The merits of powerline networking

I have been awfully curious about powerline networking technology, as the idea of using a building’s electrical wiring as a replacement for Cat 5 wire could cut out some significant labor, time and, in some cases, hardware costs.

I am no networking expert, but have spoken with people who say it indeed works. However, it requires a clean set-up (ie new buildings with well designed wiring, versus most of what is out there).

A piece in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press lays out, in simple terms, what this stuff does and how well it performs:

Wireless isn’t your only high-speed-networking option. Powerline networking is another way to go. This technology transforms a home’s electrical wiring into data-network wiring. Such a feat has been possible for a while with varying degrees of reliability, and has lately made great strides.

I tested Netgear’s Powerline HD Ethernet Adapters, and I’m delighted with them. They’re supersimple to use and gave me rock-solid networking performance.

My gear consisted of two identical, bricklike gadgets that plugged directly into power outlets. I put one in my den, with an Ethernet cable connecting the device to my Comcast cable-Internet hookup. I put the other one in my living room, alongside my TV and other home-entertainment gear.

I then conducted several video-streaming experiments. I first tried sharing HD video using iTunes, as I had before. The difference: This was wired not wireless networking. One computer was hard-wired into my broadband feed in the den, the other was connected to the Netgear gizmo in the living room. I saw no difference in the video; it looked fine.

In another streaming test, I got a Windows laptop talking to an Xbox 360 video gaming console over the network.

Such consoles are designed to pull video off a Windows PC elsewhere in a home via a network and to throw it up on a TV. I had loaded a selection of HD clips on the laptop, and these played with eye-popping visual quality once streamed from PC to Xbox over my power lines. I did notice just a bit of audio stuttering, though.

My powerline network just worked. I didn’t even have to install software, though this is an option for those seeking more control of a network β€” to set up security, fine-tune performance or monitor the various adapters, for instance.

But powerline networking has its disadvantages. Computers and other devices are tethered to the adapters via Ethernet cords, which limits mobility (but you can unplug an adapter and plug in elsewhere) and also makes for cable clutter at the outlets. For this reason, laptop users will likely prefer wireless. In fact, Netgear offers an option to install a wireless network as an extension of a powerline network.

But powerline networking is ideal for stationary devices β€” such as desktop computers and video game consoles β€” that need to share data at blistering speeds. Just be sure to plug the Netgear bricks directly into an outlet, not a surge protector that will degrade your performance.

Now that was all, I expect, in less than challenging conditions. How this would work in retail settings, malls and office blocks is quite another matter because of all the shared circuits and mish-mash of old and new wire.

I would to read comments from anyone who has tried to use this gear. Any takers out there???

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2 Comments on “The merits of powerline networking”

  1. Rob Gorrie Says:

    I did some research on this last year..have a bunch of papers on it.

    The problem with this approach, I found, was that there are signal reliability problems. The lines can be dirty and get power spikes which does weird things to network transmissions. I’m not sure if this is really a problem in digital signage unless you’re pulling live content from the web, as they’re not mission critical applications (for the most part).

    I’d be interested to know if someone had solved the “dirty” issues

  2. Stephen Says:

    In a previous position we tried this out to cut installation costs. Tests went well, but there was specific polarity requirements that was going to add an unwanted level of complexity to the installation process. It did work, but we also did experience some spikes and noise on the twisted pair connection.

    Our results: not ready for prime time, especially in the field.


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