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Pump up your powerline: How to get the best performance from a HomePlug network

Yardena Arar | March 10, 2016
HomePlug powerline networks can sometimes reach places your Wi-Fi gear can’t. We’ll show you how to optimize your network’s performance and troubleshoot problems.

Consider adapters with pass-through power ports

Because network devices typically require electrical connections of their own, you can run out of convenient outlets pretty quickly when setting up a HomePlug network. A number of vendors have addressed this issue by adding pass-through ports to their HomePlug adapters. These adapters identify and filter out the data signal, then allow the power signal to pass through to a conventional electrical port on the outward-facing side—effectively preserving the outlet that would otherwise be dedicated solely to powerline networking. The added benefit is that the adapter’s filtering technology acts as a surge protector, effectively cleaning the electrical signal that passes through to the outlet.

Avoid AFCI/GFCI outlets and circuit breakers

AFCI (arc-fault circuit interrupter) and GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) equipment includes safety technology that will shut down electrical circuits when it detects certain potentially dangerous conditions. Arc faults are unintentional electrical discharges that can cause fires in wood, insulation, or other materials surrounding the circuit. Ground faults occur when an electrical charge strays outside its normal path, and GFCI outlets are most commonly installed in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms where water might cause a ground fault.

Some AFCI circuit breakers, installed in your main electrical panel, can degrade a HomePlug network’s performance by 30- to 50 percent, according to HomePlug Alliance officials. The Alliance has discovered, however, at least two AFCI breakers to be HomePlug friendly: The Square-D/Schneider HOM120AFI and the Eaton CL120AF AFCI breakers don’t interfere with HomePlug networks. The AFCI breakers Siemens manufactures, on the other hand, don’t seem to play well with HomePlug adapters.

Check your adapters to identify problem outlets

Most HomePlug AV2 adapters have three LEDs to help you figure out what’s going on when you plug them in: One shows that the adapter is connected to electrical power, one shows that it’s connected to a powerline network, and a third shows that it’s actively connected to an ethernet device.

For network-troubleshooting purposes, the middle LED (often identified by an icon that looks like a little house) is the most useful. If it’s not green, and the network is up and running elsewhere, there’s probably some sort of issue preventing a good network connection. Try moving the adapter to a different outlet.

Check for wiring issues

A HomePlug network depends on signals that go through the same electrical circuits, which is the situation in most homes. But there are exceptions. If for some reason you have two electrical meters in your home—perhaps several years ago part of the dwelling was set up as a rental unit—chances are you have two sets of circuits that don’t talk to each other. In that case you might be better off using a Wi-Fi access point to service areas that aren’t wired to your main HomePlug network.


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