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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Excellent build quality
- Easier than wiring your home
- Simple to use and effective
- Attractive design
- Installation may require an electrician
Power Ethernet Distribution System Review
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.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.