One Cool Solution to Weak Wifi Signals

Category: Wireless

Wireless networking solutions are now common for home and office networks, but there are some circumstances in which WiFi is not enough. You may have 'dead zones' in your home or building where wireless signals are either very weak or cannot penetrate at all. In such cases, a cool technology called Powerline Ethernet can solve the problem. Read on to learn all about it...

What is Powerline Ethernet?

Are you struggling to get a decent wifi connection in the far corners of your house? Metal or concrete structures can block or weaken a wireless Internet signal. If your network includes Internet TV, network-attached storage devices, and other bandwidth-hungry wireless devices, they may also be competing for relatively limited wireless signal strength.

A wired network is one alternative, but running cables through ceilings or walls may not be practical. Fortunately, there is a networking solution that makes use of wiring that is already installed throughout your home or office. You may be surprised to learn that an internet connection can be carried over standard electrical power lines, but it's true.

"Powerline Ethernet" is the generic term for this technology. But don't confuse it with "Power over Ethernet," a totally different technology that delivers electrical power to devices over Ethernet cables. Powerline Ethernet works by encoding Internet data into a carrier wave that piggybacks across an electrical power line at a frequency somewhat higher than that of the AC power that shares the line.

Implementing Powerline Ethernet is pretty simple and inexpensive. You need at least two Powerline Ethernet adapters: small devices that plug right into standard electrical outlets. One adapter needs to connect to your Internet router or cable/DSL modem, typically with a standard Ethernet cable. But you can also get Powerline adapters that connect wirelessly. Either way, you'll also need to plug the adapter into an AC outlet. On the other end (the part of your home or office where you want to get an Internet connection), you plug the other adapter into the outlet, and connect it to a computer with an Ethernet cable. But again, you can go wireless if you like. If you need an Internet signal for a tablet, smartphone or other mobile device, you'll need to use an adapter that offers the wireless option.

How Does That Work Again?

In case any of that is a little fuzzy, here's a recap. Your Internet signal will travel from the router or modem (via a wired or wifi connection) to Powerline Adapter #1, which is plugged into a standard electrical outlet. The signal then travels over the electrical wiring in your building to Powerline Adapter #2. From there, you can connect a desktop or laptop with an Ethernet cable, or provide a wifi signal to a mobile device. Optionally, you can have additional adapters in other rooms if Internet is needed there.

The leading standard for Powerline Ethernet is IEEE 1901, which is based on the HomePlug AV technology developed by the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. Other Powerline Ethernet technologies may not be compatible, so you should look for the HomePlug AV or IEEE 1901 designation on any Powerline product that you're considering. Popular networking equipment makers such as D-link, Netgear, Belkin, and Linksys all sell Powerline Ethernet gear. Starter kits including two adapters typically cost less than $100.

HomePlug AV supports speeds of up to 500 Mbps. In practice, your actual throughput may be lower depending on the condition of your electrical wiring, interference from other devices on the power line, the length of the wire's run, and other factors. In general, avoid runs of over 1,000 feet. But even with all of those possible speed impediments, the speed should be comparable to a typical consumer high-speed connection.

A few practical tips: You may have to disconnect coffee pots, microwave ovens, and other appliances from circuits using Powerline Ethernet. Never plug a Powerline Ethernet adapter into a surge suppressor; always plug it directly into an electrical outlet.

Security is inherently stronger on wired networks than on wireless ones. But you may be sharing an electrical circuit with other tenants of your building, raising the possibility that a neighbor could tap your Powerline Ethernet network. So look for Powerline Ethernet equipment that supports encryption and password protection.

Powerline Ethernet is a practical solution to wireless network bottlenecks and dead zones. If you have such problems, give Powerline Ethernet a try. I encourage you to also check out other solutions to the weak wifi signal problem in my article 10 Ways to Boost A Wifi Signal.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "One Cool Solution to Weak Wifi Signals"

(See all 22 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

23 Aug 2012

I have used the D-link powerline system. It works great between the house and separate garage located 50-60 ft. from the house. Another unit feeds internet to a Sony TV. Speeds are equivalent to a wired system with no lags on computers or Tv.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2012

Do both of these adapters have to be plugged into the same circuit?

Posted by:

Al. S
23 Aug 2012

I bought these power over ethernet kits and they are a waste of money. Never worked. A wifi extender is much better. In fact many ISP's like Comcast givw you a modem that has wifi built in at no extra cost. I removed all but 2 of my ethernet cables, because wifi is faster. Only my Internet TV and an Older XP that does not have wifi and is prety far away in the basement away from the 2nd floor modem.

Posted by:

Al. S
23 Aug 2012

I bought these power over ethernet kits and they are a waste of money. Never worked. A wifi extender is much better. In fact many ISP's like Comcast givw you a modem that has wifi built in at no extra cost. I removed all but 2 of my ethernet cables, because wifi is faster. Only my Internet TV and an Older XP that does not have wifi and is prety far away in the basement away from the 2nd floor modem.

