Powerline adapters are an easy and effective way of extending your home network.
They use your existing electrical cabling to carry data, enabling you to push your network into every part of your house without having to install large lengths of ethernet cables or dealing with Wi-Fi blackspots.
But while powerline networks are simple to set up, very affordable, and can work well, they’re also susceptible to interference from environmental factors. This can leave you with a network that’s slower than you’d like.
Let’s take a look at some ways you can speed up your powerline network.
1) Use the Most Efficient Setup
First things first, you need to make sure you’ve got the basics right. Powerline adapters need to be plugged directly into the wall. Not into surge protectors and certainly not into power strips, both of which can block the frequencies that powerlines use.
Ideally, you should also put the adapters on the same mains circuit. Powerline signals can cross from one circuit to another, but they lose strength each time they do.
House wiring can be pretty complicated, so if you don’t have access to an electrical wiring map for your home, experiment by using your plugs in different outlets — and even different rooms — to find the best performance.
2) Distance Matters
Range is a factor you have to consider on any network. The further a signal has to travel, the weaker it becomes. With ethernet you are typically limited to 100m or less. With Wi-Fi, it’s more like 30m.
For most powerline adapters, the theoretical range is 300 meters. In practice, though, you should try to keep it below 200m.
And remember, we’re not talking about the straight line distance from point A to point B. The amount of wire the signal passes through may be considerably longer than you think it is.
3) Beware Circuit Breakers & Power Cables
Tests have shown that certain types of circuit breaker — specifically, a few brands of AFCI circuit breaker — can block powerline adapters. Since you won’t want to change the circuit breaker itself, all you can do is ensure you don’t plug your adapter into an outlet protected by one of them.
It’s also worth noting that performance depends on the quality of the copper lines in your home. If you live in an old building with old wiring, then your powerline speeds may always be limited beyond your control.
4) Filter Out Noise
A lot of mains-powered devices can produce electrical noise that interferes with the performance of powerline networks. In particular, this includes devices that use switch-mode power supplies such as mobile phone or tablet chargers.
Noise has greater impact at the receiving end of the network than at the transmitting end, so reduce it near the receiving end whenever possible. Still, reducing noise across the board wouldn’t hurt either.
The effect of noise is local. Avoid plugging your powerline adapter into a twin socket outlet with another device plugged in alongside it, or having another device plugged in within a couple meters of the adapter.
Powerline manufacturer TP-Link recommends plugging devices with electromotors into surge protectors to reduce interference. You can also create a makeshift noise filter of your own by attaching other devices to a long extension lead that’s two meters long or more.
But the best solution for dealing with noise is to use powerline adapters with built-in filtered outlets. These feature pass-through sockets that enable you to use the power outlet for other devices without any effect on performance.
5) Upgrade to a Faster Network
If you’ve optimized the environmental factors of your powerline network and you’re still not happy with performance, then consider upgrading your hardware.
It’s important to know that the headline speed quoted by a manufacturer for one of its products is not the actual speed you will actually achieve.
For starters, the speeds often show the upload and download speeds combined, meaning that a 1,200 Mbps adapter is potentially providing 600 Mbps upload and download at best. And with everything else taken into consideration, you can expect to get half, or even just a third, of what it says on the box.
With this in mind, upgrading to faster devices — such as those based on the HomePlug AV2 standard — should always be beneficial.
However, another limiting factor exists. No matter how fast your powerline adapters are, your actual Internet speed determines how fast you can connect to the Web. Local area network speeds will be fast — such as when transferring files between home machines — but browsing won’t be as fast.
6) Don’t Mix and Match Adapter Types
When choosing your gear, you should always look to standardize on a single system. Don’t mix and match standards or speeds.
There is some level of compatibility between certain standards, but it won’t produce anything close to optimal performance. And if you have mismatched speeds, you will always be restricted to the speed of the slowest one.
Powerline Networks Are Worth It
The convenience of a powerline network makes it an ideal choice for any home, especially if you have areas where your Wi-Fi signal won’t reach.
In most cases powerline adapters will work well right out of the box, and with just a little tweaking, it’s possible to speed them up even more. The main thing is to experiment with where you plug in your adapters — different outlets and different rooms can produce vastly different levels of performance.
If you’re thinking of installing a powerline network, here’s what you should know about powerline adapters before diving in.