Wireless Routers: The Truth About Superfast Draft-N

Power-Line Networking: A Brewing Standards War

Netgear's Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter.
Netgear's Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter.
Wireless isn't the only networking technology that's speeding up. The power-line networking industry is also stepping up to the plate with ethernet adapters that use your home's electrical circuits to send data at up to 200 megabits per second, much faster than the 25 to 30 mbps required for streaming high-def video. And while draft-n Wi-Fi adapters are so far available only for notebooks and desktop PCs, you can use power-line products with any PC or consumer electronics device with an ethernet port.

Netgear, for example, recently introduced its Powerline HD Ethernet Adapters ($250 for a kit with two, or $130 sold separately), small boxes with plugs that connect to standard wall outlets and ports for included ethernet cables. I tried them out by plugging one unit into an ethernet port on my router and the other into my desktop computer's ethernet port. This got me on the Internet immediately, and it took only a few seconds more for me to add security (so neighbors on my grid wouldn't be able to hop on my network) by changing the network name through the included desktop software.

Alternative 200-mbps Options

However, the same software indicated that data between the adapters was moving at only 20 to 40 mbps (Netgear says this could be because of the many other devices plugged into power outlets near the adapters). A more important concern: Netgear's product is based on chip maker DS2's technology, which is trying to gain traction as the basis for the Universal Powerline Association's Digital Home Standard. (UPA previously developed technology for the use of utility power lines for broadband services.) But so far, no other vendors have announced Digital Home Standard chips or products.

Netgear's aren't the first high-speed power-line networking products. Last spring, Panasonic launched adapters similar to Netgear's but based on its own HD-PLC technology. Panasonic says that other consumer electronics companies will be using HD-PLC in products due later this year or in early 2007.

Meanwhile, several companies, led by Intellon, are making chips based on the competing HomePlug AV spec introduced by the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, which developed the 14-mbps HomePlug 1.0 standard that is the basis for today's power-line networking products. (Regrettably, neither Digital Home Standard nor HomePlug AV will interoperate with legacy HomePlug 1.0 products--you need to plug separate adapters into your router for each standard you want to support.)

At least one major vendor--Linksys--has indicated it plans to have HomePlug AV consumer products by year's end. But Netgear notes that so far no specific HomePlug AV gear has been announced for North America. "Netgear doesn't want to wait," Netgear product line manager Kartik Gada says, adding that HomePlug AV products are likely to cost more than DS2 gear.

For the time being, those consumers who wish to use electrical wiring for high-bandwidth networking have a good option in Netgear's product, but also no sure standard in sight.

Yardena Arar

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