LAN Connectivity@Home 1: Powerline Technology

Introduction

Recently I faced the challenge to distribute Internet connectivity across a newly build apartment. Generally this is an easy task: fire up a wlan router and go. Suprisingly this didn’t work as expected. After a couple of meters the signal dropped to nearly zero and the link was fluctuating. This was a surprise since the structure of the apartment was dominantly made of wood.

Some years ago I played around with Powerplugs and had mixed experiences. As I read that this technology improved in the last couple of years, I decided to give it another try. I got a pack of Devolo Plugs which, according to the specifications, deliver up to 500Mbps.  Good enough – even the half of this would fit for the purpose of web surfing, streaming and gaming.

Installation

To avoid signal degradation from power bars are extension cords the plugs should be attached directly to the wall outlet. As these plugs  are quite clumsy they block the most of the wall outlet and so one have to fiddle around to attach the devices you want actually connect to the internet.

Setup and Configuration

Setup and Configuration was easy – plug and play – so to say. With the bundled software these plugs were configured in a and worked right away. One thing to mention here, make sure you capture the security code printed on the back of the plugs (jot it down, take a picture or whatever). If you skip this you will have to get to the plug again, which quite likely involves crawling into a dusty stuffed area under the table or moving furniture around.

Test and Operation

The actual setup included 4 plugs and once configured provided a transparent link between them. So far so good. Next step – checking the link speed. I didn’t expect 500Mbps but the 30Mbps which were delivered were disappointing. My internet connection delivers as 60Mbps measured at the router or close by over WLAN. Loosing 30Mbps is not satisfactory. Various attempts, involving detaching devices, moving to other outlets (which involved again the moving of furniture) didn’t make it actually better. Having the plugs installed close to each other in test setup pushed the speed to 100 – 150Mbps but with the planned setup the maximal link speed was at 30Mbps.

Enough for surfing and gaming – time for a break – time for thinking.

After a few weeks of operation I got the impression that the link got slower while being stable. After consulting the Devolo device monitor I got the confirmation that the plugs were communicating to each other with 2 to 30Mbps (the close ones stayed at the inital maximum). Swapping the plugs around and detaching other devices didn’t make any difference. As this behaviour was constant and reproducable with all the plugs and the performance could be restored in the nearby test configuration, I assumed that something in the electrical environment changed rather than a collective defect across all the plugs.

Conclusion 

To keep it short and simple – these Powerplugs are easy to setup, the link is quite stable but the link performance sucks and is far off the advertised specification even in a trivial setup (from one wall to another).

There is not a lot one can do on the electrical installation or interferences coming from other devices around the houshold. The installation of  special filters on the fuse board to potentially improve the performance, as I was advised by experts, is beyond what I would expect in relation with a consumer device and the price tag wouldn’t be worth it. If change would be required I would add a network cable and most likely would achive hunderts of Mbps thoughput.

I expect that these plugs function and perform as advertised or at least close to but as it cannot be predicted how these plugs will perform in a given environment (and I believe this is not related to an actual brand) I recommend to stay away from these technology.

Stay tuned for the next post where I will talk about the next attempt to resolve the connectivity issue.

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