Powerline networking

by: Melissa Good – Miami Information Technology Examiner
August 14, 2009

Powerline Networking

Many homes and businesses are being built today with networking in mind. Homes are now built with category 5e cabling and are ready to go in terms of setting up your home network  to provide Internet or let you share files and audio visual material.

However, in older homes and offices this is often not as easy. Depending on the structure it could be difficult to install category 5e cabling, and if the walls are thick or metal wireless coverage can become a problem.

There is a third option that has been coming up in the news lately called powerline networking. This technology has been around for some time, but recently new devices being developed to allow high speed data transfer have been emerging into the market and are now common and easy to find.

Dlink, Linksys, and Netgear are three well known home networking equipment providers who have this technology available. Powerline networking requires the use of adapters that take the network signal from your computers, televisions, DVR”s, printers, and other Ethernet capable devices and transmits them over the copper wire that makes up your electrical system. It does this by using the HF (high frequency) bands, selecting frequencies and converting the Ethernet signal to transmit over them.

Speeds can range from 14mbps to 200 mbps depending on the device – the higher speeds providing greater bandwidth than most wireless and making it available everywhere in your home that you have an electrical outlet.

Caveat – these are the ideal speeds the manufacturer says are possible. Your results may and probably will vary to the lower.

It sounds like a perfect solution. With the purchase of these converters, you can put your home network anywhere in your house, even outside without the expense and trouble of running cabling or the complexities of wireless.

But. There always is a but, isn’t there? Technology is so seldom one sided in terms of providing capability without also causing some kind of issue.

In this case – the nature of powerline networking requires the technology to take your data and create a high frequency radio transmission of it over the large bore copper cabling running through your house.

This does two things. One, it transmits your data in a wide spectrum into public space. This has security concerns – the devices do pair with each other and provide encryption between them, but encryption can and usually will be broken so there is a potential for your private data to be spilling out onto the street and into your neighbors yards.

This is a concern for you. The other concern is that the high frequency bands this technology uses broadcasts extensively outside your physical property  can cause interference with amateur or ham radio transmission frequencies.

This is more than just an inconvenience to your unsuspecting ham radio using neighbor.  While ham or amateur radio is considered by many to be a hobby, in reality ham radio forms one of the few emergency analog backup systems for communication we have.  Ham radio operators assist in rescues and emergencies all the time, as well as provide a communications link for those in other countries that might not have a voice otherwise.

The newer powerline networking devices have a sensor that lets them detect radio signals on the bands most commonly used by ham radio operators – but this is not absolute, and it still provides a source of potential interference.

Here in South Florida, we understand what it is like to need emergency communications. We go through hurricanes, other violent storms, and are surrounded on three sides by water. Ham radios are a part of our defense system, no matter that most of the operators are volunteers and not very visible most of the time.

To sum up – powerline networking works, is becoming readily available, and can save you time and money when you want to connect devices inside your home. But there is a potential downside to it – both in security and in disrupting a valuable service.

Passions can run high on this subject.  Do your homework on the technology before you decide to buy and put it in – to save yourself time, headaches, and neighborhood warfare. PC Perspective has some nuts and bolts advice and here’s some information regarding the potential for interference from PcPRO.