Powerline Networking: What It Is & Why It Is Awesome [Technology Explained]

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powerline networkingIf you have a home network, or you are thinking of setting up a home network, you’ve probably considered two solutions – wired and wireless. And unless you desperately want the fastest download speeds possible, or you don’t trust wireless security, you probably have settled on wireless as the solution. Wireless networking, with its encryption keys and signal strength issues, isn’t as easy as making toast. But it certainly beats having to route expensive Ethernet cables through your house.

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 computer networking

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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?

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.

powerline networking

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.

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Comments (31)
  • Ben Mordecai

    Very interesting. I was thinking that this post would be talking about power over Ethernet.

  • Birkenstock

    actually, I am not interest in Powerpoint

  • Actingman

    Don’t these devices also need to be on the same circuit breaker? My apartment has many outlets spread over 6 breakers, and the audio device I have that transmits through the house wiring will only reach those outlets that are on the same breaker as the outlet the transmitter is plugged into. I would tend to think the same limitation exists for internet powerline devices.

  • M.S. Smith

    You’re right, a lot of the newer ones do go up to 200Mbps. But older models included, there is a range from 55Mbps to 200Mbps. I personally I am skeptical of the 200Mbps claims, however. Routers say they’ll reach 54Mbps on wireless G, but good luck getting that in real life.

    I agree that a network will of course be limited if signal strength is lacking, but I disagree that there is anything to worry about in regards to powerline adapters. It is possible that there might be something about your wiring or some appliance that upsets the network, although like I’ve said before, I’ve used powerline adapters all the time on the same circuits as major appliances without problem.

    As far as streaming goes, even a 55Mbps powerline network is capable of handling streaming 1080p, provided it is working near its theoretical max.

  • A.F.Jessett

    One thing you don’t mention about PLT devices is the amount of RF pollution they can cause. With current devices this extends in to the Shortwave bands and is of great concern to Ham radio enthusiasts in particular. I understand there is also a new breed of PLT device coming which will extend the interference in to the FM broadcast bands and above.

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.