Try This Solution for Weak Wifi Signals

Category: Networking

Wireless networking is 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 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.

Powerline Ethernet adapter

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 standard for Powerline Ethernet is IEEE 1901, which is based on the HomePlug AV technology developed by the (now defunct) HomePlug Powerline Alliance. The HomePlug Alliance disbanded after creating the technology standards, but Powerline Ethernet products continue to be developed and marketed. Popular networking equipment makers such as D-Link, TP-Link, Netgear, and ZyXel all sell Powerline Ethernet gear. Starter kits including two adapters typically cost from $50 to $100.

Most adapters supports speeds from 500 Mbps to 1 Gbps. A few, like the NETGEAR Powerline Adapter (PLP2000) will provide throughput up to 2 Gbps. In practice, your actual throughput may be lower depending on the speed pf your incoming Internet connection, 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 a grounded electrical outlet. And in most cases, the adapters must be plugged into outlets on the same circuit to work.

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 Try These Tips to Boost Your WiFi Signal.

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

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Most recent comments on "Try This Solution for Weak Wifi Signals"

Posted by:

21 Jan 2020

This technology was a life-saver for me starting many years ago. My ISP Internet comes into my office which is above a detached garage. Running a wire to the house was costly and inefficient, so I went with the Powerline adapter. In my case, I run it from the ISP Modem in the Office to a Powerline, then the 2nd powerline in the house, connected to a Wireless modem. I do loose a lot of speed as hardwired int he office is about 180 MBPS, but wireless from the house is closer to 30 MBPS, but that is OK in my situation. To be seamless, I use my Office Modem as the DNS Server, and the one in the house as an access point so I can hand-off the signal when I walk out my house and up to my office

Posted by:

Steve Kohn
21 Jan 2020

As it happens, I wrestled with powerline adapters just this weekend.
They (Linksys PLE200) were bought years ago at a garage sale, and had never worked for me. They'd connect, stay connected for about a minute, then disconnect. I'd reverse them (router to computer), but no help. I contacted the mfr, was told they were old and no longer supported.
Finally I broke down and broke open the cellophane on a THIRD PLE200 sitting in the storage room. Thought the box would have a pair of adapters, but no, just one. The CD's software didn't run on anything beyond XP. No sweat, I have an old laptop with XP on it. Once installed, though, the software didn't seem to do much beyond confirm that the adapters were recognized on the network.
On the two adapters that were plugged in, all the green LED lights were on except for "PowerLine". I can't recall if that light was out on both adapters or only one. Logically both.
After replacing one of the adapters (the one at the distant computer, if it matters) with my new PLE200, wow, an immediate solid connection, one that's stayed solid for three days now.
What's the moral of this story for others? 1) The mfr didn't go to the trouble of putting in LED indicators for nothing, so we ought to consider what they're telling us, and 2) most faults are configuration-fixed but hardware sometimes does break.
Hope this helps someone.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2020

I am a long-time happy user of ACPL (AC PowerLine) networking for the least 6 years. Yes, I was too lazy to run network cables thru the 'ceilings and walls'.
IMHO: 1) For the cost of the ACPL networking hardware; much better (and secure) performance can be obtained by hiring/paying an electrician to permanently install the necessary Cat5+ networking cables thru out the house. 2) Some of these ACPL networking hardware also provide a wall adapter which can additionally add an "extended" Wi-Fi as node(s) in this network. Either as a Wi-Fi (e.g. NetGear Model# EX6150-100NAS) AccessPoint (WAP) or as a simple RangeExtender. 3)Very old house constructions with 2-wire (no 3rd ground wire) electrical systems do not achieve the data rates that are advertised by the manufacturers. 4)It is also preferable to stick to a single manufacturer/brand for all required ACPL network hardware; even mixing/matching different models within the same brand may cause speed degradation and/or other issues.

Posted by:

Steve Kohn
21 Jan 2020

" most cases, the adapters must be plugged into outlets on the same circuit to work."
That might discourage a lot of folks from trying powerline adapters, and I'm not convinced it's factual.
Certainly not in my house, where the adapters are plugged into outlets at opposite ends of the house, one on the first floor, the other on the second.
Hope some electrician chimes in to clean up my nomenclature, but I think what's more accurate is that it's helpful for both adapters to be plugged into outlets going to the same side of the circuit breaker box.
Even if they're on opposite sides, though, I think they'll still work. Maybe slower. But my limited understanding of electricity says there's still a hard-wired connection between the two sides of the ckt breaker box, and that powerline adapters should be able to work.

Posted by:

Steve Kohn
21 Jan 2020

"For the cost of the ACPL networking hardware; much better (and secure) performance can be obtained by hiring/paying an electrician to permanently install the necessary Cat5+ networking cables thru out the house."
In a one-room cabin, maybe, but not a modern 2900-sq-ft multi-story house, not when electricians charge (and deserve) about $50/hour.
Wifi is the way to go, and only when it's not able to reach far corners would I recommend powerline. Even then, a range extender would be a faster and less expensive solution.
I tried powerline only because I had some cheap adapters, cheap because bought at a yard sale. If you see a pair at a yard sale and they're priced for under ten bucks (the pair), I'd take a chance on them.
Before hiring an electrician, for sure.

Posted by:

Larry Crowell
21 Jan 2020

I'm very dubious about this product. Some years ago I tried automating my house and installed a bunch of X10 controllers which send their signals over 120v house wiring, similar to this product. I found that I had too much high frequency electrical noise on the wiring for these to work reliably. Light dimmers and electronic fluorescent ballasts (especially) were two of the contributors to this electrical noise.

Posted by:

Dr. Sheldon Cooper
21 Jan 2020

On a related note, the FBI recently recommended keeping IoT devices on a separate network. Since IoT devices are typically wireless, I decided to configure my home router to isolate my 2 wireless frquencies from my wired LAN. With my roughly 3 year old LinkSys WRT1200AC router, this was a challenge requiring a firmware swap to DD-WRT and then some advanced DD-WRT configuration. I am very pleased with the results and feel a bit more secure with this configuration.

Posted by:

Randall Granaas
22 Jan 2020

For several months my wifi internet speed was inexplicably slowing down. This would occur every couple days to about a week, and was corrected by resetting the wifi on my computer (turn it off, then back on again, in Windows Settings). About a month ago, I purchased and installed a Powerline system. Latency time and download and upload speeds are the same as a direct ethernet connection to the router, albeit a modest 30 Mbps/2.5 Mbps (faster internet service is not available at my address). Wifi is also just as fast as direct ethernet…when it’s working properly.

Incidentally, about 10 years ago, when I was still on DSL, I had good luck with an older generation Powerline system. But, it maxed out at 3 Mbps.

Posted by:

22 Jan 2020

More stuff to buy, and, contend with. If automobiles were as complicated and onerous as computers, we'd all be riding bicycles.

Posted by:

24 Jan 2020

My WiFi signal is strong enough I can get 3 bars while in my neighbor's back yard. :-)

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