Power Ethernet Distribution System Review

AVForums takes a look at an elegant solution to creating a wired network

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Power Ethernet Distribution System Review
SRP: £110.00
We recently reviewed HDanywhere’s distribution system and whilst we were very impressed with its overall performance, it had one obvious drawback - you needed to rewire your home with Cat5e/6/7 cables in order to actually use it. What if you want to distribute digital data around your home but don’t want the hassle, mess and expense of rewiring. Obviously you could go the wireless route but that can lead to issues with interference and reliability; so is there is an alternative that is more robust and ‘grounded’? That cunning segue brings us to the concept of using the power cables already installed in your home as the basis for a wired network. It’s a clever idea that has been around for years but now allows you to distribute bandwidth intensive data. In fact, the transmission speeds can be high enough to send multiple HDTV signals and even 3D content over your power line communication network.

There are a number of competing products available and most, such as Netgear’s Powerline Nano500, involve simply plugging the adapters into a wall socket - using a minimum of two to create a network. However if you are looking for something a little more elegant, there is Power Ethernet’s All-in-One Ethernet Enabled Powerline Socket. Instead of plugging in the adapter you actually replace your existing two-gang wall socket with one of Power Ethernet’s sockets. Obviously there is more effort involved and you lose a wall socket but the results are far more aesthetically pleasing. So let’s take a closer look at the technology behind Power Ethernet’s all-in-one sockets and see how they perform under scrutiny.

Styling and Design

Power Ethernet's basic all-in-one socket is designed to fit into a standard UK two-gang 35mm deep metal backed box. It essentially looks exactly like a double gang wall socket except that where the second socket would normally be placed, there are four managed switch Ethernet ports. The sockets themselves are an attractive design with a well built and solid feel to them. Once properly installed, they certainly offer an elegant and discrete solution to creating a wired network in your home. Beneath the four Ethernet ports are two buttons and three LED lights, which are used for setting up and monitoring the network. The first button is marked R and is used to reset the socket by pressing and holding for three seconds; this wakes the socket up and restarts the fifteen minute timer. Alternatively, if you press and hold the R button for seven seconds, the socket will go into forced hibernation. The second button is the Join/Leave button and you press and hold this until the PLC light flashes, which means the socket is paired with another socket.

The first of the three LED lights shows if the socket is on or off; if on, there is a solid green light and, if off, there is a dimmed red one. Next to the Power light there is the triangular PLC connection light; if this light is off then then there is no Powerline Communication (PLC) network activity. However if this light is flashing green then the socket is in pairing mode. Once it has paired the light will become solid, the colour of which denotes the connection speed. A green light means the detected network has a high transfer speed, suitable for HD video streaming. If the light is orange then the detected network has a medium transfer speed suitable for SD video streaming. Finally, if the light is red, then the detected network has a low transfer speed. The final LED is the Network Activity light and if this is off, then the unit is in sleep mode. The sockets use less than 0.5W when not actively transmitting or receiving data. If the LED is blinking then there is network activity and if it is a solid green, then a network connection is detected.

Setup

The concept behind the Power Ethernet all-in-one socket is simple, you replace one of your existing two-gang sockets in the room where your broadband connection is. You then replace a two-gang socket in another room with another all-in-one socket and thus create a wired network. You will obviously need a minimum of two sockets to create a network but you can have up to a maximum of sixty four sockets in a single Powerline communication network.

Power Ethernet Powerline All-in-One Socket

The actual installation of the sockets is fairly straightforward but if you are in any doubt then you should consult a qualified electrician. For those that want to install the sockets themselves the procedure is as follows. Firstly you will need to switch off the mains and switch off the relevant circuit breaker/fuse before starting the installation. Once this is done you need to remove the old double gang socket from the wall. Then gently remove the front facia of the PE socket using the provided plastic tool and wire up the live, earth and neutral cables. After that secure the socket to the wall using the supplied fixing screws and then clip the facia back into place. You then repeat the procedure for all the other sockets you want to install before switching the power back on. If you need to, you can use spacers for wall sockets with exterior cables running into them. Powerline adapters get warm when in use, so it is also recommended to leave a space for ventilation. It really is that simple and whilst it takes a little more effort and cost than the standard plug-in adaptors, the results are very pleasing aesthetically. It is also a lot easier than getting your home rewired and it might be the only option for a listed building.

