Grem­lin in the wires

Finweek English Edition - - TECH TRENDS - SIMON DINGLE si­mond@fin­

POW­ER­LINE NET­WORK­ING technology is noth­ing new. It al­lows a com­puter net­work to be es­tab­lished us­ing con­ven­tional elec­tric­ity ca­bling in­stead of the usual eth­er­net ca­bling or wire­less con­nec­tions. At one stage it was go­ing to be used to de­liver con­sumer broad­band ser­vices by Eskom, but that never hap­pened. How­ever, home kits have be­come avail­able for es­tab­lish­ing lo­cal area net­works for homes and busi­nesses and read­ers have asked for more in­for­ma­tion about this technology. Your wish is our com­mand.

Eth­er­net ca­bling is the best way to es­tab­lish a home or of­fice net­work, but the cable it­self has to be pulled through the walls – so it’s not ter­ri­bly con­ve­nient. Wire­less is eas­ier in that re­gard but has limited speeds and suf­fers from ob­struc­tions and the like. The prom­ise of Pow­er­line eth­er­net is speeds sim­i­lar to eth­er­net with sim­plic­ity akin to wire­less. Would that it worked. Un­for­tu­nately, my ex­pe­ri­ence with the technology wasn’t great, to say the least.

The prod­uct we test is the Belkin Pow­er­line AV Starter Kit, which in­cludes two net­work points and eth­er­net ca­bles to con­nect them to your com­put­ing de­vices. To in­stall the sys­tem you sim­ply plug in the points – al­though we re­quired Bri­tish plug adapters – and sync them up. That was sim­ple enough. We con­nected one end to an ex­ist­ing router and the other to a com­puter. The lights on the adapters showed they were con­nected and that sig­nal qual­ity was good.

And that was as far as we got. Net­work traf­fic was clearly flow­ing through the points but the com­puter used in the test wasn’t re­ceiv­ing a us­able ad­dress from the router. In­stead, it seemed to pick up set­tings from the pow­er­line adapters – with the re­sult it couldn’t con­nect to the In­ter­net or other lo­cal com­put­ers via the router. That also limited our abil­ity to test con­nec­tion speeds.

Though it’s pos­si­ble the pow­er­lines we were us­ing were just sim­ply so bad in qual­ity the net­work was un­us­able, the same thing hap­pened when the adapters were plugged into two ad­ja­cent plug points on the same sec­tion of ca­bling. In­di­ca­tor lights also sug­gested that con­nec­tion was good.

This is a great technology in prin­ci­ple but we just couldn’t get it to work. So you might want to get a techie in to help you if you de­cide to go for it. But there’s a big­ger prob­lem fac­ing this prod­uct: it’s so ex­pen­sive in South Africa you could ac­tu­ally save money by get­ting some­one in to run eth­er­net ca­bling through­out your house – which kind of negates the whole thing in the first place.

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