Sets of Latin squares that are orthogonal to each other have found an application as error correcting codes in situations where communication is disturbed by more types of noise than simple white noise, such as when attempting to transmit broadband Internet over power lines.
Firstly, the message is sent by using several frequencies, or channels, a common method that makes the signal less vulnerable to noise at any one specific frequency. A letter in the message to be sent is encoded by sending a series of signals at different frequencies at successive time intervals. In the example below, the letters A to L are encoded by sending signals at four different frequencies, in four time slots. The letter C for instance, is encoded by first sending at frequency 3, then 4, 1 and 2.
The encoding of the twelve letters are formed from three Latin squares that are orthogonal to each other. Now imagine that there’s added noise in channels 1 and 2 during the whole transmission. The letter A would then be picked up as:
In other words, in the first slot we receive signals from both frequency 1 and frequency 2; while the third slot has signals from frequencies 1, 2 and 3. Because of the noise, we can no longer tell if the first two slots were 1,1 or 1,2 or 2,1 or 2,2. But the 1,2 case is the only one that yields a sequence matching a letter in the above table, the letter A. Similarly, we may imagine a burst of static over all frequencies in the third slot:
Again, we are able to infer from the table of encoding that it must have been the letter A being transmitted. The number of errors this code can spot is one less than the number of time slots. It has also been proved that if the number of frequencies is a prime or a power of a prime, the orthogonal Latin squares produce error detecting codes that are as efficient as possible.