Posted by:

Osgood Conklin
23 Aug 2012

And most important, your receiver has to be on the same circuit as the router.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2012

This definitely sounds like something worth looking into. Thanks.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2012

How would this compare with a WiFi extender, both with regard to performance and price?

Posted by:

23 Aug 2012

I wish that I had had this info 3 years ago before we moved into our present house. I didn't have to drill holes but I do have a few repeaters in strategic places.
Thank you for the info, I will try to remember for the next move.

Posted by:

24 Aug 2012

I highly recommend powerline ethernet if you are doing any type of streaming video to your HDTV. When I switched from wifi, it made a huge difference.

Posted by:

24 Aug 2012

The technology is not new, it's been around for a good while now. I was aware of it some 20 years ago, and have been using it for 4 or 5 years. I have had no problems with it, and have successfully extended the range of my WiFi network to include my printers, a desktop and a tv set-top box. I have 5 units, and found it very easy to set it up.

Posted by:

24 Aug 2012

Years ago I bought a Linksys model for my son's Xbox and they seem to work great.

Posted by:

25 Aug 2012

I agree with John Rogers: not a good idea. Note the "disconnect your appliances" warning? It's because EVERY electrical device can and does introduce electrical noise into the powerline, sometimes resulting in harmonics that can build and infiltrate more sensitive electrical equipment and damage them, sometimes irreparably.

And what happens when that noise comes from, say, the electric provider, or a lightning strike? Bye bye computer, and bye bye data.

IMHO, stay away. Use wifi, or wired Ethernet. If this were a reliable and mature technology, we'd be getting our Internet and our cable tv over powerline, instead of that part of the technology falling by the wayside, as it stands now.

Posted by:

27 Aug 2012

I was an eager and optimistic fan of this 'power-line ethernet' as an option for a hurricane proof home owned by a beach-dwelling client of mine in Florida... The only problem is that it only worked if all the outlets ran through a singular service.

As many people in Florida know, your original home may have had many additions that required changes to your service which required a new box and if the outlets you are trying to tie together are not on the same service, you may end up as disappointed as I did --

Posted by:

28 Aug 2012

You can use them anywhere - as long as they're on the same transformer. Easy to check - just test.
Works like a champ - plug another router in to get wi-fi in another place (not necessarily in your house).
Idiot proof ...

Posted by:

05 Sep 2012

These devices emit Radio Frequency Interference like mad. Anyone with a radio living close to you will get very bad interference. If it is a smart ham, he/she will contact you and ask that you correct the issue. It is YOUR responsibility to correct the problem as the owner of the RFI generating devices. If you do not, you could be subject to enforcement actions by the FCC, this can include fines! Consider carefully your purchase of these devices...

Posted by:

David W
05 Sep 2012

We used a D-Link Powerline Ethernet adapter for about 2 weeks, and then it died. It worked great while it worked, but because it failed so quickly we won't be investing in another until the reviews indicate that all the kinks have been worked out

Posted by:

06 Sep 2012

As one of the Ham operators mentioned, and also having been working as an Electromagnetic Compatibility Engineer (30+ years now) I filed comments with the FCC on the technical incompatibility of powerline broadband with radio reception. One result of all the engineering comments the FCC got is that all such equipment is SUPPOSED to notch out Amateur frequencies, and sometimes it does. A lot of the time, especially with inexpensive, directly-imported gear, it doesn’t.

Legally, the FCC is supposed to investigate interference with licensed services like Amateur Radio, and tell the powerline net user to turn his equipment off when it's confirmed, but political pressure (IMO) led the FCC to turn a blind eye to interference in these cases. And frequencies OUTSIDE the Amateur bands aren’t notched. There are a lot of folks on those frequencies, too, including the military. That’s when I complain to the Defense Department about interference to Military Auxiliary Radio System reception – and let the Pentagon handle things.

One more item; powerline internet (and Ethernet) systems are legally required under FCC Rules to accept whatever interference they receive, including CB’s, Ham Radio, military, police, or even radio noise from electric razors, vacuum cleaners, plasma TV’s or one of the new high-efficiency furnaces or air conditioning systems. FCC Part 15 says you just have to live with it.

Don’t count on this technology being reliable.

Posted by:

23 Oct 2012

I have been using this technology since 2009 and I've had no problem at all. but my question is, to expand my network do I need to get the same brand adapter or will anyone of them work?

Posted by:

09 Dec 2012

I am using Homeplugs very successfully in my house. However, when I switch on a particular desktop computer, interference from the switched mode power supply stops the Homeplug connection - presumably by 'airborne interference' or by interference being fed into the AC mains. Has anyone had this problem - or do I just have a poorly designed power supply?

Posted by:

19 Jan 2015 isnt best among all ?

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