Using your home electrical wiring just makes sense

I set up a Powerline adapter network in my home a couple of years back, and it was a major life upgrade. Now, we get full coverage in areas the wireless router couldn’t reach.

Not only that, I basically get a “wired” connection where speed matters most: for streaming TV, or when using my Steam Link.

Still, the prospect of setting up a new network is daunting. So here’s how you can set up a Powerline network in your home.

What is Powerline, exactly?

HomePlug Powerline systems use your home’s electrical wiring to transmit Internet data. It can do this because home wiring uses 50/60Hz. That leaves a lot of bandwidth unused.

By utilizing a much higher frequency, Powerline can run Internet data without any interference.

Why Switch? Advantages of Powerline Adapters

Here are a few strengths of a Powerline HomePlug system.

  1. No Wiring Mess: These systems use the existing, hidden wiring in your home. That means you don’t need to run ugly Ethernet cable everywhere.
  2. High Speed: In ideal circumstances, you’ll get very fast, wired Internet speeds, which usually greatly outstrips WiFi.
  3. Not Affected by Walls: In our situation, we had a thick concrete wall blocking our WiFi signal. Using Powerline, we were able to extend coverage to that corner of the house.

1) Understand Designations

Powerline systems, for the most part, work under a distinct set of protocols. Here’s what to look for.

1a) Look for HomePlug designation

If you’re hoping to set up a Powerline network at home, you’re going to want a system that works under HomePlug specifications.

HomePlug is a unified standard, adopted by most manufacturers. HomePlug Powerline systems work with any other HomePlug system.

I don’t recommend any product that operates outside of HomePlug’s protocols (and frankly I don’t know of any.)

So do I need to buy adapters from the same Powerline brand?

Nope! A TP-Link Powerline adapter should work with a D-Link adapter, as long as both carry a HomePlug designation and compatible specs. Which leads us to…

1b) Look for AV2

Within HomePlug, there are different specifications, including:

  • HomePlug 1.0 – Speeds up to 14 Mbps.
  • HomePlug AV – Speeds up to 500 Mbps.
  • HomePlug AV2 – Speeds in the Gbps.

You want AV2. That’s currently the most modern specification, and it’s backwards compatible with older HomePlug AV adapters (though not 1.0.)

To summarize, a HomePlug AV2 adapter should play nice with any other HomePlug AV2 and AV adapters.

Note: The network defaults to the lowest speed adapter in the chain.

2) Buy at least two HomePlug Adapters to create a network

To operate, your Powerline network needs at least two adapters; one to plug in to your router, and the other to receive data on the other end.

You can have as many adapters in the system as you like, but one must be plugged in to your router.

Can an adapter function as a router?

No. You’ll still need a router, and it’s advisable for security reasons anyway. We plug our Powerline adapter into our WiFi router.

2a) Just plug in and go

If you bought a package set with several adapters, they’ll probably be set up on the same Network Management Key (NMK.) That means they’ll speak to each other without any mucking around. You can plug them in and they should pair automatically.

What’s a Network Management Key?

An NMK is an encrypted data protocol that ensures no one else can snoop on your data.

Think of it like a password. Any adapter in your home needs to know the password to access the network.

It’s important with a home network like this. Otherwise, anyone could plug an adapter into any outlet connected to your home and snoop your data or steal your connection. It’s especially recommended in an apartment or condo.

NMK security is robust. AV2 uses 128-bit encryption, which is the same level of security required for online credit card transactions and secure email.

2b) Adding a new adapter to the network

If you bought Powerline adapters that came in separate packages, or if you’re hoping to expand your network with an additional adapter, you’ll need to teach it the password.

That’s typically done using the pairing button (also called the NMK button.)

You just press the pairing button on the active adapter for a few seconds until it starts to flash. Then plug in the new adapter, and press its button for a few seconds too.

They’ll stop flashing and should display a solid green light, indicating a successful connection.

Here’s a video of the process for pairing TP-Link Powerline adapters, if you learn better visually. The process is similar for other brands.

Note: You do not need to pair a new adapter with every HomePlug adapter in the house. Just pair it with one.

3) Use software to manage network

Most Powerline HomePlug brands will include proprietary software to manage your network adapters.

This allows you to connect with each individual adapter. This allows you to create a network name, set passwords, and various other utilities. This step is optional.

Note: Unfortunately, the software generally only works with specific brands. So if you’re planning to use network management features, don’t mix and match brands.

4) Add a Powerline WiFi range extender to the network

Our primary reason for going with Powerline was to extend WiFi past a concrete wall.

Most AV2 Powerline HomePlug systems now offer optional range extenders. These work by cloning the network SSID and password using the clone button. Once done, you can plug the WiFi adapter in and it’ll extend the signal.

Unlike traditional WiFi range extenders, this one doesn’t require wireless signal contact to extend it. You just need to be on the same electrical network.

You sync the WiFi Powerline adapter in the same way, by pressing and holding the pairing buttons for several seconds.

Troubleshooting HomePlug Issues

a) Internet speed is much lower than advertised

This could be caused by several things.

First, the speed rating of your Powerline adapter represents the maximum speed under ideal circumstances. Make sure your Internet plan provides enough data. A 25 Mbps plan on a 600 Mbps adapter still means 25 Mbps.

There could also be interference. Power strips with surge protection, and power outlets with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) will drastically reduce your speeds, often by over 50%.

b) Powerline won’t sync with other adapter

You’ll want to ensure that both adapters are HomePlug compatible, and that they use compatible specifications (AV2, preferably.)

If that doesn’t help, try holding down the pairing button for 10 seconds to reset the adapter, then unplug it for 30 seconds.

Note: You can also use the full reset to leave a particular Powerline network. That’s useful if you’re moving it to a new location, or selling it.