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Powerline HomePlug Adapters - The Pros and Cons

Need to get an Internet connection in a different room, and can't use wi-fi? Could a HomePlug Powerline adapter be the answer.

Here, we explore these devices in detail, and we also look at the down side of this technology.

 

What is a Powerline Adapter?

Devolo HomePlugPowerline adapters, also known as HomePlugs are devices used for home networking - typically where you need to connect a gadget or box to the Internet in a room where there is no Internet.

 

Why would you need a Powerline Adapter?

Let's assume you have your Internet router in one room, but you need Internet in another room in your home. You could use wi-fi, but there are some situations where wi-fi isn't an option, such as the distance involved, or if your device doesn't support wi-fi.

A good example of where wi-fi doesn't work is in your lounge, where you may want to connect your Freesat, BT Vision or games console to the Internet, or perhaps you have a webcam or printer that you want on the net.

In these cases, a Powerline adapter, also known as a HomePlug, could hold the answer.

 

How does a Powerline Adapter work?

Rather than using radio waves, as with wi-fi, a Powerline adapter uses your home's mains wiring to send data around your house.

They're very easy to set up, and are generally effective. You'll typically need two Powerline adapters. Here's how to use them:

  • Plug one into a mains socket close to your wireless router
  • Connect a network patch lead from a spare socket on your router to the Powerline's Ethernet socket
  • Now, where you need your Internet connection, plug the other adapter into a nearby mains socket, then use a network patch lead to plug into the target device.
Plugging into a router
Plug into router
Network patch lead
...using a patch lead
Powerlead connection
Then connect to HomePlug

Once connected, you should see some kind of connection light, to indicate data is flowing.

 

Different types of Powerline adapter

The two things that affect what type of powerline adapter you buy:

  • Speed: There are two main types, "up to 85Mbps" and "up to 200 Mbps"
  • Distance: Typically up to 200 metres

Prices for a Powerline kit start from the £60 mark, and can be found at the following suppliers:

 

The Problem with Powerline Adapters?

Shortwave Radio TransmitterThere is one inherent problem with Powerline adapters, and that's that they can cause interference to short wave radio reception.

HomePlug adapters are often referred to as PLT (Power Line Telecommunication) devices, and shortwave radio enthusiasts claim that they can effectively turns your home into a low-powered transmitter, as your home's mains cabling radiates a low-power "noise" in the band used by short wave radio (2Mhz to 30Mhz).

If you're using a Powerline adapter and you have a radio amateur living two or three doors away, you may be broadcasting noise on a frequency he's using for his hobby. The interference can radiate out around 100 metres. There's also evidence that Powerline adapters can cause interference to FM and DAB radio reception.

Shortwave is also used by some long-range aircraft and shipping, and many still use SW radio to listen to broadcasts from other countries, sometimes using a radio system called Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), which is in use in parts of Europe, notably Germany.

 

MicrophoneInterview: We spoke to the chairman of an Essex-based Amateur Radio group in 2010, to find out how this problem is affecting radio hams.

Listen to our interview with the Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society:

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Interference to FM and DAB radio

A new generation of Powerlines are on the way, and there's strong evidence that these cause interference with FM and DAB. For more discussion of this issue, catch our May 2010 update:

Powerline Problems Discussed in May 2010 Update:

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So are HomePlugs legal?

Yes, absolutely, according to current UK law (at the time of recording). Manufacturers have to conform to the Electromagnetic Compatibility Regulations 2006, and a company can be prevented from selling these if they do not comply.

The UK Regulator OfCom has received a series of complaints, all from radio enthusiasts, the majority of which have been resolved by the complainant switching to a cabled Ethernet solution, or by using wi-fi for networking (Source Ofcom Sept 2009)

The consensus from radio enthusiasts and radio hams is that the technology is pushing ahead through corporate pressure, and that the regulators aren't doing enough to control what's seen as abuse of the radio spectrum.

Affected by interference?

If you're affected by interference from Powerline / HomePlug adapters, you can report your problem to Ofcom on 0300 123 3333.

Manufacturer Belkin also have a complaints line: 0845 607 7787

 

Good or Bad

Got a view on HomePlugs? Answer our quick poll:

Your thoughts on Powerline / HomePlugs:

I use them and they work well
I use them, but they don't work well
I have no need for them / use wi-fi
I won't use them / Save Shortwave
Never heard of them / Don't care

 

Speak out against Powerlines

For more on the campaign to outlaw Powerline adapters, visit UKQRM Fighting For Shortwave Radio.

There's also a Save Shortwave Petition.

Got a comment? Want to have your say? Please use our Powerline Interference thread in our forum.

