What Is Powerline Networking and How Do You Use It?

Wi-Fi doesn't always work as expected and isn't your only network option. Ethernet offers the best speeds, but looks ugly when draped by devices and running on floorboards. This is where powerline comes into play.

In short, Powerline offers the best of both worlds by using the existing electrical wiring in your home or office. We explain what this network solution does, along with its advantages and disadvantages.

What is Powerline Network?

Powerline networks are a technology that lies between wired and wireless. Instead of sending network data up in the air or through cables routed along the baseboards, the existing electrical cables are used in a home or office. It also supports the longest distance of the three, although performance is highly dependent on all of the electrical wiring and power consuming devices.

The concept is nothing new. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) uses an existing phone line to provide Internet connectivity in your home or office. It does this by transmitting data at a higher frequency than the telephone service.

With Powerline, the AC power supply is transmitted at 50 Hz or 60 Hz, depending on the electrical system. Powerline transmits data between 2 MHz and 86 MHz, but ignores the power-based frequencies.

The aim here is to connect devices outside of the Wi-Fi range to the network without the need to run Ethernet cables at home or in the office. The overall speed usually does not match the wired network and in some cases the Wi-Fi connections. What Powerline offers over WLAN, however, is stability and lower latency, as the technology does not have to deal with interfering signals.

Let's get technical

Most powerline kits offer two adapters, each with an Ethernet connection. A device is plugged into a socket and connected to the LAN port of a modem or router via an Ethernet cable. The second device plugs into a different outlet near the device you want to connect to the network.

Without getting too technical with the hardware and software layers, the first adapter connected to your modem or router converts the received Ethernet protocol (IEEE 802.3) into the HomePlug AV2 protocol. This data is then "transmitted" over the electrical lines, similar to how routers convert and send wireless connectivity (IEEE 802.11). Instead of relying on antennas, adapters send over the mains and neutral power connections.

So far, the line and neutral conductors were only used for a single input and output (1 × 1). The HomePlug AV2 specification added the ground wire so that MIMO transmissions and beamforming support Ultra HD video transmissions. The adapter transmits data essentially via any two pairs such as line and ground or line and neutral (2 × 2).

All other adapters connected to the electrical system receive both power and data transmission. They filter out the latter, convert everything back into the Ethernet protocol and push the network connection through the Ethernet port. Some powerline adapters also offer Wi-Fi connectivity.

HomePlug AV2 is the best

The Powerline network works with all wired devices that can connect to the Internet – all wirelessly if the adapter has WiFi. All adapters are synchronized and work together to create, for example, a digital map of the discovered stations and their connections, which is useful for network management.

HomePlug AV2 is currently the best powerline protocol, a more flexible iteration of the older HomePlug standard, which, among other things, aims to increase speed, expand coverage and provide a sleep mode to reduce power.

Whenever you buy powerline adapters (more on that later) always remember to look for the latest protocol as the quality increases a lot between generations.

Why is it useful?

With Wi-Fi used around the world and in homes, businesses, and even on sidewalks, it obviously works. So why do we need another way to connect to the internet? Because there are situations where powerline connections are more useful. Here are the big advantages.

Save money on installations

For example, let's say you have a device – such as a television – that has a wired Ethernet connection to the Internet, but doesn't have WiFi. Unfortunately, your router is on the other side of the room. You can run Ethernet cables through your walls, along baseboards, or under your carpet. However, this takes time, looks ugly, and may require lots of cables. Buying a pair of powerline adapters is a faster and often cheaper solution.

Solve Wi-Fi Problems

There are some places that Wi-Fi cannot reliably reach. Heavy interference or oversized homes can make wireless connectivity too difficult to use. In these cases, Powerline adapters can complement Wi-Fi networks or provide stand-alone solutions for devices that require a wired connection. This can help with other problems too, such as: B. If streaming is spotty or slow, you want to improve.

Easy adjustment

Powerline networks are easy to install. You can do it yourself in minutes. If your home only needs one or two devices to connect to the internet, powerline may be the most consumer-friendly solution for you.

Is Powerline Better Than Wi-Fi?

You might be wondering why you need Wi-Fi in the first place when Powerline has all of these advantages. Is Powerline Better? That's a good question.

Compared to buying multiple powerline adapters, a WiFi router is likely the cheaper option. This, and the added flexibility of a wireless signal, are major reasons why Wi-Fi is the go-to destination for millions of web users. With the advent of Wi-Fi 6 (which we discuss in more detail below), the top speeds and benefits of Wi-Fi are also much more important for mobile devices than they are for powerline.

Powerline supports distances of up to 984 feet, but adapters do not communicate in a straight line. Data has to go up and down walls and through the attic, adding invisible distance. If the electrical wiring in a house or office is too old, or the powerline adapters are too far apart, you will likely see far less than the real maximum.

Powerline adapters also have limitations:

  • They need to be plugged directly into a socket: Powerline adapters do not work properly when connected to surge protectors, power strips, or UPS units.
  • Avoid sockets managed by AFCI and GFCI circuit breakers: Arc fault circuit breakers (AFCI) and earth fault circuit breakers (GFCI) can reduce power by up to 50%.
  • You should not share the same electrical outlet with devices that generate electrical "noise": These devices include chargers, fluorescent lights, and electrical appliances.

