Technology | Media | Telecommunications

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Enhancing a Home Network with Powerline Adapters

As I mentioned in a recent post, web-enabled consumer electronics (CE) device shipments are forecast to grow six fold -- surpassing 230 million installed units by 2014, with the majority of these in North America and Europe, according to the latest market study by In-Stat.

Many people that purchase these CE products have already discovered, and others soon will, that the essential foundation for distributing multimedia content -- particularly high-definition video -- throughout your residence is an adequately provisioned home network.

To date, much of the market emphasis on home networking options has focused on the apparent convenience of wireless solutions -- in particular, Wi-Fi multiport routers. If your residence is relatively small and on one level, then the chances of having good wireless signal coverage are likely in your favor.

Quest for High Speed and Performance

However, signal strength can be negatively impacted by a number of factors, including the construction of your home and the proximity of the Wi-Fi router. In fact, in larger homes, especially multi-story structures, the placement of the device can have a significant impact on performance.

Moreover, a wireless router is apparently still one of the most frequently returned consumer networking products. Even though the user interface has improved, the typical Wi-Fi installation and configuration process is puzzling to many non-technical people.

My use-case: I needed a better solution to connect a cable modem and router -- centrally located upstairs (the best placement in our tri-level home) -- to the main TV set in our family room at the ground floor level. Given the other alternative connection methods, I chose a powerline adapter.

The NETGEAR Powerline AV+ 200 adapter kit (XAVB2501) extends a high-speed broadband Internet access connection to any power outlet throughout your home. It's designed to support the latest network-ready CE devices -- such as the connected HDTV sets, Blu-ray disc players, DVRs, PCs, video set-top boxes and game consoles.

Easy to Install, No Configuration Issues

I discovered that setting-up the pair of HomePlug certified adapters is very easy. Just plug one adapter into the electrical wall outlet in each of the rooms where you have a device. Then, use the provided Ethernet cables to connect the adapter to your router and the other to your CE device -- you're now ready to test the connectivity.

In my application scenario, the potential speed of up to 200Mbps between the adaptors -- 100Mbps at both the Ethernet ports -- was a significant improvement over my prior Wi-Fi home network configuration. The benefit was clearly more noticeable on high-definition streamed video.

That said, these powerline adapters can be applied in a variety of ways. To test the limits of the technology, I tried downloading a large file to my notebook PC after I moved one adapter to the most remote parts of my home. In each case the performance was excellent.

Therefore, I'd recommend the NETGEAR product for similarly demanding connectivity applications. By the way, you can configure the built-in security feature, by pressing one button. Also, the product has a standard one-year warranty.