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Is Wi-Fi too unreliable? Powerline networking may be what you need

Wi-Fi doesn’t always work. Thankfully, Wi-Fi isn’t the only way to spread an Internet connection around your house. There’s also a thing called Powerline Ethernet, which functions as an alternative networking option that may be just what you’re looking for.

Okay, what is Powerline networking?

Powerline networking is a technology that’s used to communicate data through the electrical wiring in your house. That may sound a little strange, but the process is actually quite simple, as long as the right protocols are in place. When installed, it can provide a wired Internet connection to devices that Wi-Fi can’t reach. This is why Powerline tech is usually considered an alternative to Wi-Fi.

Related: Transform your Wi-Fi from awful to awesome by moving your router and its antennas

While Powerline setups can grow as large as the building they’re used in, most Powerline solutions start with just two small devices — the adapters. The first device plugs into an outlet (wall outlets only, Powerline adapters do not play well with surge protectors) and connects to your router. The second adapter plugs into an outlet near the device you want to connect to the Internet.

That first adapter takes the Ethernet protocol used by your router and turns it into a Powerline protocol, using electrical signals to transmit data through the wiring in your house to the second device. The second adapter takes the Powerline protocol and turns it back into an Ethernet signal. Connect an Ethernet cable to the second adapter, and you can provide a wired network connection without an Ethernet cord between the two devices.

Powerline networking works with all devices that can connect to the Internet through an Ethernet cable. There are also neat behind-the-scenes tricks that the Powerline protocols pull off. Each adapter can work with the others to create a sort of digital map of discovered stations and their connections, for example, which is useful for network management.

Currently the best Powerline protocol on the market is HomePlug AV2, a more flexible iteration of the older HomePlug standard that’s designed to increase speeds, extend coverage, and provide a sleep mode in order to reduce power, among other notable features. If you’re shopping for Powerline adapters (more on this later), always remember to look for the latest protocol, because there’s a large increase in quality between generations.

Why is it useful?

Since Wi-Fi is used across the world and throughout homes, businesses, and even street sidewalks, it obviously works. So, why do we need another way to connect to the Internet? Because there are situations where Powerline Ethernet connections are more useful. The big benefits include:

  • Saving money on installations: Suppose you have a device – say, a TV – that can connect to the Internet with a wired Ethernet connection, but it doesn’t have Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, your router is on the other side of the room. You can run Ethernet cables through your walls or under your carpet if you want to, but this takes time and you’ll have to buy a lot of cable. Purchasing a pair of Powerline adapters is a faster and often more affordable solution.
  • Solving Wi-Fi woes: There are some places that Wi-Fi cannot reach reliably. Heavy interference or extra-large houses may make it too difficult to use a wireless connection. In these cases, Powerline adapters can supplement Wi-Fi networks or help provide one-on-one solutions for devices that really need a wired connection. This may also help with other problems, like spotty streaming or slow speeds that you would like to improve.
  • Easy setup: Powerline networking is easy to install. You can do it by yourself in just a few minutes. If there’s only one or two devices in your home that need the Internet, Powerline may be the most consumer-friendly solution for you.

Relared: ‘No Wi-Fi beyond this point’: New tech could block access based on location

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