Better Together: Wi-Fi and Powerline Networking

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Adding Powerline Adapters to Your Home Network Is Easy

Wi-Fi is unquestionably the home networking technology of choice for laptops and other portable devices, but for applications that require high bandwidth and a reliable data stream, such as streaming video, powerline networking trumps wireless. Fortunately, the two technologies complement each other nicely. If you can plug in a power cord and an ethernet cable, you can set up a powerline network.

Start by plugging a powerline adapter into a wall socket. Don't use filtered power strips or surge protectors, though, because they will interfere with the network connection. Next, run at ethernet cable from the powerline adapter to a free LAN port on your Wi-Fi router.

Now plug a second powerline adapter (or a powerline switch containing multiple ethernet ports) into a wall socket in any room where you want to be able to gain access to the powerline network. After a few seconds, the two powerline devices will recognize each other and become connected.

After that, you can connect any device that has an ethernet port to your network. In the living room, for example, you can hook up your game console, TiVo box, DVR, Blu-ray player, Windows Media Extender, or network media player. You can even hook up a Wi-Fi access point to bring coverage to a dead area.

To prevent neighbors who are operating on the same electrical circuit as you from hopping onto your network, you can change the default encryption passphrase on all of the kits simply by pressing buttons on each adapter.

You can even move the adapters from one outlet to another, and they will keep their settings. Power outages shouldn't wreak longterm havoc on your network: It should pop right up again when the power comes back on.

The only installation issue you're likely to have is poor performance due to bad circuitry. In my 100-year-old house, the older outlets had severe interference problems, but on my newer circuits the adapters worked perfectly. If you're unsure of your circuitry, buy from a vendor that has a good return policy.

When you use a multiport adapter or more than one remote adapter, all of the devices they connect will share the available 200-mbps bandwidth; your performance will slow when multiple devices run on the network simultaneously.

When shopping for powerline gear, check model numbers carefully. Many earlier and slower (14- and 85-mbps) kits are still being sold, and they are not interoperable with the current crop (though an older powerline network can coexist with a newer one).

Also take note of the powerline technology that the powerline kit uses. Most of the kits we tested were designed for the HomePlug AV standard and worked fine together in my tests. But utilities from one vendor may not work on another vendor's gear, and firmware updates sometimes muddy the waters further. The exception to the HomePlug AV rule was D-Link's powerline kit, which incorporates competing (and incompatible) Universal Powerline Association-compliant technology from a Spanish company called DS2. (An IEEE standard combining HomePlug and a third powerline technology, Panasonic's HD-PLC, is still in the works.)

Your best bet for avoiding standards issues is to stick with one vendor's products. Our top picks among powerline options are the D-Link DHP-303 and the Belkin Powerline AV+ Starter Kit F5D4075. The D-Link offers superior performance and informative LEDs, while the Belkin has interchangeable wall and desk mounts, plus three ethernet ports in the remote adapter.

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