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Powerline Networking - A Beginners Guide

1.21 Gigawatts? What's all this mains networking about? Doc. Mat takes out the science and gives us the basic rundown of mains networking.

In this article, I will?attempt to better explain the workings of powerline networking. It is one way to connect your household without expensive wireless bridges or any networking know how of any kind. A truly plug and play technology allows streaming media to your bedroom TV before you know it. I will discuss the technology and the pros and cons of it all.

This stuff is over 10 years old!

The technology isn?t new, it started with a simple 14Mb/s version in 2001 but a few more releases down the line and we are now at the 200Mb/s mark with recent releases seeing 500Mb/s and beyond. Of course, after you take into consideration encryption, power fluctuations, distance etc, real world speeds can drop between five and ten percent and in extreme cases nearly fifty percent! For most people however, connecting all your devices together to the internet is limited by the bottle neck that is your own broadband speed. If you have an 8mb connection, you don't have much to worry about if you power line connection runs at 250Mb/s. However, if you are streaming HD from a media server, again 250Mb/s isn't tragic but if you have a 78mb internet connection (like me) then others accessing the full force whilst gaming and streaming, that could but a bit of pressure on the technology. However, I did say worst case scenario so just think in the range of 450Mb/s and I think you'll be fine.

So, give me the Pros

Because power line networking requires no new wires in the house, this immediately appeals to me as it will keep my wife happy. The whole house is readily available for me to connect or bridge routers and hubs around the home with the reliability of a wired connection and without the interference of Wi-Fi devices around the house.

It?s cheaper than connecting two wireless routers together. These can be expensive little gadgets and you need to have some networking knowledge to tie it all together. If you are not that tech savvy, this technology is a god send. Currently, there are companies that are kitting out houses with these devices to enable YouView boxes and what not. It also appears that Sky will also look to this technology when they roll out their home media streaming services allowing you to play content from one Sky+ box to another.

Another benefit is that you are not limited to 2 adapters. You can have as many as you like (probably up to 255 for IP address related restrictions) so you can have one in the kitchen, the kids bedroom, your own bedroom and even the office! I plan to have one in our bedroom to connect our Samsung Smart PVR and one in the office. The office one will be connected to a router as I will be connecting a TV, Blu Ray, Xbox, Sky+ and my Laptop. Even though my laptop is WiFi enabled, because of my location, I only get 40-50Mb/s where as my connection is 78Mb/s so I want to connect by wire so I can get the full potential of my awesome internet speed.

Future benefits of this technology could see power companies monitoring your energy usage and provide real time statistics and even a real time bill for your house. That'll be fun!

The downers?

Well, there aren?t any to worry about if you need to use this technology in its simplistic terms which is to connect two (or more) points together. When it does get tricky is that some devices on the market require the unit to be plugged directly into the wall socket and not via an extension. Some do have pass through plugs and some do say you can use on a small scale extension lead but, if you have any kind of decent desktop setup, you will likely be using 8 or 10 plugs or even more. I have a 10 gang tower plug for my non important devices like desk lamps and phones and I have an 8 gang surge protector for my PC and peripherals. This means that I would struggle to connect one unless I get a pass through unit or connect it elsewhere and wire in a router to the other end. From this point, it does start to get untidy but I think that the benefits really outweigh the initial start up problems you may have.

So what options are out there then?

Well, you have a few and they will suit all budgets. Depending on what your requirements are, speed, price or ease of use then you can defiantly find your item. Click on the image for a link to current prices and availability.

Price is a concern

Single NewLink 85mbps Powerline Adapter

These units are relatively cheap, at just over ?11 each, they are supplied in singles which is ideal if you want to connect more than 2 points or extend your current setup. It means you don?t have to buy a pack of two which most kits contain.

TP-Link Mini Powerline Ethernet Adapters

TP-Link have two units for offer here in either 200Mbps or 500Mbps with very little price difference (50p) between them. These, like the NewLink, are supplied in single units and area really ideal especially the 500Mpbs unit. They are both under ?19.

I don?t have a spare plug

TP-Link TP-PA251 200Mbps with AC Pass-through


So for those of us short of a spare wall socket, here are some ideal units that allows a pass-through. A little more expensive but the extra feature of not having to find another socket really is worth it. The single unit TP-Link is just over ?25 but you can also buy a starter kit in a pair which is just over ?48 so it still won?t break the bank. The TP-Link?s are 200Mbps but if you are after a faster pass through then try the ZyXEL PLA4215 500Mbps unit. This is a little more expensive at just over ?77 but you do get two of them in the box.

Wireless Extending

There are products that will connect over powerline but at the end have a wireless AP (Access Point). You will need some networking knowledge to set this up as you will have to faff about with IP addresses but all the instructions are in the box so if you are easily confused, it does provide a get out. The NewLink 200Mbps NL-HPW200 is, as it describes, a 200Mbps but has a wireless AP built in. At a few pence over ?38, it?s a very attractive unit.

Another unit is the Netgear AV 200 Wireless N Extender which is over ?92 but offers a little more confidence in the branded name.

Rounding things up

I hope that if you are reading this, you are interested in getting a powerline setup into your home and that you have found this article extensive and informative (Kudos via comments always go down well!). Powerline networking is a very hand way of extending your home network with reliable speed and managing to implement it without one iota of networking knowledge. I can?t begin to detail all of the possible combinations that you can have with this technology or indeed the huge range of options available to you from CCL.

If you are wanting to get setup with one, go do it. It?s very simple to do and you will wonder why you hadn?t done it sooner. It couldn?t be cheaper at the moment with single units from ?11 to starter packs of pairs at ?60 and home theatre pack from upwards of ?100.