Extend your Wi-Fi with powerline networking

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/02/06/extend-your-wi-fi-with-powerli.html

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Extending the WiFi signal is not the same as boosting it. These do work, but the signal is weakened at that end of it.

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Really specific warning:
I used some power line network adapters from TP-Link that were fantastic…
They tripped the Siemens AFCI (arc fault circuit interrupter) breakers. I measured only 4 amps going through the breakers in question, and the problem went away when I stopped using the power line networking.

I think it is specifically a problem with the Siemens AFCI breakers, or I got a bad batch, but I only found 2-3 other posts on the subject while troubleshooting.

It was an intermittent issue that only happened at most once per hour, but there you go.

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I had the same issue with Powerline adapters tripping breakers - it was an older Linksys system, IIRC. Luckily, I have coax all through the house, so I switched to MoCa adapters, which work great (for me, at least).

What I’d really like is some smart light bulbs that can sit on the powerline network, in particular for outdoor lamps where the Wi-Fi is weak, and replacing the wall switch is unfeasible: there’s a triplex outlet in a single-gang box that switches the inside foyer ceiling light, the outside lights, and one outlet in the living room, that I don’t ever want to open again because it was a nightmare getting the all the wires to just fit in the space. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a smart-home triplex switch.

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I tried this just last weekend. I couldn’t even get a boosted signal from inside the same room as my router, let alone in the detached building where I was hoping it would work. I blame it on the 1950’s wiring in our house; two-wire cables with no ground. I think I’m going to have to run ethernet cable.

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I’ve had some great success with powerline networking and also had some complete failures and everything in between. It depends soooo much on a bunch of factors about the wiring at the location.

But it’s usually worth trying because when it does work, it works better than wireless range extenders or even mesh wireless networking (though not as good as actually running wires, but that often isn’t feasible).

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When PowerLine works, it’s really nice but it’s highly dependent on many factors. There’s far superior options these days.

I had a crappy 2.4 GHZ wireless router. A powerline adapter allowed an extension of about 60 feet from the base station, to a room upstairs, with 3 ethernet ports at about 80 Mb/s, when the brick walls of the house blocked most wifi signals. Caveat, don’t use surge suppressing power strips, they can screw up the signals…

These usually work pretty well in my experience (although, as a Brit, our home wiring is a bit more robust). On the other hand, I know people with an older (>100 years) house who have a lot of trouble, because the house has very thick walls, which block wifi, and was also electrified in stages, so there’s no way to get a signal on the power lines between different parts of the house. They’ve resorted to strategically placed network cables, bridging the gaps between different power circuits, and multiple wifi access points.

I used a group of ethernet-over-powerline adapters for 6+ years with good results. I eventually retired them after pulling cable and upgrading to a multi-AP WiFi solution.

In the US, where typical residential power has two 120V circuits and a neutral, the adapters work much better when they are on the same circuit (phase) as each other. Newer versions (Powerline 500 and up) claim to use frequencies that bridge better over the legs, but being on different legs still leads to much slower connections. It is my (second hand) understanding that folks on single phase power (as is typical in 220/240V land) don’t have to deal with this problem.

As others have mentioned, do not put surge protectors between these devices and a wall socket.

And be sure to get the software and change the encryption key. Virtually every one of these devices leaves the factory on the same code, and the EOP signals have been known to travel outside of a home’s wiring and cross into neighbors’ networks. That said, I see changing the encryption key as only preventing accidental cross-talk, I don’t have faith/knowledge that it actually provides any protection against determined snooping.

Cross-home anecdote

Forum thread discussing security concerns

Large multistory log house way out in the sticks here. Router is located upstairs in wife’s office, and I installed a pair of power line TP-Links to a PC connected to my TV downstairs about 90 feet away. Both plugged directly into the wall as instructed. I can stream HD all day which is what I use it for. No issues and the devices have been rock solid for me.

I’m afraid that is incorrect for these units. You plug the smaller box into the wired network and the signal is carried to the other unit via the AC supply, which then acts as an independent wi-fi transmitter.

Your comment would be true for a repeater.

I use TP-Link because their kit works. I live in the UK.

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