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

powerlinenetwork1   Powerline Networking: What It Is & Why It Is Awesome [Technology Explained]If 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?

powerlinenetwork3   Powerline Networking: What It Is & Why It Is Awesome [Technology Explained]

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?

powerlinenetwork2   Powerline Networking: What It Is & Why It Is Awesome [Technology Explained]

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.

powerlinenewtork4   Powerline Networking: What It Is & Why It Is Awesome [Technology Explained]

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.

Conclusion

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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30 Comments -

0 votes

Pjaware

THANX A LOT FOR TELLING US ABOUT A NEW TECHNOLOGY…ATLEAST I NEVER HEARD ABT IT…THANX A TON

0 votes

Anonymous

You mention that the networks are secure. How are they terminated? Might my next-door neighbors have access? What if I lived in an apartment building instead of a single-family home?

0 votes

M.S. Smith

Signals won’t propagate beyond your local electrical wiring. You don’t have to worry in an apartment unless somehow your wiring is mixed. Which is unlikely, because if that were the case you’d be paying your neighbors electrical bill.

You will have to be more cautious if you’re in a roommate situation, or if you live in a home that has been converted into multiple apartments.

0 votes

fruitgeek.wordpress.com

Could you install a special circuit breaker in the converted apartment to block it- sort of like how the surge protector won’t work?

0 votes

M.S. Smith

Honestly I have no idea. You’d probably have to ask an electrician.

0 votes

Stuart L

Powerline adapters must share a common network password in order to share network traffic. If they don’t have the same password, then they cannot form a network link. The adapters use the password to encrypt the traffic using 128-bit AES.

0 votes

Wolfgang Beer

i think there has to be stated that powerline networking has one REALLY REALLY big disadvantage in most small appartments. the speed drops significantly when there are many power consuming devices plugged in in the circuit. if you have for example a fridge and a tv running in your kitchen, you will probalby get only a fraction of the speed the powerline could deliver. IMHO powerline is just not cut out for speed oriented internet, because you almost always have your pc/monitor/sound system etc etc etc on the same circuit the powerline uses. so downloading or – in my case – even browsing is so terribly slow that i prefer wifi over powerline. (on the other hand i just installed ethernet cables in all my rooms recently so i dont have to worry any more :) )

0 votes

M.S. Smith

I also have the powerline device on the same circuit as all of my computer equipment, and the other PC in my home network is on the kitchen circuit. They work fine. Having a powerline network routing through the same circuit as other electronics is not the source of network speed issues – some other factor must be at work.

In normal circumstances a powerline network will be much faster than most WiFi connections – I obtain 17 Mbps on Wireless G in my home, but I can obtain 58Mbps with my powerline network.

0 votes

Melissa A

Plaster Networks offers some powerline filters (isolators) designed especially for powerline networking that do a GREAt job at filtering out the interference from “noisy” devices. I’ve found only a few devices that actually cause any sort of problem (especially those “wall wart” power supplies for routers, cell phone chargers, etc), and ONLY when they’re plugged in right next to the powerline adapter. In that case, I installed a filter, and the problem went away.

0 votes

watou

I recently had to pull out a Belkin powerline networking system used at a friend’s house and string an Ethernet cable for him, because his PC was constantly getting knocked off the network. Never knew what about his power system was causing the failures, but that’s the point: there can be sources of interference in the home power system that don’t allow this solution to work reliably. In short, keep your receipts and packaging if you go this route, and closely examine the quality of the connection to make sure it works for you before you lose the ability to return the equipment. And be aware that some uncontrollable change to your infrastructure may make this solution unworkable some day in the future.

0 votes

Martin B.

I’ve heard that the Belkin units (the ones using the Media Xtreme technology) are incredibly unreliable.

0 votes

Anonymous

there is a big problem with phase, it can destroy Ur machines…

0 votes

Jeff S.

Actually, the latest powerline technology (HomePlug AV) works across phases without a problem. The adapters perform equally well transmitting on the same phase or across phases. Earlier powerline technology (especially X10) works horribly across phases (unless you install a shunt).

0 votes

Anonymous

You forgot to mention one (for me MOST) important thing! The maximum speed you can achieve when transfering data from point A to point B over powerline!

