UPB Primer

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What is UPB?

 

Powerline Control Systems, (PCS), pcslighting.com, is a California corporation in the business of designing, developing and manufacturing advanced powerline carrier based lighting controls. PCS has developed a new proprietary powerline communication technology, the Universal Powerline Bus (UPB). The UPB provides an incredibly reliable and inexpensive solution for residential and commercial powerline communications applications. While other powerline technologies exist, none compare to the UPB in cost per node, reliability and functionality. 

The most commonly used lighting control protocol, X-10, suffers from a number of problems that make it’s utility less than optimal: 

bulletReliability.  Many X-10-equiped homes operate with tolerable reliability, but a realistic estimate of overall X-10 reliability would put it in the 70-80% range.  This is not nearly good enough to meet most users’ expectations.
bulletPhase coupling.  An almost absolute need for phase couplers or phase repeaters plagues X-10 installations.  It has gotten to the point that in almost every X-10 installation, professional integrators plan on installing a repeater, not just a phase coupler.  However, the minute you install an active phase repeater, you run the risk of experiencing another annoying X-10 short-coming – house-to-house cross-talk (see below).
bulletNoise interference.  Many devices transmit noise onto the powerline, interfering with X-10 signals and causing X-10 devices to either stop working or function erratically.  Audio/Video gear (especially some televisions), laptop rechargers, electric razors, halogen lights, and many other home appliances are heavy noise generators.  Noise filters are the usual fix for this problem.  While not expensive, they do add up and it’s not much fun to remove a big screen television from a stereo cabinet just so you can install a noise filter on it’s power cord.
bulletInconsistent operation.  One day lights work properly, the next they don’t.  Attenuation of the signal over the wiring and noise interference in the circuits combine to give X-10 “flaky” and inconsistent performance. 
bulletHouse-to-house cross-talk.  X-10 signals, especially when combined with repeating devices, can travel a considerable distance, passing through transformers and into neighboring homes.  With a very limited addressing scheme (256 maximum addresses), it’s not uncommon for neighbors to “control” each other’s lights, exacerbating the reliability and inconsistency issues.

 

Here’s how UPB compares with X-10 and other common home control protocols: 

Highly Reliable - The UPB method of communication is 100 ~ 1000 times more reliable than current X-10 technology and 10 ~100 times more reliable than CEBUS or LONWORKS powerline technologies. Reliability is defined as the percentage of transmitter/receiver pairs that correctly operate upon initial installation. In a large-scale field test, UPB test units were randomly installed in the environment typical of the target market, defined as the single-family residential market in the US.  This environment is defined to be the existing base of homes, without any modifications. This means there should be no “fixing” the electrical system of the residence by adding couplers, repeaters or filtering. The massive UPB test showed reliability to be over 99.9% (>100 times X-10). Current X-10 is around 70%~80%. 

No New Wires 100% powerline communication, no new wires. 

Affordable – The newest generation of UPB products are roughly comparable to higher-end X-10 products. 

Higher Speed – 20 to 40 times the speed of X-10 in terms of data transmitted. This is equivalent to over ten full commands per second.  The average latency of command to action is less than .1 second. 

Two Way Communications – Hardware, software and protocol design allow for two-way communication in all products. 

House Separation – Multiple houses on one transformer are separated by means of an addressing scheme allowing for at least 256 systems (houses) on each transformer. The UPB system incorporates over 64,000 total address space vs. 256 for conventional X-10. 

Interaction – UPB communication can be used in the presence of all X-10, CEBus, or LonWorks compatible equipment with no interference amongst the various types of devices. The UPB technology uses a completely different frequency range than any of the wide-band, narrow-band, or spread spectrum technologies. The physical method of UPB communication is entirely different from the modulation-demodulation techniques of all X-10, CEBus, and LonWorks equipment. 

Peer to Peer – No central controller necessary for single point-to-point control or group (scene) control. 

Simplicity – The UPB solution uses “off the shelf” components for transmission, receiving and control circuits, including standard microprocessors.  No ASIC’s (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) are necessary. 

Signal Strength - UPB’s higher signal strength, coupled with its lower frequency, dramatically reduces the attenuation of the UPB signal over long runs of wire.  X-10 starts with a lower signal level at a higher frequency leading to much greater attenuation.  PCS has run tests indicating acceptable performance of UPB devices over devicesover greater than one mile of AC wiring. 

Device Flexibility UPB devices have tremendous flexibility and can be programmed for significant features:

bulletDimmers can be programmed to enable or disable the dimming function.
bulletIf enabled, dimming fade rates can be set from immediate (SNAP) to 1 hour
bulletLEDs on the devices can be programmed multiple ways, for example, green if the load is on, and off when the load is off.  Or Green on, red off.
bulletDevices can be programmed to send a status report, if they are switched locally, a tremendous feature for intelligent controllers.
bulletMost devices can be programmed with up to 16 links or “scenes” in the device.  This allows one device to be a member of 16 different groups and respond differently depending upon the desired programming.

With all these advantages, UPB is the technology of choice for affordable home control applications.  Many UPB devices are on the market today, with additional devices expected as the protocol gains traction.  By the end of 2004, the following UPB devices are expected to be readily available: 

bulletWall switches (including dimming)
bullet6 and 8 button wall controllers
bullet6 and 8 button desktop controllers
bulletLamp modules (including dimming)
bulletAppliance modules
bulletInput modules (detect contact closures or low voltages)
bulletOutput modules (providing a contact closure)
bulletCombination input/output modules
bulletTelephone ringing detect
bulletDoorbell ringing detect
bulletMultiple input modules
bulletControlled outlets (or receptacles)
bulletFixture dimmer modules
bulletFixture relay modules
bulletIntelligent UPB controllers, including home servers

Comparison of various home control technologies 

 

X-10

CEBus

LonWorks

Lutron Radio RA

Leviton Hard-wired

Lutron Hard-wired

UPB

Type of system

PLC 120khz fixed freq

PLC 100~140khz spread spectrum

PLC

120, 140khz dual freq

RF

Low Voltage

Low Voltage

UPB

Retrofit

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Speed, bits/sec

60 bits/sec

 

 

 

 

 

480 bits/sec

Speed, commands/sec

1/sec

5~10/sec

1~100/sec

?

N/A

?

5/sec

Two way

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Reliability

Very Poor

70-80%

Med

90%

High

95%

High

Very High

100%

Very High

100%

Very High

>99.9%

Relative cost

Very Low

High

Very High

High

Very Low

Very Low

Low

Central controller required

No

No

No

Yes

(repeaters)

No

Yes

No

Maximum loads

256

Many

Many

32

20

Many

~64,000

 

 

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Last modified: 04/18/11