Today, most homes have a wireless network. Every internet provider furnishes customers with sleek wireless hubs that seem to double in speed every year.
However, as most people have experienced at one time or another, there are times when wireless internet is not enough. Certain devices – gaming consoles or television, for example, may not have wireless capabilities. Yet, to get the most out of devices like this, most people want to play online or stream content from the internet. In cases like these, the dreaded Ethernet cable makes an appearance. Usually trailed across hallways and living room floors, they become an annoyance and a hazard no matter how much we try to hide them.
When it comes to providing internet connectivity to tricky, out-of-the-way spots around the house, powerline connections can prove ideal.
In a nutshell, a powerline network gives all of the benefits of a wired network, but without any of the troublesome wires.
A good example of something that could make use of a powerline network is the abovementioned hypothetical console.
Some consoles come with wireless connectivity inbuilt; others require the owner to purchase an additional wireless adaptor. This means either paying more money for an overpriced wireless add-on, or running an Ethernet cable from the router to wherever the console might be.
A powerline network eliminates both of these requirements. A basic powerline pack comes with two adaptors and two miniature Ethernet cables – do not worry, they will be out of sight. One adaptor plugs into the wireless router via the (non-invasive) Ethernet cable and then into the nearest wall socket. The second powerline adaptor plugs into the device – whether it is a console, computer or television, again via an Ethernet connection and the nearest wall socket.
Essentially, that is all. The two adaptors connect to one other by the electrical wiring inside the walls – this is how they operate. There is no need to install software, update drivers or configure anything. The two powerline adaptors will detect each other and are now connected.
The signal travels from the router, into the first adaptor, along the electrical wiring in the walls, finding its way to the second adaptor. After this, simply plug in additional adaptors to any other devices to connect them to the same network.
Different Powerline Types
There are a few separate types of Powerline networking and their development comes under the control of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, an organisation that brings different manufacturers and standards of powerline hardware under a single canopy.
Powerline AV first came on to the scene in 2005. It was the successor its frontrunner – HomePlug 1.0, which had a top speed of 14 Mbps. Powerline AV has a projected cap of 200Mbps, but the actual cap is likely to top out around 100Mbps. Still, this makes it able to support good quality audio and video streaming. Powerline AV also supports powerful 128-bit AES encryption, making data and connections extremely secure.
The other major powerline standard is Powerline AV 500, which can provide speeds of either 100 or 500Mbps, depending on the native network.
Previously, Powerline was its own standard but, in 2010, it came under the same auspices as other networking standards. This means that that adaptors made by different manufacturers must be able to function together and generally provided standardisation and focus for the technology.
In the future, the new standard of HomePlug AV2 looks set to kick up connection speeds to real-time Gigabit levels, and has compatibility with all existing standards.
Advantages of Powerline Networking
The most obvious advantage of powerline networking is eliminating the need for long Ethernet cables trailing everywhere. A non-wireless computer or device does not have to sit dormant or close to a router out of hatred for those long, hazardous cables.
Another great benefit of powerline networking comes from the ability to extend a network, with ease and in a short amount of time. Previously, this might require more routers, then configuring them and sifting through the inevitable problems. With a powerline network, extending a network simply requires the use of a couple of adaptors.
One of the biggest obstacles to wireless networks is spots that the signal fails to reach. An office in a basement or far away from the wireless router may struggle to gain reliable signal. Because powerline networks use electrical wiring, they do not have to fight through walls or floors to deliver their signal. No matter where the device, powerline networks can deliver if it is near a plug socket and wiring.