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PowerLine Networking Nearly Fails Our Tests

The Powerline Concept

Back in 2000, a group of electronic device and networking manufacturers got together and founded an industry association called the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. Their objective was both interesting and appealing and has generated considerable interest and buzz from consumers: to develop networking devices that can plug into standard home power outlets (110/120 V 60 Hz in most of North America and 220/230 V 50 Hz in most of Europe and the rest of the world) in order to create a bridge between conventional or wireless Ethernet and power lines in the home. The idea is to let in-home wiring provide the links between rooms and around the house, while standard Ethernet or wireless devices handle the links between the HomePlug Device and PCs or other networking gear (routers, Cable/DSL modems, wireless access points, and so forth).

Beyond allowing your network to extend where it isn’t otherwise able to go, PowerLine technology offers interesting capabilities for households and small office/home office environments. It’s great for extending the reach of home media, especially for the growing number of small networks with streaming media servers or to bring media extenders or gaming consoles into the mix. PowerLine technology is also a boon for those who want to connect computers to the network in rooms where in-wall or other wired outlets may be absent or where interference or distance makes wireless unworkable. This can be especially helpful in condos or apartment buildings with rooms adjacent to elevators, large transformers, or other heavy electrical equipment. Given that electrical wiring already goes everywhere, why not use it to let your network do likewise? On average, you’ll pay about $55 to $65 per PowerLine AV adapter (and remember, you always need at least two to use this technology), which puts it on par with 802.11n USB adapters and about $10-$15 more than 802.11g adapters.

There’s no denying that this is a brilliant idea and helps to turn something everyone has at their disposal—in-wall electrical wiring—into the backbone or infrastructure for an in-home network. Initial implementations of this technology called HomePlug 1.0 started to appear in 2001. But it was limited to a theoretical maximum throughput of 14 Mb/s and quickly proved too slow for many in-home applications, especially multimedia (music, video, TV, and so forth). By December 2005, a second version called HomePlug AV was released, and HomePlug AV devices started hitting the market in 2006. This version is designed for HDTV and VoIP traffic in the home and supports a much higher theoretical bandwidth of 189 Mb/s. However, you will see that the Alliance Web pages claim rates up to 200 Mb/s, while other sources use a more conservative estimate—and as our test results will show, these claims are more or less moot anyway.

  • Shadow703793
    For less than the price of this thing one could easily draw Cat 5e cabling through out the house. It only cost me $50-70 for cable,RJ 45 jacks, etc, and about 3 hours on a weekend to draw wire to the bed rooms (school work PCs), basement (gaming PCs), and living room(HTPC).
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  • erichlund
    Another weakness of these systems that was not addressed on the review is where you cross electrical phases. Most houses have two column of breakers, and they are on different phases. Where the powerline units are on the same phase, they do work fairly reliably, but where they are on separate phases, they may not work at all.
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  • etrnl_frost
    erichlundAnother weakness of these systems that was not addressed on the review is where you cross electrical phases. Most houses have two column of breakers, and they are on different phases. Where the powerline units are on the same phase, they do work fairly reliably, but where they are on separate phases, they may not work at all.Very good point. On the same line, if you're passing this thing through one or two surge suppressors with filtering, or an online UPS or something (or even one with plain-Jane voltage regulation), I wonder what kind of impact that would cause?

    All that being said, is "equivalent to Base100" really that bad? It's not gigabit, gathered, but it's still doable. And possibly, more secure than a broadcasting wireless network?
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  • hellwig
    Is it more secure? How many people run network security protocols over their wired network? I mean, if you live in an apartment (where this thing would be ideal seeing as you can't run your own Cat5 through the walls), couldn't your neighbor see your network if they use the same model? If it can go through your breaker box, can't it go back through the mainline and into your neighbors breaker box? I'm sure it couldn't jump up through the transformer, but anyone on the same 120/240 feed as you should be able to see your network.
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  • etrnl_frost
    hellwigIs it more secure? How many people run network security protocols over their wired network? I mean, if you live in an apartment (where this thing would be ideal seeing as you can't run your own Cat5 through the walls), couldn't your neighbor see your network if they use the same model? If it can go through your breaker box, can't it go back through the mainline and into your neighbors breaker box? I'm sure it couldn't jump up through the transformer, but anyone on the same 120/240 feed as you should be able to see your network.Who knows? Maybe? I don't know? They should test this!
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  • LightWeightX
    couldn't your neighbor see your network if they use the same model?

    I'm not sure, however years ago I saw an intercom system that worked the same way by transmitting over power lines. It worked between homes that were 50 meters from each other.
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  • michaelahess
    They use encryption, maybe not as good as WPA2 but still, it will keep most users safe. In-fact safer than 80% of people with wireless as they don't encrypt at all!
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  • Stardude82
    Check out the Wikipedia article on power line communication for some interesting historical background. They cite a maximum of power line transmission rate of 135 Mbit/s before the FCC starts giving operators dirty looks. This and may wind power challenges are due to the fact they interfere with Ham radio (nerds).
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  • old_newbie
    Just missed it. Belkin released a press statement 22 Jun (same day as this article post) announcing a Gigabit Powerline adapter F5D4076actual b/w is prolly way less than 1000mb/s (as proven with the former model here) but should be better than the 200mb/s flavor.
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  • socrates047
    WOW. O_o . I just bought cheap china-bought refurbished routers and adapters (11g) all for under $50 CDN and im getting performance similar to what, say d-link or belkin offer with their setups...

    anything is do-able if you look for the right deal :)
    i see this powerline stuff as EXTREMELY convenient and nothing more. all you have to do is plug in? awesome!
    Reply