Problem Solver: Powerline Networking

by Josh on January 12, 2010 · 4 comments

in Ideas

What’s a technology-loving old-house aficionado to do? The builders of my house 87 years ago just couldn’t anticipate the internet, digital media, or a resident houseblogger.  To meet my need for distributed digital resources, I could run cat-5 cable through the house or set up a wi-fi network, but I recently discovered another option: powerline networking.

powerline networking

The idea is simple: use the existing electrical wiring to transmit computer information between different parts of the house. And installation couldn’t be simpler.  Just plug a transmitter box into an outlet in each the rooms to be networked and connect your computer, modem, xbox, router or other networkable device using ethernet cable.  The networking devices automatically find each other with no configuration, and data encryption happens at the push of a button.

Powerline networking has some distinct advantages and limitations.  Compared to running networking cable through existing walls, powerline networking is fast and easy to install.  However, its performance is dependent on the quality of the house wiring used.  Compared to wi-fi, powerline networking offers the stability of a hardwired connection but at fixed location.

Here at Bungalow ’23, I am using powerline networking to connect my modem to the entertainment center and a wifi router.  Since I installed it, I have seen a significant improvement in the speed and stability of video streaming that I hadn’t achieved with a wi-fi signal from two plaster-walled rooms away. Others with older houses might find a powerline system a useful option for difficult-to-network homes.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1916home January 12, 2010 at 11:57 am

An interesting solution. Ive been interested in this technology since I first heard about it years ago. But, with such a small house that I have, my wi-fi reaches every room.

Curious, at what point does the data flow end? Can your data on your lines go up and into the lines on the pole, for others to possibly hack?

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Derek January 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm

I ran cat 5 all through our house, and then never used it. Wireless seems to do the job most of the time. Copying to the PS3 seems kind of slow though, it would be nice to get a cat 5 connection there. I used a system years ago that used the telephone wires, it worked better in some rooms then others, speed was a little slow.

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Ann O'Leary January 12, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Hi –

Powerline networking is an excellent topic for “old house” dwellers. You’ll appreciate this recent article too from the WSJ and the role chicken wire plays in interferring with WiFi:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126221116097210861.html

Thanks,
Ann

comment edited for promotional content

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Josh January 13, 2010 at 11:15 am

@1916home- I guess it might be possible to send the signal beyond the house, though the security question is more complicated. The signal is encrypted, and a compatible device must be plugged in within range to access it. Considering the proliferation of wifi-enabled devices capable of sniffing and hacking a wifi signal with no physical connection to the network, this hardwired option seems inherently more secure– with the understanding that network security is always relative and imperfect.

@Derek- With all things tech-related, speed continues to improve. I have streamed 720p video over my set-up without trouble. I can’t compare performance to an equal length of cat-5 (that was the point of getting the powerline device, after all) but it is a big improvement over my interference-prone wifi network.

@Ann- Thanks for the link. Living in a stucco house, I’m quite familiar with the Faraday cage effect. This phenomenon has been no small challenge to the rollout of municipal wifi service here in Minneapolis. Also, as noted, I removed the advertising copy from your comment but did not otherwise alter the words that appear above.

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