Some powerline adapters have straight-through sockets so that you don't lose an open power connection for other devices. You may also see adapters with built-in WiFi to support smartphones and other wireless devices.

With that said, before you buy a kit, you should examine your home or office electrical layout, examine the breaker box, and consider where powerline adapters can be safely connected. You should also consider the status of powerline and how it compares to the newer Wi-Fi standards before making a commitment.

Is Powerline Out of Date?

Unfortunately, the HomePlug standard doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon. Powerline adapters offer stability and less latency, but they don't compete with routers based on the Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2 and Wi-Fi 6 standards.

The previous comparisons are based on Wi-Fi 5 Wave 1, which is currently the most common network solution in homes and offices. This standard offers a theoretical maximum speed of 1.3 Gbps, but even this will rarely be the case with real wireless connections. The Wi-Fi 5 Wave 2 standard appeared in 2018 and increased the maximum to 3.5 Gbit / s. Wi-Fi 6 is the newer wireless standard with theoretical speeds of up to 9.6 Gbit / s.

You should now see where the powerline versus Wi-Fi argument leads. Since newer AV2000 adapters only show a maximum of 400Mbps, this may be a bit better than a Wi-Fi 5 Wave 1 router. Both suffer from speed drops due to range, although Wi-Fi 5 Wave 1 is worse as the maximum range is 98 feet.

In a recent benchmark of the TP-Link Archer AX11000 Wi-Fi 6 router, real-world speeds reached 2.4 Gbps at 5 feet but dropped to 552 Mbps at 20 feet. Another benchmark was that the TP-Link Archer AX6000 reached 1.5 Gbps at 5 feet, but dropped to 868 Mbps at 75 feet. That is significantly faster than Powerline.

However, the big differentiator between Powerline and Wi-Fi is the actual physical connection. With Powerline, wired devices are connected via a Gigabit Ethernet connection and cables in order to establish a stable connection with a speed of up to 400 Mbit / s. The speeds on wireless devices depend on the range, interference with other devices, and the number of streams supported by each device.

Is Powerline Safe?

Electrical signals can be hacked, just like eavesdropping on a Wi-Fi signal. For this reason, it is important to choose powerline adapters with the best encryption technology available (currently 128-bit AES). Adapters usually come with security buttons that, when activated, encrypt communications. Make sure these buttons are always enabled.

Top powerline adapter

When purchasing powerline adapter kits, pay close attention to the numbers on the labels. For example, the TP-Link AV2000 kit offers up to 2,000 Mbps (or 2 Gbps), although you will never see that top speed. Also note the technical data and make sure that the kit offers Ethernet ports with a support of up to 1 Gbit / s, since less than 100 Mbit / s cuts your connection regardless of the transmission speed over your electrical lines.

High performance: TP-Link TL-PA9020P

TP-Link-AV2000 Powerline TL-PA9020P kit

Based on the HomePlug AV2 protocol, this kit contains two identical adapters that support up to 2,000 Mbit / s. In real scenarios, up to 400 Mbit / s can be displayed.

Each device has a built-in power socket so you don't lose a socket on your wall socket, two Gigabit Ethernet ports and a one-touch pairing button that is synchronized with the other adapters. LEDs embedded on the side indicate strong (green) and weak (red) connections.

As mentioned in this article, the HomePlug AV2 protocol supports a 2 × 2 connection, which is translated into two send and two receive streams. Further functions are noise filtering, beamforming and an energy-saving mode.

Middle class: Netgear PL1200-100PAS

Netgear Powerline PL1200-100PAS Kit

Netgear's PL1200-100PAS kit offers speeds of up to 1,200Mbps, although real world speeds may be just over 380Mbps. Note that if you only pay for a 200Mbps subscription, this speed is based on the local network and will not improve your internet connection.

Unfortunately, this two-piece kit lacks built-in sockets, so you lose one socket in the wall socket. These two adapters only provide one Gigabit Ethernet port each, which limits your physical connections – especially with the model connected to your modem or router.

Other notable features include a physical button to force encryption, link status indicators, MIMO and beamforming connectivity, and fast plug-and-play setup – no additional software required.

Budget: TP-Link TL-PA7010P

TP-Link Powerline TL-PA7010P Kit

Based on the HomePlug A2, this home kit contains two adapters with through sockets and a Gigabit Ethernet port. Similar to the other kits on our list, each adapter has indicators for connection status and an easy-pair button.

Our only real complaint about this set is that the ethernet port is on the top, not the bottom. While inconvenient, this isn't a deal breaker – some consumers may even like it better.

Other notable features of this set are plug-and-play functions and an automatic energy-saving mode. However, if you want to take advantage of Wi-Fi connectivity, you'll need to upgrade to the TL-WPA7510 kit for an additional $ 16.

You don't have to settle for spotty WiFi and ugly ethernet cables in your home. Fortunately for all of us, Powerline is here to save the day. These kits give you everything you need at the best price and all you need is the electrical wiring that you already use at home or at work. While like any other system it has advantages and disadvantages, it is worth considering.

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