What Is a Powerline Adapter & How Does It Work?

A Powerline adapter allows you to connect to your internet through your home’s electrical wiring. These offer similar benefits to Ethernet. But without cable management.
What Is a Powerline Adapter & How Does It Work

I’ve saved you hours of reading through whitepapers and watching videos by compiling all of the information you’ll need.

To figure out what Powerline adapters are, I’ll cover information like:

  • What are they and their types
  • How they work
  • Pros and cons
  • Who needs them
  • How they compare to alternative devices

Let’s begin.

What Is a Powerline Adapter?

A Powerline, or PowerLAN, adapter connects devices to your router through your home’s electrical wiring. These devices make it so you can extend your Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections to devices throughout your home.

You will find Powerline adapters with speeds starting at 62.5 megabits per second (Mbps). At most, you’ll find 200Mbps [1].

These speeds aren’t ideal for running public servers. However, they’re ideal for streaming and gaming.

How Do Powerline Adapters Work: How Do You Set Them Up?

These adapters always come as a pair. You’ll plug the first one in an outlet that’s near your router. From there, you’d connect it to your router with an Ethernet cable.

These plugged adapters will create a Powerline network.

Once that’s done, plug the second adapter in an outlet near a device you’d want to power.

When you connect your device to the internet, the second adapter will send a signal to your first. From there, the first adapter will transfer a signal through your electrical outlet to the second. And the second adapter will forward your signal back to the router.

An infographic that displays how Powerline adapters work.

If you opt for a Powerline Wi-Fi extender, you won’t need to connect an Ethernet cable from your second PowerLAN. We’ll dive more into that in a second.

Here are a couple of important tidbits to keep in mind. You can use as many adapters as you want. And these adapters may not work when used in a power strip.

Types of Powerline Extenders

First, there are pass-through Powerline adapters. These are beneficial for anyone—like me—who needs available plug outlets.

Pass-through adapters have alternating current (AC) plug connectors. These give your adapter an outlet to use for other appliances and devices.

Conversely, Powerline Wi-Fi extenders are almost identical to the original PowerLAN. In addition to transmitting your Ethernet connection, it’ll also send your Wi-Fi signal.

These adapters come in dual- or single-band mode. If you go with a dual-band, you’ll have a 5Ghz or 2.4Ghz frequency. With a single band, you’ll only have 2.4Ghz.

You can use many combinations of Powerline adapters to create a stable network.

How Are Powerline Wi-Fi Extenders Different From Range Extenders?

Both devices allow you to send your Wi-Fi to hard-to-reach areas in your home. However, each one has different use cases.

The device that you’ll choose depends on various factors. Here are some differences that you’ll want to keep in mind:

Powerline AdapterWi-Fi Extender
Electrical wiring and quality influences your signalThick walls affect your signal
Travels through thick wallsNo Ethernet port requirement
Internet access from any applicable outletFlexible placement
No drilling requiredBetter for short- to medium distances
Better for video streaming and gamingCan add latency to your network
Wired- and wireless connectionsWorks with any router
This table displays the differences between Wi-Fi extenders and Powerline adapters.

If you’re like me and have poor electrical wiring in your home, you’re better off using a range extender for shorter distances.

You may have thick walls, though. In that scenario, using mesh Wi-Fi may serve as your best option [2]. That’s if you have a lot of money lying around.

Don’t know whether your home has good wiring? I recommend getting both devices. First test the PowerLAN. Do you notice slow speeds?

Troubleshoot potential network bottlenecks. If those fixes don’t work, don’t return your Powerline, yet.

If you have extra outlets or use a pass-through adapter, pair your Wi-Fi extender and adapter. First, find a short Ethernet cable. Connect one end to your adapter and the other to your extender.

Doing this will result in your extender providing more coverage and faster speeds.

Pros and Cons of Using Powerline Adapters

PowerLAN will never surpass Ethernet. The latter will always beat the former in security, reliability, and speed. These adapters give you a lot of flexibility, though.

They also offer various benefits over Wi-Fi. Whether you use one of these adapters will depend on these pros and cons:

Can reduce Wi-Fi demandImpacted by electrical interference
Plug-and-playOnly works if all adapters are on the same circuit
More affordableMore adapters will lead to performance loss
Faster and more stable than Wi-FiDifferent brand adapters won’t work with each other
No complex installationCan obscure adjacent plugs
This table displays the pros and cons of using Powerline adapters.

With pass-through adapters, you can bypass the last con. But the other downsides will depend on your use cases. For instance, you may not want to use them if you need to power multiple devices throughout your home.

Who Needs Powerline Adapters?

PowerLAN is ideal for large houses with multiple floors. Many would opt for Wi-Fi extenders by now, but Powerline adapters can provide wireless signals through thick floors and walls.

If you’re renting an apartment or a home, you may want a wired internet connection. Instead of drilling holes in your walls for Ethernet, these adapters help you save your deposit.

These adapters will only work if you use them on the same electrical circuit.

Powerline Adapters vs. Wi-Fi

While Wi-fi 6 offers various improvements, it doesn’t compare to a wired connection. For instance, you could face performance issues if you have thick walls.

Since you can use Powerline adapters almost anywhere in your home, you can have the flexibility of Wi-Fi and the speed benefits of Ethernet.

Mesh Wi-Fi enhances your network’s signal. They’re similar to range extenders, but instead, replace your router’s network. These are expensive.

Even if you don’t use Ethernet for all of your devices, you may still want to choose wireless Powerline adapters. They utilize wiring in your home and cost less.

Also, they don’t take much time to set up. Mesh Wi-Fi requires configuration. And for an optimal Mesh setup, you’ll need some technical knowledge.

Are Powerline Adapters Good for Gaming?

Powerline adapters are great for casual online gaming and low-end streaming. That’s because they offer more latency reduction than Wi-Fi. They aren’t an ideal solution, though.

When gaming in a competitive scene, hosting a server, or streaming in 4K, don’t take risks. If you can run Ethernet cables from your device to a router, do so.

They’ll give you more latency reduction and a reliable connection.

Wrapping Up

Powerline adapters have their shortcomings, but they’re still an affordable alternative to running Ethernet cables. These adapters offer more speed and reliability than Wi-Fi and range extenders.

Because of these perks, Powerline adapters are beneficial for homes with thick floors and walls.

Get a new router and optimize your home network today. We’ve researched and compiled all of the best routers by internet server provider (ISP). Check them out.

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