There is, however, a third way. Known as powerline networking, this rarely considered option has many appealing strengths. It is even easier to set up than wireless, but provided network performance similar to wired network. Let’s take a look at the wonderful world of powerline networking.
What Is A Powerline Network?
Your home already has a network of wires in it that connect every room in the house. These are the wires that provide each room with electricity. Normally, these wires are used for only that task, but it is possible to turn them into a way of conveying data like any other wire.
This is exactly what a powerline network does. By using network adapters that are plugged into power outlets throughout your home it is possible to use your existing electrical wires as a sort of substitute Ethernet cord. Doing this has no effect on the normal function of the electrical wires, either – all your power outlets will continue to work normally.
Why Is Powerline Networking Awesome?
Powerline networks operate like standard wired networks in terms of security and performance. Since the entire network is routed through wires there is no chance of your home network being hijacked or used by an unauthorized person (short of someone breaking into your home). Performance is not quite as fast as Ethernet, but real-world usage is typically between 40 and 80 Mbps depending on the adapters you use. You don’t have to worry about reception issues, either.
However, because you don’t have to lay any new cable, setting up a powerline network is much easier than setting up a home network with Ethernet cord. Connecting a computer via powerline networking requires only that you plug a powerline network adapter into a power outlet and then run an Ethernet cable from the powerline adapter to your computer’s Ethernet port. You can use multiple powerline network adapters on the same network, and they don’t have to be the same brand or model.
What Is The Cost Of Powerline Networking?
The primary cost of setting up a powerline network is the adapters themselves. Most major network hardware companies, like Netgear and Belkin, offer powerline adapters. These adapters are mostly sold in pairs of two and cost around $100 a pair. Adapters that offer less performance may cost only $60 to $80 a pair, while the fastest adapters are closer to $150. My personal recommendation is to buy the least expensive pair of 85Mbps adapters you can find.
Besides the adapters, you also may have to buy some Ethernet cord if the cord you currently have is not enough to reach from the powerline adapter to the computer(s) you need to connect. This can add $10 or $20 to your budget.
Overall, a powerline network with two computers will cost around $100 if you buy online. You’ll usually spend more if you purchase at a brick-and-mortar store.
What Are The Limitations Of Powerline Networking?
Although powerline networking is a great alternative to more popular networking methods, it does have a few limitations that are important to note.
First, powerline network adapters cannot be plugged into a surge protector unless the surge protector that you own specifically states otherwise. This can be a bit of an issue if you already have a power outlet crisis in your home, which isn’t unheard of these days.
Second, powerline network adapters are usually on the larger side. The ones that I use are approximately five inches long, an inch and a half thick, and three inches wide. There are some smaller models, but none are tiny. This can be an issue if your power outlets are behind a piece of furniture or otherwise in a confined space.
Finally, powerline adapters still have to connect to your computer with an Ethernet cord. If your computer is not already near a power outlet with a free socket you may need to re-arrange your furniture or simply deal with having an Ethernet cord visible.
Those minor problems aside, powerline networking is an incredible solution. I personally use it for all the desktop computers in my home, and I would never go back to wireless. Powerline networking combines the flexibility and simplicity of wireless with the performance of wired. You must check it out if you’re unhappy with wireless performance in your home.
For more information check out the MakeUseOf PDF Guide To Computer Networks.