Powerline Networking: The Wi-Fi Alternative

Powerline Networking

Most people want to spread the joy of High Speed Internet to multiple computers throughout the house and even to devices such as network-ready digital video recorders. The problem: All home networking options have gotchas.

However, a suitable answer to the home networking puzzle may well be in the walls of your house.  “Powerline networking” connects computers and other devices by using standard electric lines and it solves many of the problems inherent with other types of networks.

For example, wireless Wi-Fi networking can be complicated to set up securely if you’re not tech-savvy.  In addition, wireless networking isn’t necessarily the best choice for streaming media throughout your home.

Some people create networks by running Ethernet cable throughout their house. However, while wired Ethernet networks are secure, they use unsightly cable and are inflexible. If, say, you want to use your laptop on the patio where you haven’t run cable, you are out of luck.

By contrast, powerline networking requires only wall sockets and special networking adapters that aren’t much bigger than a deck of cards. And it delivers peak speeds of 200 Mbps. While this type of networking isn’t as well known as Wi-Fi, it is secure, simple to set up and works better than wireless for demanding media applications such as streaming video.

Easy Installation of Powerline Networking

Without question, powerline networking is the easiest type of network to set up. First, as with all types of networking, you’ll need a regular wireless or wired router. A router is a central hub to which your High Speed Internet access is connected. Then, all networked devices are connected in some way — via Wi-Fi, Ethernet or powerline — to the router. As the name implies, it routes your high-speed Internet connection to every device connected to it.

Next, you’ll need, at minimum, two powerline adapters. Virtually all wireless home networking vendors such as Linksys, Netgear and D-Link also sell powerline networking equipment. You should be able to buy the powerline adapters at the same store at which you purchase your router.

Powerline adapters have two plugs; one is for an Ethernet cable and the other is to plug into a wall socket. First, you plug the powerline adapter into the wall. Then, you connect the adapter to your router using the Ethernet cable, which should be included with the adapter.

Next, you plug in a second powerline adapter near the computer or other device that you want to be part of the network. Again, use the Ethernet cable to connect the powerline adapter to the device. Voila — the computer or other device is networked. Repeat with any other computers or devices you want to connect. You may wish to tweak a few settings, but creating the network really is as simple as that.

Security Concerns

Wi-Fi networking is intrinsically insecure because the data literally flies through the air where it can be intercepted. You can secure Wi-Fi connections, but many find that process difficult. Powerline networking is intrinsically more secure than wireless.

Still, say you live in an apartment in which in-wall electrical wiring is shared by multiple dwellings. Theoretically, somebody in another apartment could, intentionally or unintentionally, plug in a powerline adapter and access your network. Or somebody could enter your home and use a powerline adapter to tap into your network using.

Fortunately, most powerline products come with tools, which you access via included software, to handle those threats. First, the software enables you to make sure that only the adapters you actually plug in are part of your network. In addition, most adapters come with password protection and encryption, which scrambles data so that others can’t intercept and use it. Read the box or sales literature before you buy to make sure such security capabilities are built into the products.

Hybrid Solutions

While creating a powerline network is simple and security is relatively easy to implement, there are some additional considerations. The first is whether you want your entire network to be based on powerline technology or whether you want a hybrid network that comprises powerline, wireless and/or Ethernet cables.

Why have a hybrid network? Such networks aren’t for everybody, but you may, for instance, want to sit on your deck with your laptop on a balmy spring day. It obviously would not be practical to run Ethernet cable to your deck and there may not be an electrical outlet nearby, so Wi-Fi may be the best choice. Similarly, if your computer is near your router, connecting that computer to the router using Ethernet cable is easy and inexpensive.

But say you also want to stream high-definition video from your computer to a television or digital video recorder.

“Our expectations have been raised so that anything less than perfect video is unacceptable,” said Brian Donnelly, a vice president of Corinex Communications, which manufactures powerline networking equipment. Donnelly also is a member of the Universal Powerline Association (UPA), one of two industry groups that have developed powerline technology.

Problems that can occur when video is transmitted via wireless connections include stutter and pixilation. Ethernet cable may be difficult to run from your computer to the television. But it’s easy to network your video devices with powerline technology, which also handles the demands of streaming media more cleanly than Wi-Fi.

The result in your home, then, could easily be a hybrid wireless-wireline network using a wireless router, which supports all those technologies. That way, you can use your laptop on the deck and watch unblemished video in the family room.