Power Ethernet Powerline All-in-One Socket

Once you’ve installed the sockets and turned the power back on, they will all remain awake for fifteen minutes, as indicated by the previously mentioned status lights on the front. This will allow you to go around your home checking that all the sockets are correctly working and connected to each other. After that initial fifteen minutes has elapsed the sockets will all go to sleep, unless there is an active Ethernet connection plugged into them. The fifteen minute timer can be restarted by either power cycling the devices or pressing the reset button for three seconds. Within this fifteen minute window, check that all the sockets are correctly installed and able to communicate with each other. On each socket, check that the power light is green and that the PLC connection light is a solid colour. The sockets will automatically wake up within a few seconds when a device connected via an Ethernet cable is powered up and the Ethernet link becomes active.

Performance

Whilst the sockets are easy to install and setup, what is really impressive about them is that the Powerline communication (PLC) network they create actually works at all. In fact, the concept of running a network over the mains cables within a building has been around for over twenty five years. The earliest versions of Powerline adapters were limited to slow network speeds and didn’t handle the electrical interference very well. However, in the last six years, network speeds have increased dramatically and each successive chip has become better at handling any interference on the mains cable. The Powerline Communication chip used in Power Ethernet's socket is a Qualcomm Atheros INT6400 200AV chipset, which has a gross bandwidth of 200Mbps.

Power Ethernet Powerline All-in-One Socket

A PLC typically operates by superimposing a modulated carrier frequency on the AC signal carried on a power line. A basic PLC system consists of a transmitter unit capable of adding the communication signal to the AC power line signal and a receiver unit capable of separating the communication signal from the AC power component signal. The transmitter generates modulated RF carrier signals at one location in the building, which are coupled to the existing power distribution system via an appropriate coupling network and a receiver at another location receives and demodulates the RF carrier providing the desired transmission of voice and/or data signals from the one location to the other.

A PLC modem is a device that makes it possible to use the mains cables as a communication line. The PLC modem converts digital data from an information processing unit such as a personal computer to analog line data, overlaps the analog line data with a mains cable of a commercial power source, or converts the analog line data inputted through the power line to digital signals and transfers them to the information processing unit. Powerline modems have a wide range of uses, including allowing personal computers to communicate with each other, or with other household devices, without the need for separate data cables. A PLC communication system comprises a series of communication stations connected to a single communication network for rapid exchange of data.

Power Ethernet's approach is unique in that not only is it more attractive than the standard plug-in adapter but it offers not one but four 10/100Mbps Ethernet ports, making it far more flexible. The socket itself is based on the HomePlug AV standard for power line networking and is thus backwards compatible with HomePlug AV products which are compliant with v2.0 or above. Power Ethernet claim that their all-in-one socket uses 100 additional electronic components in order to improve both the network quality and durability of the sockets themselves. The separate units are also paired using 128-bit AES encryption and whilst you won't need them for general use, each socket also has a unique serial number and network password for more use with more secure networks. The built-in managed switch supports VLANS, TOS Bits and Quality of Service (QoS) and the sockets support Windows, Mac, Linux and all operating systems with a RJ45 Ethernet port.

