Speed Test Redux: How Fast Is PowerLine Networking?

A long, long time ago in a blog post far, far away, I wrote about the various speeds you can expect to see across common wired and wireless network standards. We got chummy with fast and gigabit Ethernet. We made new friends with Wireless-G and Wireless-N connections. And that was it. Just four standards to worry about. That’s not so hard to remember, right?

PowerLine begs to differ.

But before we can talk PowerLine speeds, let’s talk concepts. At its core, PowerLine makes the electrical wires that already run through your building act like Ethernet cables. By plugging a PowerLine adapter into an electrical outlet and connecting that adapter to your router, you expand your existing network throughout the building. Plug other PowerLine adapters into other electrical outlets, and any network devices connected to them will join the network.

So, how does PowerLine compare to wired and wireless networking? In the great drag race of networking standards, PowerLine cruises along right in the middle. The two PowerLine speeds available today are 200 megabits per second (Mbps) and 500 Mbps. The slower of the two is still double the speed of a wired fast Ethernet connection. And it blows the maximum speed of a Wireless-G signal (54Mbps) right out of the water.

The latest and greatest PowerLine standard, 500 Mbps, delivers a maximum throughput half that of a gigabit Ethernet connection — the fastest networking speed you and I will likely see for awhile. Technically, 500 Mbps PowerLine is slower than the maximum theoretical speed of a Wireless-N connection, 600 Mbps. However, due to environmental barriers, most Wireless-N networks don’t move data faster than 300 Mbps, so PowerLine networking has the edge in that contest. This should work well for multiple HD streams, gaming and whatever else you’d like to do.

Of course, like all network standards, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to PowerLine networking. Stay tuned and I’ll explain what they are.

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