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Ethernet Over Power?! A Complete Guide to Powerline Adapters

Learn about Powerline adapters and how they can solve your connectivity problems. How do Powerline adapters compare to Wi-Fi and other solutions?

Powerline Adapter Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

Last Updated: December 3, 2021

Written by Kevin Jones

What Are Powerline Adapters?

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A pair of Powerline adapters allows you to use AC wiring for Ethernet communication. Powerline adapters behave like an extension for an Ethernet cable. You can create an Ethernet network by simply plugging a pair of Powerline adapters into your wall outlets. Powerline adapters can communicate over the same wires as you use for AC power transmission.

Check out my Recommended Powerline Adapters below.

NETGEAR Powerline Adapter Kit, 2000 Mbps NETGEAR Powerline Adapter Kit, 2000 Mbps Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Use Cases for Powerline Adapters

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  • Use existing home wiring as a replacement for Ethernet cables.
  • Extend wireless coverage.
  • Backhaul for a Mesh Wi-Fi System (i.e., a wired backbone for the Wi-Fi satellites).
  • Get Internet access into hard-to-reach places in your home.
  • Use wired connections to avoid Wi-Fi interference from neighbors.
  • Avoid the latency of Wi-Fi while playing games on consoles and computers.
  • A secure alternative to Wi-Fi.

Pros and Cons of Powerline

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Pros:

  • Easy wiring using existing power outlets (connect an Ethernet cable)
  • Low cost (compared to MoCA adapters)
  • Encrypted (some products)
  • Up to a 300-meter range
  • Some models have built-in Wi-Fi
  • Plug and play setup (no configuration required)

Cons:

  • Often a lower connection speed of around 150-350 Mbps compared to the advertised 1-2 Gbps
  • Powerline devices need to be on the same electrical circuit
  • May cause noticeable electromagnetic interference with some devices such as speakers (static sound)
  • Power strip, GFCI outlets, and AFCI circuit breakers may degrade Powerline network signals
  • Some models block an outlet when connecting directly into a wall outlet

Powerline vs. Alternatives

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Ethernet Cable & Alternatives Setup Complexity Supported Speeds Supported Distance Latency Reliability
Ethernet Cable - Ethernet over Twisted Pair (e.g., Cat 6a) Excellent Excellent Good Excellent Excellent
Powerline - Ethernet over Powerline Excellent Fair Good Fair Poor
MoCA - Ethernet over Coax Good Good Good Good Good
Wi-Fi - Wireless Good Fair Fair Poor Fair

MoCA

Suppose you're looking for an alternative to Ethernet cables and Wi-Fi. In that case, we believe that MoCA (Ethernet over Coax) is the clear winner compared to Powerline due to the faster speeds and better signal quality. However, there are still some use cases where Powerline may be the best solution. Powerline is a little easier to set up than MoCA. MoCA adapters require coax cabling in your rooms, which may not exist in your case.

Suppose you don't need to use the total capacity of your Internet connection, or your Internet speeds are low already. In that case, Powerline adapters may be the best of the two options for you, as they offer a lower price point.

On the other hand, MoCA adapters are a better option when you want to fully utilize a high-speed Internet connection and have existing coax cabling between rooms.

You could also consider using both! For example, MoCA adapters might work great for connecting an upstairs and downstairs via coax. At the same time, Powerline adapters would be great for getting Internet to a garage that has no coax line available.

Learn more about MoCA adapters in my article, Ethernet Over Coax?! A Complete Guide to MoCA Adapters.

For even more alternatives, check out my article, The 6 Best Ethernet Cable Alternatives for Home Networks.

Are Powerline Adapters Good for Gaming?

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Powerline adapters will work for providing high-speed Internet to your gaming computer or console, but they are not your best option.

Powerline adapters have lower latency than Wi-Fi, which is good. However, they do not have the same reliability or speed compared to their alternatives.

Suppose you have coax cabling in your home. In that case, MoCA adapters are a better option, as they provide faster speeds and better reliability.

Ethernet cables (e.g., Cat 6a cable) will always provide the fastest, most reliable, and lowest latency solution.

Do Powerline Adapters Need to Be on the Same Circuit?

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Powerline adapters require that each adapter be on the same circuit. They can be on one or more circuit breakers, but they need to be using the same wire from your power company's transformer.

This requirement means that in some cases, you may only be able to use powerline adapters between particular rooms, depending on your home's wiring.

Many houses in the US have a split circuit panel with a 120-volt circuit down each side. A two-pole split circuit panel will effectively partition your rooms into two circuits. These circuits are sometimes referred to as having different or multiple phases.

Technically, you may be able to get Powerline adapters to communicate across multiple phases. However, the performance impact will be considerable, and the connection may be intermittent if it works at all.

More specifically, many homes in the US support higher-powered 240-volt outlets by combining two 120 volt hot leads in a two-pole breaker. Each of the 120-volt leads has a wire going to the power company's transformer. The 120-volt breakers that go to various rooms will alternate between the two poles in the electrical panel. For example, the odd-numbered breakers may connect to one pole, while the even-numbered breakers may connect to the other. Only rooms on the same pole will communicate at high speed via Powerline.

US homes without 240-volt outlets, such as apartments with a gas stove and no laundry appliances, might use a single-pole breaker. In this case, all rooms will be on the same circuit.

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  • This model includes some great features:

    • An extra passthrough Ethernet port
    • An extra outlet (although the device will block part of a second wall outlet)
    • 2 Gbps (theoretical) speeds
    • Support for encryption
  • Check the latest price of the NETGEAR Powerline 2000 Mbps Adapter Kit on Amazon (affiliate link).

    NETGEAR Powerline Adapter Kit, 2000 Mbps NETGEAR Powerline Adapter Kit, 2000 Mbps Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Additional accessories you may need: Tripp Lite Cat6a 10G Patch Cable 3ft Tripp Lite Cat6a 10G Patch Cable 3ft Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Will a Powerline Adapter Work With an Ethernet Switch?

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A Powerline adapter will work with an Ethernet switch. Using an Ethernet switch, you can connect as many devices as you want to your home network.

Ethernet switches, also called network switches, connect multiple devices via Ethernet cables. Ethernet switches are different from routers. An Ethernet switch connects multiple devices within your local area network. In contrast, a router connects your local area network (LAN) to the internet's wide area network (WAN). Routers with multiple ports or Wi-Fi support are logically three separate devices: a router, a switch, and a Wi-Fi access point.

Will the Powerline Network Be Slower With an Ethernet Switch?

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Suppose you use an Ethernet switch at least as fast as the Powerline adapter and the rest of your network adapter speeds. In that case, adding an Ethernet switch will not reduce the overall network speed. Using a 1 Gbps switch should be adequate for most use cases.

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  • The TL-SG108 is a well-known and reliable network switch.
  • I own this exact switch model and have been using it without any problems for many years.
  • It supports Ethernet speeds of up to 1 Gbps.
  • Due to the fanless design, it is silent.
  • It uses solid capacitors, which means that it should last a long time.
  • It's an unmanaged switch, meaning that it's plug and play, and no configuration is required. TP-Link TL-SG108 - 8 Port Gigabit Unmanaged Ethernet Network Switch TP-Link TL-SG108 - 8 Port Gigabit Unmanaged Ethernet Network Switch Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

Building Your Network

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If you want to learn more about internet equipment, networking, wiring, or troubleshooting, check out these articles:

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