Powerline adapters are all the rage these days, but what are they? How do they work? And what are their pros and cons? In this post we’ll find out. (updated 17th July 2018).
What is a powerline adapter?
A Powerline adapter is a device which uses your homes electric wiring to transmit communications signals. The adapters (at least two) plug into your sockets and use Ethernet cables to connect to your router at one end and your device at the other (TV, games console, PC whatever it may be). This provides a physical connection between your device and router as opposed to the wireless connection provided by your Wi-Fi. Powerline is now a well establish technology and over time the speeds they are capable of has steadily increased and they now match the top speeds of Wi-Fi (1300Mbps).
Powerline Wi-Fi range extenders are also available, this is the same principle however instead of just having a physical Ethernet connection at the device end, they also transmit Wi-Fi. This means you can connect devices wirelessly as well as by Ethernet cable.
Finally there are pass-through Powerline adapters; they allow the electrical socket to be shared by the powerline and another item that needs to be plugged in; this is especially useful in situations when every socket is in use.
So now we know what they are let’s talk about some of the pros and cons.
1. They provide a wired connection without Ethernet.
Powerline uses you homes electrical cables so there is no need to install Ethernet cable, and as the installation of Ethernet cables can be time consuming (or potentially expensive), using powerline could save you time and money for almost the same end result.
2. They free up your Wi-Fi.
Frees up your Wi-Fi. Powerline connects to one of your routers LAN ports via Ethernet cable, if you connect a device via powerline instead of Wi-Fi it will take some load off your wireless network and provide more capacity for other devices. For low demand devices you may not notice much of a difference, but if you use powerline instead of Wi-Fi for something like 4k streaming, you would almost certainly see an improvement in your wireless network’s performance.
3. They can extend your Wi-Fi.
Powerline Wi-Fi range extenders are a great way to extend your Wi-Fi network, especially to areas that are some distance from your router. Unlike Wi-Fi repeaters, powerline extenders normally provide speeds around the same as you would get from your router and the connection will normally be far more consistent.
4. They are flexible.
Powerline adapters hold no allegiances; they can be moved around and used on a variety of devices without issue. Once plugged in they will only take a few seconds to reconnect.
5. They are super easy to set up.
Powerline adapters aren’t just for the tech savvy, even if you consider yourself to be technologically impaired you shouldn’t struggle to set them up. Plug in, pair, done!
6. They can bolt on to any network.
It’s unlikely that you will want to run an exclusively powerline network, at the very least you will likely have a wireless network provided by your router. Powerline adapters can be used to strengthen an existing network; they might even be a temporary fix for an Ethernet solution you are planning in future.
A pretty strong list of pros, but with all those pros there surely have to be cons? Afraid so, but maybe not as many as you might think.
1. They only work if both ends are on the same circuit.
For most homes this won’t be a problem, however if your home has more than one circuit due to an extension or any other reason, then you may have problems. In my time, I have never seen this issue occur, even in houses with two consumer units, however in theory this could be a problem.
2. They can be impacted by electrical Interference.
This is pretty common, for some devices the effect is temporary (tumble dryers, microwaves etc.) but for others the impact can be more consistent (fridges and freezers). The issue should be fairly easy to spot; as the powerline units have an indication light which will normally be either orange or red if the connection is suffering from interference. However for intermittent problems you may have to don your detective cap and try and suss out the culprit. The impact of interference is degradation of connection speeds and this is the most common issue I have seen in with powerline. Having said that in most cases, a powerline unit suffering from interference is still still quicker than a weak Wi-Fi signal.
3. They work better alone (in my experience).
Powerline kits can have multiple end units, the number will depend on the model, and in theory this allows multiple connections from the router. However in my experience (and you may disagree) the more units the less reliable the connections. For me they are perfect for connecting to a single point but not really suitable as a complete home network solution.
4. They are limited by socket locations.
Seems obvious I know, but these adapters don’t work as well on extension leads, so if you have a powerline feeding a TV on the end of a 20m extension lead or even a long line of daisy chained extenders, you will almost certainly find it doesn’t work or doesn’t work as well. Even on short extension leads you may see a significant loss in speed.
5. They release low frequency RF pollution (my reluctant 5th con).
There are those that are against Powerline adapters because they cause your electrical circuits to emit low frequency radio waves. This can cause amateur radio enthusiasts some issues, but I've seen very little evidence of this being a real problem. If you are a amateur radio enthusiast and have been impacted by powerline RF pollution, please feel free to comment below with your experience, I would genuinely be interested to hear about it.
Powerline adapters are a fantastic way to improve your home network; they are relatively cheap and require very little technical knowledge to install. They are ideal for someone looking to add a cable connection to one of their high demand devices, but wouldn’t necessarily suit someone looking for a complete home network solution. Overall a very clever bit of technology that is deserving of its success.
I hope you found this post useful, if you did please like and share. If you have any questions please feel free to add them below and I’ll answer as soon as I can.