Power Ethernet claim that their sockets can deliver data via Ethernet across a meshed network at up to 200Mbps (gross) and that the range between sockets is up to 300m over the mains cables. This is probably a good place to point out the difference between marketing claims and reality. First of all, the figure of 200Mbps (gross) includes the both the uplink and downlink speeds, so it’s actually 100Mbps each way. However this is fine because the Ethernet ports on the socket are also 10/100Mbps and besides you'll be lucky to get 100MBps over the power line network anyway. Using a bandwidth meter we measured speeds of between 4 and 87Mbps but the overall performance of the network will depend on the state of your home's wiring. It is hard for us to actually test Power Ethernet's claim of a range of up to 300m but again we would take that with a pinch of salt. The same goes for their claim that you can add up to 64 sockets to the network, we obviously only had two for the review but we would be surprised if the network could handle anything like that number. If you want a large network with a lot of devices connected then you would probably be better off getting Ethernet cables installed but for a quick and tidy solution in the average home, these sockets make a great alternative.

In our home environment, we installed one socket in the lounge, where we connected the router and another socket in the office. This allowed us to test the network with a variety of connected devices including laptops, BD players, TVs and games consoles. The sockets worked very well in our tests and we never had any problems when connecting devices to them. In fact, we were genuinely impressed with both the professional look of the Power Ethernet sockets and their ability to create a highly effective network in my cottage. Given the age of the wiring in our home environment, we were worried that the sockets wouldn't be able to create a viable network or that the network would be too slow. However, not only were the sockets easy to install but the results were excellent and provide a genuine alternative to our WiFi which, due to the thickness of the walls, can be a bit touch and go at times. They also provide an effective way of creating a wired network, without all the cost and disruption of having one installed, resulting in an attractive solution that might be ideal for those living in a listed building.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Excellent build quality
  • Easier than wiring your home
  • Simple to use and effective
  • Attractive design

Cons

  • Installation may require an electrician
  • Price

Power Ethernet Distribution System Review

Power Ethernet's all-in-one sockets provide an excellent solution to anyone wanting to create a wired network in their home without all the cost, mess and disruption of having one installed. Whilst the sockets themselves may be slightly more expensive than the normal plug-in adapters, the results look far more attractive and professional. Installation is very straightforward, although we would recommend using a qualified electrician in the interests of safety. The build quality of the sockets themselves is excellent and Power Ethernet claim that their sockets use nearly a hundred additional electronic components in order to improve both the network quality and durability of the sockets themselves. They also include four 10/100Mbps Ethernet ports rather than the standard one, which makes them more flexible. In terms of other specifications, the sockets are paired using 128-bit AES encryption and support Windows, Mac, Linux and all operating systems with a RJ45 Ethernet port. Power Ethernet claim that their sockets can deliver data via Ethernet across a meshed network at up to 200Mbps (gross) and that the range between sockets is up to 300m over the mains cables.

The setup was very simple and thanks to the LED lights we were quickly able to establish a working, secure and robust network. We found that the sockets performed very well in testing and we connected a variety of devices including laptops, BD players, TVs and games consoles without any problems. Of course Power Ethernet's claim of 200Mbps gross combines both the uplink and downlink speeds which means that the maximum is 100Mbps each way. However, since the Ethernet ports are 10/100Mbps that has no real bearing on the performance and besides, you'll be lucky to get 100 Mbps over a Powerline network anyway. We were genuinely impressed with both the professional look of the Power Ethernet sockets and their ability to create a highly effective network in our testing environment. Of course, this approach is never going to fully replace a proper installed network and despite Power Ethernet's claim that up to 64 sockets can be installed into a network, it's highly unlikely your power lines could handle that.

As a quick and tidy solution to creating a wired network at home, the Power Ethernet all-in-one sockets deliver the goods. They retail for £110 each but obviously you'll need two to create a network, so the minimum outlay is around £220 plus the cost of an electrician. This is considerably less than getting your home wired with Ethernet cable but is more than most plug-in adapters, although you're paying for the looks as much as the performance. However, if you're an AVForums member you can buy the sockets from Power Ethernet for £96 each, which is handy. Ultimately, the Power Ethernet all-in-one sockets provide an elegant and professional looking solution to the problem of creating a wired network at home. They may be slightly more expensive than normal plug-in solutions but the aesthetics, flexibility and performance make up for that.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Verdict

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
9

Ease of Use

.
9

Connection Speed

.
.
8

.
.
8

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
.
7
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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