge communications between the non-PLC communication interface and the plurality of PLC communication interfaces.

6. The PLC device of claim 5, wherein the processing module, the plurality of PLC communication interfaces, and the memory are operable to:

provide Internet access to a first group of devices via a first PLC communication interface; and
provide Internet access to a second group of device via a second PLC communication interface.

7. The PLC device of claim 5, wherein the non-PLC communication interface is operable to support a non-PLC communication standard comprising at least one of:

a Local Area Network (LAN) communication standard;
a Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN) communication standard;
a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) communication standard;
a coaxial communication standard;
a millimeter wave communication standard;
a cellular telephony communication standard;
a Near Field Communication (NFC) standard;
an infrared communication standard; and
an optical communication standard.

8. The PLC device of claim 1, further comprising:

a plurality of signal coupling circuits corresponding to the plurality of PLC communication interfaces and operable to couple respective PLC communication signals to respective PLC media segments; and
PLC signal shunt circuitry operable to be coupled to the plurality of PLC media segments on a power feed side to shunt the plurality of respective PLC communication signals.

9. The PLC device of claim 8, wherein the PLC signal shunt circuitry comprises a plurality of PLC shunt circuits respective to the plurality of signal coupling circuits operable to preclude back-feeding of PLC communication signals.

10. A method for operating a Power Line Communications (PLC) device having a processing module, memory coupled to the processing module, and a plurality of PLC communication interfaces coupled to the processing module, each PLC communication interface for coupling to a respective PLC media segment, the method comprising:

receiving a PLC communication from a first PLC device via a first PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces;
processing the PLC communication to identify a second PLC device; and
transmitting the PLC communication to the second PLC device via a second PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces.

11. The method of claim 10, further comprising:

configuring a first PLC communication interface of the plurality of PLC communication interfaces to communicate with the first PLC device according to a first PLC communication standard; and
configuring a second PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces to service communications according to a second PLC communication standard, wherein the first PLC communication standard and the second PLC communication standard are differing and incompatible PLC communication standards.

12. The method of claim 11, wherein:

a first one of the differing and incompatible PLC communication standards comprises a HomePlug communication standard; and
a second one of the differing and incompatible PLC communication standards comprises an ITU home networking (G.hn) communication standard.

13. The method of claim 11, wherein:

the first PLC communication standard is a narrowband PLC communication standard; and
the second PLC communication standard is a wideband PLC communication standard.

14. The method of claim 10, further comprising selectively shunting PLC communication signals to preclude back-feeding of the PLC communication signals.

15. A method for operating a Power Line Communications (PLC) device having a processing module, memory coupled to the processing module, a plurality of PLC communication interfaces coupled to the processing module, each PLC communication interface for coupling to a respective PLC media segment, and a non-PLC communication interface coupled to the processing module, the method comprising:

receiving a PLC communication from a first PLC device via a first PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces;
processing the PLC communication to identify a second PLC device;
transmitting the PLC communication to the second PLC device via a second PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces; and
bridging communications between the non-PLC communication interface and the plurality of PLC communication interfaces.

16. The method of claim 15, further comprising:

providing Internet access to a first group of devices via a first PLC communication interface; and
providing Internet access to a second group of device via a second PLC communication interface.

17. The method of claim 15, wherein the non-PLC communication interface is operable to support a non-PLC communication standard comprising at least one of:

a Local Area Network (LAN) communication standard;
a Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN) communication standard;
a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) communication standard;
a coaxial communication standard;
a millimeter wave communication standard;
a cellular telephony communication standard;
a Near Field Communication (NFC) standard;
an infrared communication standard; and
an optical communication standard.

18. The method of claim 15, further comprising:

configuring a first PLC communication interface of the plurality of PLC communication interfaces to communicate with the first PLC device according to a first PLC communication standard; and
configuring a second PLC communication interface of the plurality of communication interfaces to service communications according to a second PLC communication standard, wherein the first PLC communication standard and the second PLC communication standard are differing and incompatible PLC communication standards.

19. The method of claim 18, wherein:

a first one of the differing and incompatible PLC communication standards comprises a HomePlug communication standard; and
a second one of the differing and incompatible PLC communication standards comprises an ITU home networking (G.hn) communication standard.

20. The method of claim 18, wherein:

the first PLC communication standard is a narrowband PLC communication standard; and
the second PLC communication standard is a wideband PLC communication standard.

Patent History

Publication number: 20130003876
Type: Application
Filed: Dec 19, 2011
Publication Date: Jan 3, 2013
Applicant: BROADCOM CORPORATION (IRVINE, CA)
Inventor: James D. Bennett (Hroznetin)
Application Number: 13/329,474

Classifications

Current U.S. Class: Cable Systems And Components (375/257)
International Classification: H04B 3/54 (20060101);