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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.

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