About C:Amie · Technical Articles · Analog C:Amie Edition Saturday, 26 May 2018

Powerline Feature & Functionality Comparison: Expanding your Powerline Adapter Home Network

System Requirements:

  • Powerline Adapters

The Problem:

If you have or are going to be installing a Powerline network in your home or small business, then there may come a time that you wish to expand your network into a different room or out to a new WiFi access point to provide better coverage for mobile and fixed wireless devices.

It is not always clear from the manufacturers site which part number(s) you should buy in order to expand your network after you have brought the initial getting started kit. This document attempts to simplify the options in making Powerline product choices.

Contents

The following seeks to clarify some easily misunderstood and often muddied points about Powerline.

Feature Comparison

The feature comparison is divided into comparing the range of the main Powerline manufacturers.

Common Questions

  1. How many adapters do I need?
  2. Can I mix and match different manufacturers adapters?
  3. I can get a 2000 Mbit/s Powerline adapter, seems like a no brainier to make my computer/Internet faster?
  4. When shouldn't I use Powerline adapters?

Feature Comparison: Expanding Your Network

The following table can be used to help you expand your Powerline network. The tables define for each manufacturer the combination of WiFi, Ethernet Port Numbers and Passthrough Port availability. Manufacturers are displayed in alphabetical order.

Passthrough: Passthrough means that there is a standard electrical socket on the front of the Powerline adapter, allowing you to plug the Powerline adapter into the wall without sacrificing access to the electrical socket for other devices.

e = 1Gbps Ethernet

e = 100Mbps Ethernet

(#) represents the number of ethernet ports present on WiFi adapter modules

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Asus

 
WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
4 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
AV1200 1200 PL-AC56 (802.11ac 867) e(3)     PL-E56P e            
AV600 600       PL-E52P e            
AV500 500 PL-N12 (802.11n 300) e(2)   PL-E41 e             PL-X51P e
AV200 200     PL-X31M e              

D-Link

 
WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
AV2000 1900     DHP-701AV e          
AV1000 1000 DHP-W610AV (802.11ac 867) e(1)   DHP-601AV e DHP-P610AV e        
DHP-W611AV (802.11ac 867) e(1) DHP-P601AV e
AV500 500 DHP-W310AV (802.11n) e(1)     DHP-P509AV e        
AV200 200     DHP-309AV e          

Devolo

 
WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
dLAN 1200 1200       dLAN 1200+ e       dLAN 1200 triple+ e
dLAN 1000 1000           dLAN 1000 duo+ e    
dLAN 650 650       dLAN 650+ e       dLAN 650 triple+ e
dLAN 550 550           dLAN 550 duo+ e    
dLAN 500 500         dLAN 500 duo e      

NetGear

 
WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
PL2000 2000           PLP2000 e    
PL1200 1200     PL1200 e PLP1200 e        
PL1000 1000 PLW1000 (802.11n 300) e(1)   PL1000 e PLP1000 e        
PLW1000v2 (802.11n 300) e(1)
PLW1010 (802.11ac) e(1)
PLW1010v2 (802.1ac) e(1)
PL500 500 XWN5001 (802.11n 300) e(1)   XAVB5101 e XAVB5401 e   XAVB5602 e    
XAVB5201 e
XWN5021 (802.11n 300) e(1) XAVB5221 e XAVB5421 e
PL200 200     XAVB1301 e          

TP-Link

 
WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
AV2000 2000 TL-WPA9610 (802.11ac 1200) e(1)       TL-PA9020 e TL-PA9020P e    
AV1300 1300   TL-WPA8630P (802.11ac 1350) e   TL-PA8010P e        
AV1200 1200 TL-WPA8730 (802.11ac 1750) e(3)   TL-PA8010 e         TL-PA8030P e
TL-WPA8630 (802.11ac 1200) e(3)
AV1000 1000 TL-WPA7510 (802.11ac 433) e(1)   TL-PA7010 e TL-PA7010P e TL-PA7020 e TL-PA7020P e    
AV600 600 TL-WPA4220 (802.11n 300) e(2)   TL-PA4010 e TL-PA4010P e   TL-PA4020P e    
AV500 500 TL-WPA4530 (802.11ac 433) e(3)   TL-PA4010 e     TL-PA4020P e    

