When trying to solve internet coverage problems in your home, the typical solutions most people consider are wired ethernet connections or wireless connectivity. The latter is more convenient because it eliminates messy ethernet cables from the setup. But there is a third option that does not involve lengthy wires. Enter the powerline adapter. We will compare powerline adapter vs. Wi-Fi mesh systems to determine which is better for your home. Let’s get right into it!
Table of Contents
- What Is a Powerline Adapter?
- What Is a Wi-Fi Mesh System?
- Powerline Adapter vs. Wi-Fi Mesh: Video Streaming & Gaming
- Powerline Adapter vs. Wi-Fi Mesh: Coverage
What Is a Powerline Adapter?
As the name suggests, a powerline adapter is a device that uses a building’s power/electrical circuit. And this device uses electrical wiring to transmit data signals.
So a typical powerline adapter setup requires two adapters plugged into wall sockets at different parts of the home. One must be near the router to act as the source adapter.
A powerline adapter with an ethernet cable plugged into a socket
The data will go into the adapter, through the electrical socket to the electrical wiring, and out through the wall outlet on the other side, where it will meet the load adapter. After that, the data will exit the adapter via the ethernet port to your computer, TV, console, or any other device via another ethernet cable.
Therefore, the setup creates a physical/wired network connection from the source to the destination. Powerline adapters have speed ratings of up to 1300Mbps, which are at par with Wi-Fi connections.
Types of Powerline Extenders
These networking adapters come in two other varieties.
Wi-Fi Powerline Extender
Instead of having a wired connection from end to end, this adapter creates a wireless network on the load end because it features a built-in Wi-Fi access point. So you can connect to it via an ethernet cable or Wi-Fi signal. And it can come in single (2.4GHz) or dual-band (2.4GHz & 5GHz) modes.
A Wi-Fi powerline adapter
Pass-Through Powerline Extender
This range extender includes a pass-through socket that you can use to plug in a device requiring power. Such base adapters are ideal for situations where every socket is in use.
A pass-through powerline adapter
Powerline Adapter Pros
- Creates a reliable wired network
- Frees up internet traffic loads from your Wi-Fi network
- Can extend your Wi-Fi
- Flexible and easy to set up
- Can bolt onto or strengthen any network
Powerline Adapter Cons
- Requires wall outlets on both ends to be on the same electrical circuit
- Electrical interference can disrupt the signal
- Possible reliability issues if you create multiple connections
- Loses speeds
- Limited by socket location
- Adapters from different brands can have limited compatibility
- Limited configuration options
What Is a Wi-Fi Mesh System?
A Wi-Fi mesh is a distributed wireless networking architecture with at least three routers. One is a primary or gateway Wi-Fi router unit, while the rest are secondary nodes. The system operates like a Wi-Fi extender unit but with powerful and more reliable signals that give faster internet speeds. You can connect the nodes via wireless signals or ethernet cables.
Mesh Wi-Fi System Pros
- No need for wall outlets
- Maintains connection speeds
- Nodes from different manufacturers can work together but with limited features.
- Multiple configuration options
- Unaffected by electrical interference
Mesh Wi-Fi System Cons
- A bit complex to set up
- Not as reliable as a wired network
Powerline Adapter vs. Wi-Fi Mesh: Video Streaming & Gaming
Wi-Fi networks are not as reliable as wired networks. They can experience packet losses or signal weakness due to various factors, such as distance, obstructions, interference from other wireless devices, etc. So it is always better to connect streaming devices like sticks, boxes, and smart TVs to the internet via a wired connection.
A woman streaming video content
Therefore, a powerline adapter network is better because you will get an uninterrupted viewing experience, especially if the router is far from the streaming device.
The same applies to gaming. Online gaming is not as demanding as streaming when you consider internet speeds. However, it is more sensitive to packet losses and high latency, which can occur in Wi-Fi networks.
An online gamer in action
Mesh networks might give you the flexibility to move around, but there’s always the unreliability factor associated with wireless networks when handling data-intensive tasks. So powerline adapters are better if you want a smooth gaming experience.
Powerline Adapter vs. Wi-Fi Mesh: Coverage
Homes have different designs and sizes. Multi-story houses usually have several dead spots that a single router cannot reach. In such a case, a mesh system is better because you can include as many nodes as you want in the network to cover the entire house.
A Wi-Fi router
Although manufacturers might argue that it is possible to connect as many powerline adapters as you would want, the reality is that they might not work optimally. Or the speeds will be too low.
However, a powerline connection will work if you have a few dead spots. For instance, if you want to get an internet connection from the router in the living room to your computer in the office or gaming room, you can use these networking adapters.
Powerline adapters are not new, but there are a lot of doubts about their performance. So let’s look at the most typical questions about these devices.
Are Powerline Adapters Secure?
They are secure. However, there is a chance that your neighbors can intercept your data via crossover with powerline adapters if you live in a condo, apartment building, or townhouse because you share the same wiring system.
A powerline adapter is plugged into a wall socket.
But the best powerline adapters come with end-to-end encryption. You can activate this setting on each adapter by pairing them. Also, most routers have built-in security features to safeguard your data.
How Fast Is A Powerline Network?
Similar to routers, powerline adapters never achieve the advertised speeds due to several factors, such as:
- Signal travel distance
- Electric wiring in your home
- Appliance interference
So an adapter rated at 500 Mbps will probably achieve half that speed. Therefore, you should buy units with a decent overhead to cater to the signal attenuation. The HomePlug AV2 can achieve such performance and has become the standard because it is sufficient for 4K video streaming.
Are Powerline Adapters Better Than Ethernet?
Powerline adapters can offer the same speeds as ethernet connections, but more environmental and wiring factors affect their performance. The only way to determine the winner is to set up both networks, then do speed tests to measure their performance. Ethernet will win in most cases, but powerline adapters offer convenience.
Two powerline adapters with ethernet cables connected
When Are Powerline Adapters Better Than Wi-Fi?
Both powerline adapters and Wi-Fi connections offer convenience. However, the former is better than the latter in the following scenarios.
A dual-band Wi-Fi router
- If you don’t get strong, stable wireless coverage in your home
- For 4K/8K video streaming and gaming
- If you want ethernet speeds without running cables
- A home with multiple devices connected to the internet
- For transferring large amounts of data online
Can Powerline Adapters From Different Manufacturers Work Together?
Yes, provided they have the HomePlug certification standard. The devices should work even if they have different speed ratings. However, that is on paper. In real-world applications, they might not work, perform poorly, or require a lot of configuration. It is better to buy units from the same manufacturer.
How Do You Install A Powerline Adapter?
The setup process might differ depending on the brand, but there are general steps.
First, plug the two adapters into wall sockets (don’t use extension cables). Next, connect them to your network. Attach an ethernet cable from the source adapter to the router and another internet cable from the load adapter to your device. Complete the process by pressing the pair button on each adapter to link the two for secure data transmission.
Two powerline adapters ready for installation
Some new units can auto-detect each other, making the setup process easier and faster.
And it is possible to add other adapters to the network. You do so by pressing the pair button on any adapter on the existing network and the pair button on the new adapter.
Like Wi-Fi mesh systems, powerline adapters offer convenience over ethernet cabling. But the adapters have specific application areas that make them the best choice over Wi-Fi. And the same applies to the mesh systems. So use adapters for gaming and streaming, then leave Wi-Fi mesh systems for lighter uses like connecting IoT devices, phones, and laptops when working. That’s it for this article. Drop a comment below if you think we left something out, and we’ll be in touch.