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Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring (Read 32786 times)
MrMagoo
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Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Mar 2nd, 2009 at 1:37am
 
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We had a tech from our Internet Service Provider come out to the house today (to install wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring). But I didn't know he was here (cuz he was working over in the main house).


Could you tell us a little more about this?  I'm really interested in what you did and how well it is working for you.  Is it to connect computers in various parts of the house?  How many rooms?  What kinds of outlets does your computer plug into?  What kind of speed is it supposed to give you?  Have you had a chance to test it?

Maybe just a link to what you had done?

Networking is what I enjoy most about computers, and I haven't heard of any ISP installing this type of network before.
 
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Rad
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #1 - Mar 2nd, 2009 at 1:57am
 
Hi.

First, did you have any trouble logging on to the new forum?

Yes, I actually spoke with the tech about this, cuz I found it interesting.

He brought two gizmos with him. One (with 3 small green LED lights) plug into the wall socket (electrical outlet) under the desk, and the other end plugs into the network connection on the laptop.

I don't use this method myself, as my wireless works fine. But the laptop in the main house (where the router/gateway is located) was having problems dropping the wireless connection (.. wierd, cuz this laptop is located much closer to the router/gateway than mine).

The other gizmo plugs into a wall outlet near the router/gateway, with the network cable part of this gizmo plugged into the router/gateway.

They want you to plug the gizmo DIRECTLY into wall outlet .. and NOT a powerstrip, cuz they don't want any extra current flow thru wiring. A regular simple extension cord is also okay. A powerstrip, they say, will also work, but is less reliable, depending on number on extra current-sucking devices plugged in, and how much current these devices consume .. which can interfere with the data connection.

Devices are roughly size of a small fist. Black plastic, with some green LEDs, with 6-foot cable attached, to plug into date port. CAT-5 cabling type of stuff.
 
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Dan Goodell
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #2 - Mar 2nd, 2009 at 7:09am
 
I've been sticking powerline networking in homes for a few years now.  Here's the text from an epinions.com review I wrote in 2005 about the Netgear XE102, an early version of these products:

    There simply can't be an easier way to extend your existing home network into parts of the house which don't have cat5 wiring in the walls. Just plug one of these into an electrical outlet near your router, and connect it to your router with an ethernet cable. Now carry another XE102 into any room of the house, plug it into an electrical outlet, and you've got an instant 10baseT port to your LAN. It's that easy! No on/off switches, no buttons, no drivers, no configuration, no software to install. Add one additional XE102 for each additional computer (e.g., four XE102's if you want to hookup 3 computers to your router through the powerline network).

    It does come with an installation CD, but that's only for changing the passwords in the units so only XE102's with the same password can communicate with each other. This is handy if you're in an apartment and don't want the neighbors sneaking into your LAN over the building's electrical wiring.

    I copied a large file across the LAN to test data throughput. With two of these adapters on outlets close to each other, throughput was roughly 7 mbps. This dropped to 2.4 mbps when the adapters were at opposite ends of the house and through a 25' extension cord (probably 90' total, as the electrical wire runs)--an extreme case. Okay, not 100baseT speed and not great for frequent file sharing, but good enough for internet sharing, and it doesn't get any easier than this.

    Oh, don't plug it into a surge strip--the filters in the surge strip hinder passage of the network traffic piggybacking on the power line.

I should also have mentioned that you also want your outlets to be on the same leg coming from the circuit panel of the house's electrical system.

Shortly after writing that, I moved to using the faster Linksys PLE200 instead of the 10mbps XE102s.  The PLE200 was just as simple and reliable, but faster.  In typical use I've seen throughput around 50-80 mbps--nowhere near its rated 200mbps, but faster and more consistent than wireless-g.

I still prefer wireless for laptops that roam around the house, but if you're connecting desktops these things can provide a reliable network connection when running cat5 isn't practical, and without the dropouts and configuration headaches of wireless connections.  

BTW, just for comparison, phoneline networking is far more trouble to configure, so there's simply no reason ever to use phoneline adapters when these powerline units are so drop-dead simple.  I like them.


 
 
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #3 - Mar 2nd, 2009 at 10:15am
 
Back in the day when I used to work for Earthlink Technical Support, we pushed the powerline ethernet concept.  As previsoulys stated above, the speeds aren't by any means phenomenal, but for what an everyday user might do, substantial enough that they can be productive on the internet.

I still have a set or two around the house as a fall back if I get a computer that has questionable wireless capabilities. Nostalgic if anything else for me. Good products though.
 

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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #4 - Mar 2nd, 2009 at 8:04pm
 
Ok, thanks guys.  I'm familiar with powerline networking.  I mention it in my wireless guide as an alternative to wireless.

Computerworld did a good comparison on several of the devices a few weeks ago:

http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleI...

I still prefer wires, even if I have to string them along the ceiling.  Although I did finally install wireless in my house for my laptop.  I'm paranoid about the security of it though...
 