TRENDnet

 
WiFi
1 Port Ethernet
2 Port Ethernet
3 Port Ethernet
4 Port Ethernet
Range Max Speed Mbit/s No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through No
Pass-through
Pass-through
1300 AV2 1300 TPL-430AP (802.11ac 866) e(3)   TPL-422E e TPL-423E e            
1200 AV2 1200     TPL-420E e TPL-421E e            
500 AV 500 TPL-410AP (802.11n 300) e(2)   TPL-408E e TPL-407E e         TPL-405E e  
TPL-406E e
TPL-401E e TPL-4052E e
200 AV 200     TPL-331EP e              

e = 1Gbps Ethernet

e = 100Mbps Ethernet

(#) represents the number of ethernet ports present on WiFi adapter modules

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Common Questions

How many adapters do I need?

It is not always clear to users starting out with Powerline adapters that you can expand the network to have more termination points than the first two appliances that you will probably have (or will) purchased as part of a getting started kit. PowerLine is a broadcast technology, it is not limited just to the first two devices that you place in your home and it is not required to operate the third or subsequent device in a pair of devices - so you do not have to have 4,6,8 adapters live at any one time and can just as easily have 3,5 or 7 adapters live on your network.

You do have to have more than 1 adapter however!

Can I mix and match different manufacturers adapters?

'Powerline' is a technical standard, not a proprietary solution to each manufacturer - although they may add proprietary innovations on top of the standard. This means that in practice you should be able to mix and match Powerline devices from different manufacturers on your network provided that the product is advertising standards compliance to the following certification combinations.

Standard Max Line
Speed (standard)
Max Client
Speed (standard)
Backwards Compatibility Notes
IEEE 1901 500 Mbit/s      
IEEE 1905.1 / nVoy HomePlug   n/a   The standard for Powerline + Wifi devices
HomePlug 1.0 14 Mbit/s   IEEE 1901  
HomePlug 1.0 turbo 85 Mbit/s   IEEE 1901  
HomePlug AV 200 Mbit/s 80 Mbit/s IEEE 1901, HomePlug 1.0 (in theory) 'AV' standard for Audio/Video
HomePlug AV2 1000 Mbit/s   IEEE 1901, HomePlug AV, HomePlug 1.0 (in theory)  

Having standards compliance does not mean that an individual manufacturer or model of Powerline adapter will not offer better performance or features over and above those defined in the standard. This in practice means that if you mix your ecosystem, you can expect the devices to operate at the negotiated matched standard speed, but not (necessarily) at the maximum speed of both/either device. Consequently, it is generally recommended that where possible you stick to the same manufacturer for your Powerline network and ideally the same series of device.

I can get a 2000 Mbit/s Powerline adapter, seems like a no brainier to make my computer/Internet faster?

Having looked at many reviews and videos on the subject, this topic is horribly misunderstood by people 'in the know' to the extent that they are further confusing the issue with false information. There are 5 things that influence why for your average single computer/single WiFi Extender scenario isn't in most cases, a reality.

Electrical wiring, distribution, electrical noise and distance: The age and quality of your home electrical system will have an impact on the performance. If your electrical system isn't up to 2000 Mbit/s, you will never see anything like that speed, possibly pulling the performance down under 100 Mbit/s. Equally, the longer the distance between the adapter termination points, the more this figure will trail off.

IEEE 802.3 (ethernet): If you are going to connect your desktop PC at one end to your router at the other (and you have modern equipment) then the Ethernet cable and the network adapters at your computer/router are only capable of a theoretical maximum of 1000 Mbit/s. Having a 2000 Mbit/s Powerline adapter will not make this point-to-point, two device network any faster even if the Powerline adapter does operate at a speed higher than 1000 Mbit/s.

IEEE 802.11 (wireless): Similarly to that of the Ethernet, wireless technology is also rated at a maximum theoretical speed 54 Mbit/s for 802.11a/g, 11 Mbit/s for 802.11b, 600Mbit/s for 802.11n and up to 3466 Mbit/s for 802.11ac - in practice it usually isn't more than ~ 1300 Mbit/s on current generation general consumer hardware. If the WiFi Access Point module on the Powerline adapter is only capable or 600 Mbit/s or your laptop/tablet/smartphone are only capable of 600 Mbit/s, having a faster Powerline adapter will not make your wireless any faster.

