What Are Powerline Adapters? 9 Things You Need to Know


Are there any parts of your house that your Wi-Fi network doesn’t reach? The solution could be to use powerline adapters.

These devices offer a quick and easy way extend your network. They’re affordable and don’t need you to install any extra cables in your home.

Let’s take a look at what you need to know about powerline networking.

What Is a Powerline Adapter?

So how do powerline adapters work? The idea is simple and ingenious. They extend a wired internet connection throughout your home, not by running new cables but by transmitting the signals along the electrical wires already in your walls. All you need to do is plug in an adapter where you need it.

how powerlines work

Powerline Ethernet is perfect for:

  • Extending the network in homes where a single Wi-Fi router isn’t enough.
  • Connecting devices that don’t support Wi-Fi.
  • Providing a faster network connection to rooms where running an Ethernet cable isn’t practical.

If powerline networking sounds useful to you, here are a few things you should know before diving in.

1. Starter Kits Come in Packs of Two

Think of powerline adapters as a way to extend your network from point A to point B, wherein each point is an electrical outlet around your house. Because of this, powerline Ethernet devices typically come in starter kits of two, as a single device is useless on its own.

You can purchase more to extend your network around your house; just make sure all of your devices are compatible (more on that later).

Generally you’ll be plugging one of these into the walls near devices that need a connection and one near your router. The TP-Link AP600 is a popular and affordable starting point.

TP-Link AV600 Powerline Ethernet Adapter – Plug&Play, Power Saving, Nano Powerline Adapter(TL-PA4010 KIT)

TP-Link AV600 Powerline Ethernet Adapter – Plug&Play, Power Saving, Nano Powerline Adapter(TL-PA4010 KIT)

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2. They Need to Connect to a Router

connect powerline to router

Powerline Ethernet devices don’t do the things that routers do, such as assign IPs. This means that, for your powerline devices to be useful, one powerline adapter needs to be connected to your router.

Basically, you can think of powerline adapters as an extension of regular Ethernet cables. Connecting one computer directly to another isn’t going to be useful. The router is what grants internet access to the computers.

3. They’re Really Easy to Set Up

Setting up powerline Ethernet couldn’t be simpler. The devices are almost always plug-and-play. Plug them into the wall, connect the Ethernet cables, and generally you’re good to go.

Some devices include security functionality that requires you to press buttons at the same time to “sync up”, but exact methods vary depending on the specific devices.

4. Cheaper Than Cables Through Walls…

Unless you plan to remodel your house soon, running cables through your walls usually isn’t practical. You can pick up a powerline starter kit for less than $40, which is certainly cheaper than taking your wall apart to run wires.

5. …But Not Quite as Reliable

powerline one star review

Browse the reviews of any powerline Ethernet device and you’ll see a few people complain about random disconnects and slow speeds—though you’ll also see a lot of 5-star reviews raving about an easy setup and great speeds.

What gives?

In some cases, this may be a defective device. A lot of the time, however, the electrical wiring in the house just isn’t ideal for powerline Ethernet. Maybe there’s too much distance between two plugs, or maybe there’s interference on the line.

It’s almost impossible, without consulting an electrician, to know how well powerline internet will work for you. Even if your house is ideal, the result probably won’t be as fast or as stable as plugging straight into your network with an Ethernet cable.

As an alternative, consider upgrading to a router with longer range

The 7 Best Wi-Fi Routers for Long Range and Reliability

The 7 Best Wi-Fi Routers for Long Range and Reliability

Experiencing Wi-Fi network issues at home? You might need a new router. Here are the best Wi-Fi routers for long range at home.
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6. Connections Are Limited to Your House

Worried about security? Most powerline devices offer some form of encryption, so make sure you use that. But in most cases, the signal won’t make it outside your home.

If you own your own house and pay your own electrical bill, know that your neighbors can’t use your connection even if they buy a compatible device. This is because the signal from powerline adapters is scrambled by transformers, and there is almost certainly one between your house and the outside world.

If you live in an apartment, however, there’s a chance your neighbors could pick up a signal, so make sure your adapter supports encryption—and that you turn that functionality on.

7. Surge Protectors Can Mess With the Signal

Surge protectors can protect your computer, but they also scramble powerline signals. Plugging a powerline device into a power bar with surge protection will severely limit your potential speed, if not stop the device from working altogether.

For the best possible connection, plug your powerline adapters straight into the wall.

8. Cross-Brand Compatibility Isn’t Guaranteed

powerline adapters
Image Credit: Zyxel.com

Though several companies make powerline adapters, they don’t all play nicely with each other. If you want to ensure complete compatibility, including the use of all security functionality, it’s simplest to buy the same make and model every time.

There are specifications, however, meaning it’s possible to get powerline adapters from different companies to work with each other under some circumstances. The two major specifications are HomePlug and G.hn. Generally, if you have two adapters using the same specification, they should work well together (though the security protocols might not work).

Really old devices (such as HomePlug 1.0 devices) will not work with newer ones, though the really old devices are generally so slow that they’re not worth bothering with anyway. Be sure to research compatibility before buying two different kinds of adapters.

9. Look for Powerline Adapters With Wi-Fi

Finally, there’s the powerline adapter vs. Wi-Fi question. Which is better? It depends.

Generally speaking, wired connections can be more reliable than wireless, although in the case of powerline internet it depends on the quality of your electrical cabling. Wi-Fi is certainly more convenient.

Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between the two. You can simply buy a powerline kit that supports Wi-Fi. Many don’t, especially if you’re shopping at the cheaper end of the market, but there are plenty of decent options that do. Take a look at the Netgear Powerline Kit as a good example.

NETGEAR PowerLINE 1000 Mbps WiFi, 802.11ac, 1 Gigabit Port – Essentials Edition (PLW1010-100NAS)

NETGEAR PowerLINE 1000 Mbps WiFi, 802.11ac, 1 Gigabit Port – Essentials Edition (PLW1010-100NAS)

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This gives you the best of both worlds. You can get a fixed, wired connection to a desktop PC or games console, but also extend the reach of your Wi-Fi network so that you can still get online with your iPad or any other device that relies on a wireless connection.

Which Powerline Adapter Should You Buy?

Now you know what’s involved with powerline adapters, what’s the next step? Finding the right one to buy. We’ve recommended a couple, but for a more in-depth look see our guide to finding the best powerline adapter for your home network

The 5 Best Powerline Adapters for Your Home Network

The 5 Best Powerline Adapters for Your Home Network

Looking for the best powerline adapters for a more reliable home network connection? Here are the best models you can pick up today.
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Explore more about: Buying Tips, Computer Networks, Ethernet, LAN, Network Tips, Powerline.

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