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #5 - Mar 3rd, 2009 at 2:18am
 
Interesting. Could someone let me know the rate, in MB/sec, one could expect when transferring a large file between two computers on a powerline network. I assume three adapters would be needed for this test.
 
 
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Dan Goodell
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #6 - Mar 4th, 2009 at 7:24am
 
The link MrMagoo provided shows transfer rates not that different from my own, less comprehensive tests.

Like MrMagoo, I also prefer wired ethernet, but the powerline units are darned convenient when running wires isn't practical, and results in fewer service calls than wifi installations.  In typical non-techie households, where the residents are only sharing internet and rarely do any computer-to-computer file sharing, there's not much of a downside.

Many installations I've done were in leased/rented properties where cutting holes here and there wasn't allowed.  In one case, hiding cat6 wasn't practical because the house had cathedral ceilings and concrete slab floors.  In another, the floor was raised but split-level floors and concrete foundation walls made it more labor-intensive (read: costly) to connect different parts of the house from underneath.  In another, an upstairs and a downstairs room were only about 35' apart, but between them was a kitchen, numerous appliances, furnace, and massive hvac ductwork that seriously attenuated a wifi signal between rooms.



 
 
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #7 - Mar 4th, 2009 at 3:40pm
 
Dan,

I'm confused about those results. I think they are testing a single hop power line connection. One computer connected to the router by power line and the other computer connected to the router by a cable. That's my understanding. If both computers were connected to the router by power line I think the transfer rates would be slower.
 
 
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #8 - Mar 4th, 2009 at 6:04pm
 
Brian,

The stream test as described in the article was one computer plugged into a powerline adapter plugged directly into an outlet, and another computer plugged into a powerline adapter which connected to the same outlet through a long extension cord.  The files were transfered directly between the two computers.

He also did other tests plugging the second adapter into various places such as the same outlet directly and another outlet and reported the results separately.  By my reading, it doesn't look like a router was involved in these tests.
 
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #9 - Mar 4th, 2009 at 6:38pm
 
MrMagoo,

Thanks for that. So I guess it still makes it one hop power line, if the one hop term is applicable. Analogous to a crossover cable between two NICs.

I'm just trying to relate it to my situation. All my computers are connected via wireless because of house design. I'd prefer cables but that's not to be. In testing, transferring a large file from one computer to another is twice as fast if one computer is connected to the router by a cable (cable lying on the floor). That's why I am curious about two hop power line. I don't need power line, I'm just curious.

Edit... I think I'm catching on. The router is irrelevant for file transfer with power line.
 
 
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Dan Goodell
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #10 - Mar 4th, 2009 at 11:26pm
 
Well, we should clarify that these connections are not as straightforward as a simple lan switch.  I think these powerline devices are technically called bridges--but now we're getting beyond my level, so MrMagoo or somebody else will need to explain what that means.

Since we're correcting terminology, I suppose we should also point out that the way the term "router" is commonly used isn't technically correct.  The typical consumer box is really a combo of both a router and a switch, with the router connected to the switch and the lan cables plugged into the switch's ports.  The switch is part of the local network, and the router part interconnects the two networks, isp and local.  We connect computers to the switch, not the router.  Some boxes also include a third device--a wireless access point that is connected to the switch.

Local packets through a switch goes in one switch port and out another.  Wifi to ethernet are connected access point to switch.  Wifi to wifi goes to/from the access point, but I don't think it goes through the switch.  Powerline to powerline goes ... ???

MrMagoo, how am I doing?


 
 
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #11 - Mar 5th, 2009 at 1:04am
 
Dan Goodell wrote on Mar 4th, 2009 at 11:26pm:
MrMagoo, how am I doing?

Not bad at all.  I'll fill in the details.

You bring up some good misunderstandings that most people have.  Most home routers are actually a 1-port router with a 4-port switch on the back.  (Although you can think of the switch connecting to an internal 'port' on the router.)  

Routers

A router can connect networks at the network layer, or layer 3 of the OSI stack.  Routers help computers on different subnets of the network talk to each other by providing a gateway (noted as the 'default gateway' in your IP settings.)  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OSI_model

More importantly to home users, these home routers also usually do Network Address Translation.  This allows you to use an address like 192.168.x.x on your computer.  An address in that range would never be seen on the public internet and for that reason can be reused in any household behind a router capable of doing NAT.  This allows you to have as many computers as you want in your house sharing internet even though your ISP most likely only gives you 1 public IP address (an IP address that IS allowed on the internet.)  Clear as mud?

Switches

The switch that you connect your computers to on the back of the 'router' works on Layer 2 of the OSI model.  Switches don't see IP addresses, only MAC addresses.  So, it is involved in one computer talking to the other within your own network.  However, it does have enough circuitry to read the MAC address and route traffic directly to the correct port on the switch that needs it.  In other words, each port has its own, isolated set of wires and circuitry and every switch port could communicate at full speed all the time.

Another device that you may still hear about but wouldn't likely buy anymore is a hub.  Hubs actually work at layer 1 - the physical layer.  They only connect the wires together - like a really sophisticated splice of all your cables.  