Internet Connection Speed: Most home installs are probably just being used to push the Internet connection from the router into another room that is out of range of the wireless access point. Most home internet connections (in the UK) at the current time run at sub-100 Mbit/s. Assuming that your Powerline adapter is 2000 Mbit/s, your wired desktop is 1000 Mbit/s and your tablet is 600 Mbit/s, you will not get anything faster from the Internet than the 100 Mbit/s maximum speed of your home broadband. A faster Powerline adapter will not improve this.

Contention: This is the most important one that people misunderstand. Powerline is what is known as a contended broadcast medium. This means that every piece of information sent to one Powerline adapter is received and processed by all of the other Powerline adapters on the network. If you have 4 Powerline adapters that try and access the network simultaneously, then the available maximum bandwidth (e.g. 2000 Mbit/s) must be shared between them. There are more sophisticated underlying technologies in newer Powerline adapters, such as OFDM and latterly MIMO that help significantly to improve this, however the key thing to understand is that the 2000 Mbit/s figure on the box is the speed available to the holistic group of all Powerline adapters on the network and must be shared amongst - in the case of OFDM as a proportion of the frequency group available to each adapter and in the case of MIMO up to the number of available MIMO channels. For very old adapters, the full bandwidth was available, but only one Powerline adapter could communicate on the network at any one time; during which time the other adapters had to wait.

 

At the beginning of this section I stated that getting faster network performance it isn't a reality in most cases. Where it is a benefit to have the faster line speed (the maximum theoretical bandwidth available to the group of Powerline adapters) is when there are multiple end-point devices and/or multiple Powerline adapters.

Take Internet access out of the equation and pretend that there are 4 Powerline adapters, A, B, C and D. Each Powerline adapter has a wired ethernet connection running at 1Gb/s (1000 Mbit/s). If computer A copies a file to computer B while computer C copies a file to computer D and you have 2000 Mbit/s available to the Powerline network, simplified, a 1000 Mbit/s file copy + another 1000 Mbit/s file copy (with access to MIMO) = 2000 Mbit/s.

Again, this is a theoretical figure and there are a lot of variables that will define the actual speed. In reality you may only get 800 Mbit/s during the parallel transfer (1600 Mbit/s total), but this is only achievable because the Powerline back-end is capable of supporting the higher line speed. If the Powerline network was only itself capable of 1000 Mbit/s, then the best you could have hoped for during this parallel file transfer would have been 500 Mbit/s. This is the impact of contention.

The reality of this is that there are a lot of tweaks and optimisation's in how OFDM, MIMO and proprietary manufacturer innovations are applied on different products, making this a significant simplification. It is also true that the Powerline network will likely not run anywhere near its theoretical maximum speed, bringing down the contended bandwidth figure that you are starting out with. In these cases a faster device with MIMO and more frequency groups available may help you see slightly faster speeds. It is however important to understand what the figure on the box is actually telling you and to set expectations (and even save money). Simply put: If you are only looking to have a point to point link and are only ever going to be using it to access the Internet there is usually little point spending money on faster Powerline modules for your use case.

When shouldn't I use Powerline adapters?

Powerline should not be used if

  1. You are involved in any form of secure network or secure data workflow. Powerline can easily leak data out into the street or to you neighbours. Modern adapters usually come with AES 128 encryption support as an option, however, AES 128 is not the strongest form of encryption by any means in 2018, and firmware updates and patches for Powerline adapters to fix security holes are not applied automatically and unfortunately are not made available as frequently by some manufacturers as perhaps they should be.
  2. If AES Encryption technology is illegal in your country, do not use an AES enabled device.
  3. You do not have direct access to a wall socket: Powerline adapters should not be used on power gangs, PDU's or through surge protectors. If you do, at best they will either have significant signal degradation or simply not work for you.
  4. If the length of the internal wiring is over 300m (try and keep it far shorter than this in practice i.e. under 200m)
  5. Your house has extremely old wiring or archaic distribution / fuse boards
  6. You want to get a good signal across multiple distribution / fuse boards
  7. The electrical system has a high number of noisy appliances and you are expecting to get performance out of the system

 

Article Published: Sunday, 29 April, 2018
Article Revision Date: Sunday, 13 May, 2018

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