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The essential guide to buying a HomePlug Ethernet adapter (including 6 hands-on reviews)

Yardena Arar | Jan. 16, 2015
Wi-Fi may be the most popular networking technology, but sometimes even the fastest wireless connection just doesn't hack it. Perhaps the signal can't get to the farthest reaches of your home or office, or maybe there are so many wireless networks competing for limited bandwidth that the Netflix movie you're streaming keeps freezing or stuttering.

Wi-Fi may be the most popular networking technology, but sometimes even the fastest wireless connection just doesn't hack it. Perhaps the signal can't get to the farthest reaches of your home or office, or maybe there are so many wireless networks competing for limited bandwidth that the Netflix movie you're streaming keeps freezing or stuttering.

Ethernet is still the gold standard for wired networks, but few people have the cabling built into their walls, and even fewer are willing to tear up their walls to install it. Fortunately, you probably already have all the infrastructure you need to set up a wired network: The electrical circuitry in most homes and small offices can do the job. All you need to set up a power-line network are small adapters that plug into any wall outlet and connect via a cable to the Ethernet port of a network device.

Welcome to the world of power-line networking! 

Standards are great, there's so many to choose from!

The whole idea of a standard is that everything that complies with a given standard should work the same way and work together. Wouldn't that be nice? In the real world, there are not only multiple competing standards, but standards sometimes fork, fragment, and splinter. Wired and wireless Ethernet technology is a relatively settled space. The same cannot be said for power-line Ethernet networking, especially not internationally.

The U.S. has largely settled on the IEEE P1901 standard for power-line networking, with the HomePlug Powerline Alliance trade group handling certification under the HomePlug brand. But the HomePlug Alliance departed from the IEEE standard to create its latest power-line networking technology, HomePlug AV2. A spokesperson from the alliance told me the group saw no benefit in going through the admittedly time-consuming and often politically tricky IEEE standards development process this time around.

A related standard, IEEE P1905.1, marketed under the nVoy brand is used for hybrid home networks that rely on a combination of Wi-Fi, power-line, and MoCA (Multimedia over Coax, which is the cable that cable-TV companies rely on). If all that isn't confusing enough, there are competing standards from a different international standards body (the ITU) for both power-line (HomePNA) and hybrid networks (G.hn).

Our best advice when deploying power-line networking products? Stick with the same standard and buy everything from one vendor. If you want to understand the ins and outs of the various power-line standards, read on.

The HomePlug standards

The HomePlug Alliance has developed three generations of HomePlug specifications. The original HomePlug standard, announced in 2001, supports physical network speeds of up to 14 megabits per second (although, as with most networking standards, real-world speeds fall considerably short of this theoretical maximum). Later products are backwards compatible with HomePlug 1.0, but manufacturers have moved on to faster successors: HomePlug AV and HomePlug AV2. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell which standard products are based on.

 

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