What Is Powerline Networking?
Powerline networking is a networking solution that uses the electrical wiring of a house or a building to transmit data packets. The concept is similar to DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), where a telephone line is used for both telephone service and internet connectivity, each operating at different frequencies. In powerline networking, AC power operates at 50Hz – 60Hz while data transmission runs from 2MHz to 86MHz. Since data runs through wires, the connection is more reliable than Wi-Fi with lesser interferences, even for devices that are farther from the router. Compared to Ethernet, the powerline network gives a neater finish since you won’t see cables draping from the ceiling or walls, and there’s no need to run Ethernet cables on the floorboards or drill holes on the walls.
How Fast Can It Get?
Powerline networking still won’t match Ethernet’s speed, but it certainly can be faster than most WiFi networks. In fact, most recent adapters already support Gigabit Ethernet. Generally, the speed ranges from 500Mbps to 2400Mbps depending on the specs of the adapters. Adapters faster are ideal for large file transfers, 4K/8K video streaming, internet browsing, and online gaming. However, real-world speed can be affected by factors like the quality of the wirings, the distance from each adapter, and interferences from devices such as microwave ovens and mobile phone chargers.
How Does It Work?
You don’t need an intensive technical know-how to set up your powerline network. All you need is a powerline kit which consists of powerline adapters and short ethernet cables. There are usually two powerline adapters in a kit, but you can also buy kits with more than two adapters if you have more devices to connect. Each adapter has two to three Ethernet ports, and some, albeit more expensive, can even serve as WiFi hotspots.
There is the main adapter in the kit that you simply have to plug into a wall outlet that is close to your router and connect an Ethernet cable from the adapter to the router. Now for the other adapter, plug it into a wall outlet that is closest to the other device you want to connect to your network and use the other Ethernet cable that comes with the kit to connect the adapter to the device. No special configuration is required for the two adapters to connect to each other. If they’re running on the same circuit, they will automatically detect each other and will get you connected instantly.
What are the Pros and Cons?
Powerline ethernet comes with several advantages over WiFi and Ethernet networking. Here are the reasons why this type of networking is gaining popularity.
Cost. Powerline networking costs a lot cheaper than its counterparts. You only need to spend on the kit, which saves you tons from buying Ethernet cables or wireless extenders. In some cases, you would need to pay technicians to install your Ethernet or wireless network, but such is unnecessary for setting up powerline networking, cutting your pockets some slack.
Speed and reliability. Powerline networking offers faster speed and higher reliability than WiFi. It has considerably lesser interference, minimizing the latency. In addition, it can cover longer distances compared to WiFi’s coverage. Signals are also not blocked by walls and other rigid structures in-between the devices.
Ease of installation. Among the three network types, the powerline network is probably the easiest to set up. Each room definitely has power sockets, and that’s all you’ll need along with the kit to set-up a powerline network. No new wiring and no software configuration are needed for you to get started.
Compatibility with older devices. There is still hope for your older devices that are not WiFi-ready. As long as they are built with Ethernet ports, you can still hook them up to powerline adapters, and they’re network-ready in no time.
Flexibility and mobility. The adapters are not fixed in one place. Instead of moving your devices around to get a good WiFi signal or for them to be closer to an Ethernet jack, you can easily just move the powerline adapters around wherever necessary. They’re also lightweight and small, making it easier to carry them around.
Running your network through a powerline has strong advantages over the WiFi and Ethernet network, but also its downsides.
Socket locations. Powerline adapters work best when plugged in directly to wall outlets. The connection will be slower if you plug them into surge protectors or extension leads. In locations where there is a limited number of sockets, you may have to consider buying extension leads to accommodate all the devices, or you may opt for an adapter that comes with a built-in socket, so you still have a spare socket for other devices.
Electrical interference. Powerline adapters are not suitable in areas where there are appliances that cause a lot of interference, like a tumble dryer, freezers, refrigerators, and microwave ovens. More interference means slower speed and unstable connection.
Circuit limitations. If the adapters are not running on the same circuit, they simply won’t work. This is not a common issue for home circuits but for buildings built with different circuit lines, using powerline adapters may require more work if you need to trace which circuit is which for the adapters to work. In addition, older electrical wirings will impact the network’s performance and signal quality even if you’re using the latest type of adapters.
More is less. Powerline networking has an outstanding performance for single-point connections, but as you add more adapters and devices, you will notice that the connection will start to degrade since the bandwidth is shared with more than one device.
When to Use Powerline Networking?
Powerline networking is a better alternative to Wi-Fi when the signal gets unstable or when there are just too many devices already connected to your wireless network. This also works when your device is located in a room outside the range of your wireless network or where it is impossible to run Ethernet cables. Older devices with no built-in WiFi can also greatly benefit from powerline networking.
This kind of set-up is also ideal and cost-efficient for small businesses, especially for start-ups, saving them the hassle and cost of setting up a new Ethernet network within the office, not to mention the messy cabling all over the place. Despite its many advantages, powerline ethernet still has its drawbacks. It is recommended that you first check whether this type of network is feasible for your home or office if you plan to set up a pure powerline network. Overall, powerline networking is a neat, effective, and efficient networking solution that would greatly compliment your existing Ethernet or WiFi network.