Do you ever feel like you can’t have your cake and eat it, too? You might feel that way about your internet connection. Ethernet and WiFi are your two main connectivity options. Ethernet is always fast and reliable, but you’ve got to be plugged in. WiFi is more convenient, but then you’ve got to deal with the occasional slowdown or network crash.
Did you know there’s actually a third way to connect to the internet? If you want to enjoy fast and reliable internet speeds but don't want to have to deal with the strenuous task of running Ethernet cables throughout your home, then you might enjoy what a powerline adaptor has to offer.
What’s a powerline adaptor?
A powerline adaptor connects your computer to the internet by using your home’s electrical wiring. With a powerline adaptor, you can truly get the best of both worlds. A powerline adaptor is sometimes called a powerline-Ethernet adaptor because it still uses an Ethernet cable, just in a more limited capacity. Think of it as a hassle-free version of Ethernet.
An Ethernet cable connects your device straight to your home router. Ethernet is great because a cabled connection is typically faster than wireless. But if your device is located far from your router, then you’ll have to string Ethernet cables through your home, which isn’t always easy to do. And cables aren’t exactly the prettiest things to be strewn across the floor. Not only are they unsightly, but they can also be a tripping hazard. You could always run Ethernet cables through your walls, but it costs a lot of money (or time if you’re a do-it-yourselfer) and might not always be feasible in a home with a complex layout or if you rent.
Not only that, but why string Ethernet cables through your walls when there’s already electrical wiring in there? That’s the whole purpose of a powerline adaptor. It connects your device to your home router using the electrical wiring that’s already built into your home.
How does a powerline adaptor work?
A powerline-Ethernet adaptor actually comes with two separate adaptors that you plug into the electrical outlets in your home.
- Plug the first adaptor into an outlet near your router then connect the adaptor to the router via an Ethernet cable.
- Plug the second adaptor into an outlet near your devices then plug your devices into the adaptor
When you connect to the internet, your computer will send a signal to the adaptor that your router’s connected to. The first adaptor will forward the signal to the second adaptor through the electrical wiring. The second adaptor will forward the signal to your router.
Pro tip: Most powerline adaptors must be plugged in directly to the electrical outlet. They might not work if you have them plugged into an extension cord or power strip.
When are powerline adaptors better than WiFi?
WiFi is convenient because you can connect to the internet anywhere in your home, whether you’re sitting at your computer desk or lounging on the couch. The problem with WiFi is that it’s generally slower than a cabled connection. You might not notice the difference if you’re just browsing the web, but you will if you’re gaming, streaming videos, or transferring a large amount of data over the internet. WiFi is also more vulnerable to connection slowdowns or drops. There are just more variables with wireless technology that may cause connection speeds to falter.
You’ll enjoy using powerline adaptors over WiFi if:
- You don’t get a strong or stable WiFi connection in your home
- You want Ethernet-caliber internet speed, but you don’t want to run cables through your home
- You do a lot of video streaming
- You have lots of devices simultaneously connected to the internet
- You transfer a large amount of data over the internet
Powerline adaptors are also great for gaming, especially if you’re an online gamer. If you’re using WiFi when you’re gaming online, a dropped or faltered connection might cause you to lose a match or get defeated by another player. If you want the most seamless, error-free experience when you’re gaming online, it’s best to use a cabled connection like powerline adaptors or Ethernet.
Are powerline adaptors faster than Ethernet?
Most of the time, powerline adaptors have the same connection speeds as Ethernet. But that will depend somewhat on how your building is constructed. If you live in a building that has a very complex electrical layout, then you could possibly have slower connection speeds than Ethernet or WiFi.
The only thing you can do is try both a powerline adaptor and an Ethernet cable to see how they compare. Although an Ethernet cable may be faster than powerline adaptors in some buildings, you might still prefer the convenience that’s provided by powerline adaptors.
How many powerline adaptors can I use?
You can plug in as many pairs of powerline adaptors as you want.
How many devices can I connect to a single powerline adaptor?
You can connect a variety of devices to a single powerline adaptor, you just have to use an Ethernet switch like the HP Ethernet
switch. An Ethernet switch enables you to connect lots of different devices to the internet using a single Ethernet cable. Some switches allow you to plug in as many as 48 different devices although these switches are probably best suited for an office. You could probably get by with an 8-port Ethernet switch for your home.
Just plug your devices into an Ethernet switch, and then connect the Ethernet switch to a powerline adaptor. It’s a great way to connect groups of devices, like a home entertainment system or a printer and computer.
Do powerline adaptors work with the cloud?
You can use powerline adaptors to upload data from your devices to the cloud. Powerline adaptors ultimately connect to your router, which connects to the internet.
Are powerline adaptors secure?
Powerline adaptors are secure, but if you live in an apartment building, condo, or townhouse, then your data could be intercepted by neighbors who share the building’s wiring. However, the best powerline adaptors have point-to-point encryption methods that protect all your data that’s being zipped along with your wiring. Additionally, your router will have its own security methods.
What are the pros and cons of powerline adaptors?
Let’s briefly review the pros and cons of powerline-Ethernet adaptors.
- You don’t have to run Ethernet cables through your home
- Powerline adaptors are typically faster than WiFi
- Powerline adaptors are helpful if you need to connect lots of devices to the internet
- Powerline adaptors must be plugged into a wall and, usually, don’t work when plugged into extension cords, therefore you’ll have fewer electrical outlets available for other uses
- Powerline adaptors are somewhat large and they may take up lots of space at your outlets
If you have a jungle of Ethernet cables growing in your home, or if you’re suffering from poor WiFi connectivity, powerline adaptors might be the tool you need to boost your internet speeds or make your internet connectivity more convenient in your home.
About the Author: Zach Cabading is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Zach is a content creation specialist based in Southern California, and creates a variety of content for the tech industry.