 

The Alternative to Powerline?

  • Go Wireless - Details on using wi-fi networking on our wi-fi page. For devices that don't support wi-fi, consider a Wireless Gaming Adapter (converts Ethernet to wireless)

  • Run cables - You can buy CAT5 networking cables in lengths up to 50 metres from Maplin.co.uk and run a cable from your router to your target device, or cable up two Ethernet wall sockets using CAT5 cable to get an extension socket where you need it.

  • Use your TV cabling - Seriously. Check out the Echobox solution for a faster, interference-free alternative to wi-fi and Powerline Adapters

 

Questions on HomePlugs?

Q. Will HomePlugs work where the transmitter and receiver are on different fused circuits from the Mains Board (John L)

In most cases, HomePlugs will work on a electrical circuits that share the same electricity meter. If you have a three-phase power supply (which is not that common for residential properties), Powerline adapters will only work on the same phase.

Q. As I will require the internet connection to feed a device in two different rooms, am I able to purchase one sender and two receivers? (Mike G)

Pack of 3 Powerline Adapters from DevoloYes - that's not a problem. A one-sender, multiple-receiver option is supported using Powerline adapters, although the more devices you have active, the slower the overall network speed. We'd also recommend using the Powerline adapters from the same manufacturer. Some manufacturers even sell kits of multiple devices. At the time of writing, PC World is selling a Devolo 3 pack (pictured) that might service your needs.

Q. Will the powerline adapters work if I site one downstairs and one upstairs? (Brett)

In most cases, yes, flights of stairs aren't an issue. Provided the transmitter and receiver go through the same fusebox and electricity meter, you should be able to use a powerline adapter.

Q. Security: What prevents the network created by PowerLine devices to be accessed outside or past the consumer unit? (Paresh)

Powerline adapters have a limited range, and only transmit on a single mains phase. Neighbouring properties are often on a different phase. If security is a concern, note that HomePlug adapters use 56bit AES encryption technology and are 'paired'.

Q. Overhead Supply? I have recently bought 3 power line adaptors. I can only get 1 "slave unit " to work if its plugged into the mains socket alongside the "master" unit. Elsewhere on the same ring main or on the next floor, no luck. Does the fact that my house's power is fed by overhead line have any affect?

Whether your home's mains supply is delivered overhead or underground should have no effect on a Powerline Adapter.

Q. Firewall: Will a Firewall need to be setup to allow network connectivity (Paresh)

A 'Firewall' is used to prevent unauthorised access to your network or to a computer. A firewall can be hardware (e.g. Built-in to your Broadband router) or software (e.g. Firewall software such as McAfee Internet Security, Norton 360 or ZoneAlarm).

If you're looking to connect a device such as a computer to the Internet using a pair of Powerline adapters, then we'd recommend that you protect yourself with a firewall. Ideally, your Broadband connection should be secured with a hardware firewall (this may be built-in to your router), and each computer should have up-to-date firewall software installed - regardless of whether it's connected to the router by a cable, a wi-fi adapter or a set of Powerline adapters.

As for security of HomePlugs, the link between two Powerline adapters uses encryption technology, so has a level of protection. See the FAQ on Powerline Security.

 

Q. Internet TV I am thinking about buying home plugs, can i after set up plug the ethernet cable into my new Toshiba 40bv801b and get iplayer (Eddy)

Yes, if you have an Internet-enabled TV set with an Ethernet socket, then you can use a set of Powerline adapters to watch Internet TV services

 

Q. Powerline on two circuits? I have a property which has two meters and two mains circuits. I have Powerline on one circuit working perfectly. Can I bridge between the mains circuits using an ethernet cable between two Powerline boxes, each plugged into a different mains circuit?(Steve)

As far as I understand how it works, connecting two HomePlugs across circuits on different meters shouldn't work, and can't be bridged. Assuming you have two units already, it might be worth an experiment - can you give it a try and see if it works?

 

Q. Circuit Trip? Can powerline adapters cause a circuit to trip? I have three powerline adapters in the house (one at the router to transmit, and two elsewhere in the house). The circuit within which lies one of the powerline adapters (plus a wireless adapter, plugged in for the power supply), keeps tripping. Oddly, it takes a while before I can untrip it: just flipping the trip (or pressing the test switch on a RCD protected circuit) doesn't produce immediate results; can take an indeterminate period before I get the circuit back. Could this behaviour be caused by the powerline adapters? (Mark Preston)

We'd think it's unlikely, and have not seen any reports of this being an issue. We'd be interested to hear from anyone out there with views (or experiences) of this... See also: Powerline and RCD Protection

 

More information:

 

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