0 votes

M.S. Smith

That depends on a lot of things. Most adapters will quote between anywhere between 50 and 100 Mbps. In real world usage you’ll probably see between 40 and 80 Mbps.

0 votes

Anonymous

Hi and thanks for replying. Actually, the speed depends MOSTLY on one thing- the “signal strength” aka. disturbances in electrical cables. This is also the reason for many people losing the connection and what not.

You should also tell there are 2 speeds of hardware available for end-users: The cheaper 80mbits ones (max speed meaning 10MB/s) and 200mbits (25MB/s). I for one, have the second ones to stream media from my NAS to tv-streamer to view 1080p movies and It works flawlessly where WiFi (standard g) failed.

0 votes

M.S. Smith

Hi Spellpower,

Do you know of anyway to judge signal strength based on the disturbances on
electrical cables?

Personally, I have not run into any way to do so, nor have I experienced
slower speeds when using powerline adapters on the same circuits as major
appliances.

0 votes

Anonymous

I did had some problems when using 220 separator (you know, the item which plugs in into electricity but has multiple new plugins?- sorry, eng isnt my main language). With problems, I’m mostly talking about package losses that appeared out of nowhere occasionally. I didn’t had these problems when plugged directly into 220 in the wall.

Btw, there are tons of companies that sell that kind of devices, maybe you can link to them (Linksys, Netgear, MSI, TP-Link and some, _for me_, unknown brands). I did found them on ebay (german ebay- http://computer.shop.ebay.de/Powerline-Adapter-Bridges-/44415/i.html).

I personally, am using Netgears items and am, so far, satisfied. They are, as you wrote in the article, huge! :)

0 votes

MB

Hi M.S. -

You should try out some powerline adapters from Plaster Networks. They have built-in diagnostics that allow you to measure the signal strength/network throughput between the powerline adapters. I have a pair, and they work really well. They use the lastest standard (HomePlug AV rated at 200Mbps).

0 votes

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.

0 votes

M.S. Smith

I also have the powerline device on the same circuit as all of my computer equipment, and the other PC in my home network is on the kitchen circuit. They work fine. Having a powerline network routing through the same circuit as other electronics is not the source of network speed issues – some other factor must be at work.

In normal circumstances a powerline network will be much faster than most WiFi connections – I obtain 17 Mbps on Wireless G in my home, but I can obtain 58Mbps with my powerline network.

0 votes

M.S. Smith

Signals won’t propagate beyond your local electrical wiring. You don’t have to worry in an apartment unless somehow your wiring is mixed. Which is unlikely, because if that were the case you’d be paying your neighbors electrical bill.

You will have to be more cautious if you’re in a roommate situation, or if you live in a home that has been converted into multiple apartments.

0 votes

spellpower

Hi and thanks for replying. Actually, the speed depends MOSTLY on one thing- the “signal strength” aka. disturbances in electrical cables. This is also the reason for many people losing the connection and what not.

You should also tell there are 2 speeds of hardware available for end-users: The cheaper 80mbits ones (max speed meaning 10MB/s) and 200mbits (25MB/s). I for one, have the second ones to stream media from my NAS to tv-streamer to view 1080p movies and It works flawlessly where WiFi (standard g) failed.

0 votes

M.S. Smith

Hi Spellpower,

Do you know of anyway to judge signal strength based on the disturbances on
electrical cables?

Personally, I have not run into any way to do so, nor have I experienced
slower speeds when using powerline adapters on the same circuits as major
appliances.

0 votes

spellpower

I did had some problems when using 220 separator (you know, the item which plugs in into electricity but has multiple new plugins?- sorry, eng isnt my main language). With problems, I’m mostly talking about package losses that appeared out of nowhere occasionally. I didn’t had these problems when plugged directly into 220 in the wall.

Btw, there are tons of companies that sell that kind of devices, maybe you can link to them (Linksys, Netgear, MSI, TP-Link and some, _for me_, unknown brands). I did found them on ebay (german ebay- http://computer.shop.ebay.de/P

I personally, am using Netgears items and am, so far, satisfied. They are, as you wrote in the article, huge! :)

0 votes

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.

0 votes

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.

0 votes

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.

0 votes

Birkenstock

actually, I am not interest in Powerpoint

0 votes

Ben Mordecai

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