You know what they say Ė if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. That was my first thought when I first read about Powerline here and here. I mean, you just plug in a couple of adapters and youíve got decent Internet speed even in the most inaccessible nooks of your house? What about the hours trying and failing to set it up, followed by more hours corresponding with technical support, after which you finally get it working only to find itís a bit rubbish? Powerlineís got to be too good to be true, right?
For some time Iíve been bugged by a Wi-Fi issue that will be familiar to many. I live in a house with three floors. My router is on the top floor, where my study is. My living room is on the ground floor, which means that if I want to take my computer downstairs and use the Internet, the wireless signal has to pass through two floors and several walls. The obvious result is that although I get a signal of sorts wherever I am in my house, by the time itís made its way downstairs it is so slow that it makes a lame slug look like Roger Bannister. Thatís not too much of a problem if Iím just reading Web pages, but I can pretty much forget about listening to streaming audio. Which means I canít listen to the cricket in the comfort of my living room without the sound cutting out every few minutes.
As I live in the Czech Republic I canít watch it on the telly or listen to the radio, so I have to rely on the Internet broadcast. It doesnít help that as I describe here
I have to use a proxy server to get round the BBCís stupid ďrights issuesĒ Ė so I spend more time reconnecting than actually listening to the match, and consequently I get more worked up than Geoffrey Boycott does about his Mum and her stick of rhubarb. I have to monitor my blood pressure these days and I darenít measure it after one of these sessions for fear the gauge will melt.
First World problem? Absolutely. Does it irk the crap out of me? You bet it does. Iíve tried all the usual tips for improving reception, of course. Iíve used different routers; Iíve changed the channel and frequency in the router settings; Iíve tried a wireless repeater (which worked for a bit then caused the dreaded yellow triangle to appear over the connection icon); and Iíve demolished all the floors and internal walls in my house. OK, Iím kidding about the last one but it probably would have been about the only thing that would work. That, or setting up the kind of industrial Wi-Fi network businesses use which looks so complicated and expensive that it would be easier to buy tickets for the matches and fly out to watch them live.
Then I came across Powerline which, as the articles I link to at the start explain, involves two simple stages: you use an Ethernet cable to connect your router to an adapter and plug that adapter into the mains, then you plug a second adapter into a mains socket where you want the computer to be and connect it to the computer with another Ethernet cable. The Internet signal simply travels through the mains in your house, from one adapter to another.
I decided to try a Powerline kit from Zyxel. Such is my lack of faith in the reliability of much computer-related stuff that I got the nice salesman who sold me the kit to write a guarantee, in his own blood, stating that I could return the kit when I got home and found it didnít work.
Well, it does work, and how! The first thing I did after setting it up was run a speed test, and I found that I was getting the same speed two floors down through Powerline as I get direct from my router. Whatís more, the cricket commentary came through uninterrupted and I was able to listen to the whole dayís play with no annoying breaks (not even for bad light or rain, as it happened). And just in case youíre interested, England beat Sri Lanka and won the series.
And it was all so simple. Connect a couple of cables and plug a couple of things into the mains. Even I managed to get it right first time. Hell, I reckon it would be simple enough for PE teachers to set up (with a bit of help, perhaps).
There are various Powerline kits available; some are Ethernet only, others create a Wi-Fi hotspot. I went for the simpler and cheaper option, Ethernet only. This means the movement of the computer is limited to the length of my Ethernet cable, but itís not as if I carry my computer around the room while Iím listening to the cricket (unless weíre about to win an Ashes series, perhaps).
Are there any disadvantages to mitigate this rave? A couple perhaps. One of the linked articles suggests you donít put heavy demands on your mains supply (e.g. phone chargers or the microwave) while youíre using Powerline, as this could interfere with the signal. Iíd say thatís a small price to pay. Iíve seen some reviews on Amazon which say that these adapters (not just the Zyxel) fail after a while. This may well be the case, especially if theyíre in use all the time. Iím only going to be using them when thereís cricket on, but if mine do stop working after a relatively short period of time Iíll update. To be honest, Iíd be happy to buy a new kit every year now I know Powerline works. Itís got to be worth it for my blood pressure alone!
I suggest that anyone who is bugged by the same Wi-Fi issues as me looks into this. Itís so refreshing to find a piece of computer technology thatís simple to set up and does exactly what it says on the tin!