Setting up a home or small business network
isn’t always as simple as switching on a router and typing in the access key.
With potential everywhere for interference, poor speeds and hard-to-diagnose
signal problems, not all of us can rely on a wireless network to link up our
computers in a trouble-free manner. In such cases, a wired network is the only
way forward. And one such option for wired networking in HomePlug.
HomePlug networking is a technology that
uses the electrical wiring of a building to transmit data between any devices
that have Ethernet sockets. The name encompasses several specifications, some
of which are capable of speeds comparable to any home wireless network, and
others which are targeted at specifically low-power or low-throughout use. With
no drilling or professional installation required, HomePlug networking can
offer all of the benefits of a wired network without the problem of
There are several versions of HomePlug
networking on the market. The first to be developed, HomePlug 1.0, had a data
rate of 14Mbps, but has since been superseded by HomePlug AV. That said, some
devices are still sold as HomePlug 1.0 ‘Turbo’, and these are
backwards-compatible proprietary systems based on HomePlug 1.0, but with a data
rate of 85Mbps.
HomePlug 1.0’s successor, HomePlug AV, was
developed so that HomePlug networking would be capable of transferring HDTV
pictures and VoIP traffic over a local network and beyond. The peak data rate
is 200Mbps, and devices certified HomePlug AV are guaranteed to coexist with
one another, and with HomePlug 1.0 devices (though they may not necessarily
communicate with the later). The HomePlug AV specification also includes more
robust security, including 128-bit AES encryption and distributed keys, making them
as secure as any wireless network, and much harder to break into.
The most recent version, HomePlug AV2,
increased speeds to a maximum of 500Mbps (on powerlines) or 700Mbps (on coax
wiring). It is fully compatible with HomePlug AV. If you want faster speeds, it
is possible to buy HomePlug Gigabit devices, but these are similar to HomePlug
Turbo – proprietary and not necessarily compatible with other devices.
HomePlug networking is far from perfect.
Speeds are often vastly lower than those quoted due to multiple factors both
physical (interference, aging, potentially poor materials or installation) and
logical (high security equates to lower speeds on actual data). However, the
technology is reliable and the security is good – certainly better than wireless
– and if all goes well, even easier to set up. They’re almost literally ‘plug
and play’, and it’s these factors, rather than speeds, that tend to attract
When setting up a HomePlug network, the
chief factors are cost and compatibly, because it must be easy and inexpensive
to expand a network if more devices are to be added in the future. For this
reason, the primary attributes listed will contain the number of adaptors
included in the price, and the specific HomePlug protocol used.
Extra features of specific adaptors will be
considered, although issues such as appearance and size will only be commented
on if there are particular practical concerns to discuss (or praise to offer)
about the hardware’s form.
Price: $75 RRP
Adaptor included: 2
Protocol: HomePlug AV
TP-Link’s low-priced starter kit, the
TL-PA211KIT, features two HomePlug AV adaptors at the average price of $40
each. However, you can quite easily find them much cheaper than RRP. Released
roughly a year ago, the TL-PA211KIT comes relatively late in the life of
HomePlug AV, and thus has a wide selection of features as well as incredibly
simple installation and setup.
The kit includes two Ethernet cables, so
you won’t find yourself needing to buy any extra parts in order to get your
network up and running. Of course, two adaptors will only support one machine
and one router, though, so if you have more than one networked device, you’ll
need to purchase additional kits.
The plugs themselves are compact, with
clear LED indicators that show the device’s status using a series of light-up
icons, rather than the usual cryptic acronyms and abbreviations offered by
network adaptors. A TP-Link specific power-saving mode reduces consumption by
up to 65% when the connection is idle, so you won’t be leaking power while away
from your machine. Even when working, it only consumes 3W.
The main down-side is that there’s no
socket pass-through feature, meaning that you will lose an entire plug socket to
your network transmission. Far from ideal when plug sockets are always at a
premium around computers (and of course, HomePlug doesn’t work through
Still, despite those gripes, it’s a simple
and easy kit to use, fairly priced, and largely trouble-free to install and
use. It might not be totally future proof, since it’s using HomePlug AV rather
than 2.0, but at this price that’s hard to criticise.
If you’re okay with HomePlug AV speeds,
it’s an excellent basic solution that can be picked up on the cheap.