This means that the entire network is shared between all the computers connected to a hub - as opposed to on a switch where each computer has its own dedicated segment on the network.  This allows computers on switch to use full duplex communication (that is, they can talk and listen at the same time.)  Computers connected to a hub must use half duplex since every computer hears what ever computer says - even themselves.  That makes shared mediums like hubs slower networks (and more prone to error.)

Wireless

The wireless access point is almost like hub connected to the switch (but without wires, obviously.)  The logical difference is that the wireless access point is smart enough to keep track of the different nodes that are connected to it and provide encryption, while a hub is a completely dumb device.  This is a big part of the reason you never get the advertised speeds on a wireless network.  It is a shared network.  

The other reason wireless networks are slow is that the top speed is measured by burst speeds, and the bursts are very short (a few tens of miliseconds.)  That's why wireless networks do fine with small amounts of data like web browsing but choke up with something like a large file transfer.

Powerline

Now, a bridge can be thought of as a 2-port switch.  In this case, each side of the switch connects to a different kind of network (so it bridges two dissimilar networks.)  One switch port goes to an ethernet network (your computer, router, or a bigger switch or router if you want to do that.)  The other 'port' goes to the powerline network.

The powerline network is a shared medium.  All the computers on the powerline network are sharing the same wires (or they couldn't communicate.)  So we are in the same situation as the hub, only the splicing is done at your electrical box instead of in a nice hub.

Powerline networking also has to contend with the fact that those wires were never meant to carry data traffic.  There is often more than one isolated power leg in your house, and outlets on different legs will likely not be able to communicate.  Also, there is a lot of wire there that you don't need.  An ethernet cable is going to go straight from source to destination.  Your electrical cables go to every switch and outlet in the house.  Now, add to the fact that there is noise from both electricity and every radio signal any wire in the house happens to pick up, and you have a hostile environment for data.

With that in mind, they work pretty well.  Like Dan said, sometimes ethernet and wireless are both not options for whatever reason, and powerline will get the job done.  

There is also a similar technology (HPNA) that allows you to use your phone lines to connect computers.  It works better than powerline (since phone lines are better suited to carrying data than electrical cable,) but is usually at least twice as expensive.  Home Phoneline Network Alliance gear really comes in handy for its range.  Phone lines will get you up to 1000 ft, and similar gear will give you several thousand feet over coax, so it will really get to the back corners of your mansion like wireless couldn't dream of.  Speeds are decent, too, advertised up to 320 Mb/s.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HomePNA

For Price/Performance, there is still nothing that beats Cat5 and Ethernet.  If you can get a wire, you should.

 
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #12 - Mar 5th, 2009 at 1:21am
 
Brian wrote on Mar 4th, 2009 at 6:38pm:
In testing, transferring a large file from one computer to another is twice as fast if one computer is connected to the router by a cable (cable lying on the floor).

And now we can see why this is.  With one computer using an ethernet wire, it is one less computer on the shared wireless network.  This makes a big difference with wireless because wireless is actually less than half-duplex.  

First, one computer takes its turn on the wireless network to send a piece of data to the router, then pauses.  The router then takes a turn to send that data on to the destination computer, then pauses.  Then the source computer sends the next piece and pauses.  The cycle continues, always only one computer on the wireless network per turn.

With one computer on wires, you get half the pauses, leading to almost twice the speed.

With powerline, you are getting closer to true half-duplex, so I don't think the speed difference would be as dramatic with one computer on ethernet.  Data can go straight from source to receiver without going through the router.
 
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #13 - Mar 5th, 2009 at 1:54am
 
Incredibly interesting information!
 
 
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Re: Rad: wired connections, using the home's pre-existing electrical wiring
Reply #14 - Mar 5th, 2009 at 4:04am
 

Thanks for the fine detail, MrMagoo.

"a bridge can be thought of as a 2-port switch."


That's a very helpful description.  Assuming a configuration with powerline adapters as extensions to a common ethernet home lan, I wasn't sure what happened with file transfers between two computers on powerline adapters.  I didn't know whether the data had to travel up the electrical wiring to the router/switch and then back down to the other adapter.  Thinking of the bridges as switches makes it easier to understand that the traffic goes straight across.


"(HPNA) works better than powerline (since phone lines are better suited to carrying data than electrical cable,) but is usually at least twice as expensive."


And harder to find, IME.  You just can't find hpna stuff at newegg, or Fry's, or Best Buy, for instance.

One thing I really like about the powerline adapters is that you don't have to alter the computers--just plug in an ethernet cable.  What I haven't liked about hpna adapters is that you have to install special drivers, and the installation CD invariably piles all sorts of crapware onto your machine while installing the driver.  And when it doesn't work, it's a lot harder to try and troubleshoot exactly where the problem is.

It's also harder to mate it to an ethernet lan, right?  You'd need to find a hpna-to-ethernet bridge, or you'd need to put two adapters, hpna and ethernet, in one computer and use it as a bridge.



 
 
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