Wireless networks sure do offer convenience and ease of use when it comes to browsing the Web from your laptop, or sharing your printer across many computers. But in some dwellings, if you want to do more than that — stream videos to your TV, for example — the wireless signals just aren't strong enough. This is especially the case in large homes where the router has to be located on the other side of the house from where the TV is, or even in large apartment complexes that have a glut of wireless networks with funny names all vying for the same bit of airspace.
Newer routers based on the 5GHz frequency band aim to overcome some of the problems of current 2.4GHz-based wireless networks, as they are less prone to interference from other routers and cordless phones and can therefore provide a useable signal even in wireless-congested areas. But one solution that is often overlooked is Ethernet over powerlines.
Netgear, D-Link, Billion and Netcomm are just a few of the vendors who offer adapters that can do this. They are sometimes marketed to the home theatre crowd as a way of getting faster and more reliable speeds for video streaming. That is because they allow you to physically connect your network devices (such as your computer or network streamer) to your router without running Ethernet cables all over the place. Simply plug one adapter into a power outlet near your router, run an Ethernet cable from it to the router, then plug the other adapter into an outlet near your remote device. Then run an Ethernet cable from the adapter to your device. The two adapters will see each other on the network as long as the two power outlets you have used are on the same circuit.
Your network data will travel over the powerlines in your home at rates of 40-60Mbps, which is fast compared to many stretched out wireless networks, and the best part is that the speed you get will not fluctuate (though this will depend on how good the electrical work is in your building). Another plus is that these devices require virtually no set up in order to work. They are usually paired up straight out of the box, with encryption enabled, so all you have to do is plug them in. They do ship with software that allows you to tweak the settings, and you can use this if for some reason they are not playing nice with your network.
The downside is that these adapters are still quite expensive, and this is why wireless networking is still king; if you find that your wireless signals are weak, invest in some cheap access points that can be used as repeaters around your home. Or, if you have any older wireless routers lying around, check to see if they can be used in repeater mode. This setting can usually be found in the wireless mode: instead of the router set to ‘access point’ mode it needs to be set to ‘repeater’ mode. Of course, the repeaters must all have the same SSID and identical encryption. You can place the repeaters in the void between your main router and the devices you want to network. The wireless signal will travel from your router to the repeaters and then onto your networked devices.
If setting up repeaters and extra access points sounds like too much of a fuss and you are interested in trying Ethernet over powerlines, then consult some of our past reviews: