Ethernet over power lines: Netgear makes major improvements

Using in-house electrical wiring for networking computers usually only happens if wires can't be run or Wi-Fi connections are less than adequate. Netgear's new Ethernet over power-line devices may change that.

Last year, I went through what I consider the perfect storm of network cabling. To explain, I was asked by a client to set up an Ethernet network at one of his rental facilities. For some reason, I could not run cables. To make matters worse, there was an inordinate amount of grounded metal (galvanized studs) acting like RF sponges. That eliminated Wi-Fi gear as an option.

Out of options, I tried Netgear's Powerline equipment and was disappointed. Bandwidth never came close to what Netgear advertised. Still, the client was not deterred by the limited throughput. They were happy to have anything at all. I guess sneaker networks get old fast.

New and improved

Previously, Netgear offered two product lines, one rated at 85 Mb per second and one at 200 Mb per second. Both were lucky to achieve half that throughput. Still, Netgear seems determined to make Power line Ethernet a viable solution. They just announced a new product line that may take care of the bandwidth problem. The new adapters have the following enhancements :

  • Throughput speed of 500 Mb per second.
  • Prioritized Quality of Service (QoS), important for streaming media applications.
  • Simple 128-Bit AES encryption, using the "Push-and-secure" button.
  • Backward compatible with other Netgear Powerline products and equipment from other vendors, if it's HomePlug AV certified.
Two models

Netgear is offering two models, the Powerline AV 500 Adapter Kit/XAVB5001 (courtesy of Netgear):

As well as the Powerline AV+ 500 Adapter Kit/XAVB5501 (courtesy of Netgear):

Netgear mentions that the devices are designed to leave the second socket of an outlet pair open for use. Also, the XAVB5501 provides a filtered power socket, if outlets are in short supply. Each kit comes with two adapters.

Final thoughts

I just ran an Ethernet cable about 20 meters to get network access to our main HDTV in the living room. I first tried using a Wi-Fi link. But it required a repeater, which cut throughput enough to cause buffering. I'm thinking the new Powerline adapters would have saved a lot of work.