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Electric wires as part of the home network

I’ve been having internet connectivity problems with my main home PC ever since we moved into our house over a year ago.

The house configuration and the locations of various computers in the house are such that it only made sense to place the cable modem and the wireless router in the upstairs office, shared by Natasha and Becky. That office sits partially above the garage.

My office is in the basement, almost directly two levels underneath the upper one, with both the reinforced concrete floor of the garage and various piping above the office ceiling getting directly in the way of the wireless signal. Our Wii system, whose home is the family room in the basement, has no problem with streaming Netflix movies, as there is definitely less interference from the building materials in that direction. My work laptop, positioned at my office desk, would get a very low signal wireless signal but manage to stay connected with fairly rare hiccups, probably due to a pretty good wireless capabilities built into a corporate device.

My main desktop would get the same very low signal. It would connect to the network, briskly load a few online pages and then get stuck loading something. If there was no browser activity for a few minutes, it would get stuck on the very first URL request after a period of idleness. Short of pulling out the wireless USB adapter and putting it back after a few seconds in order to reconnect to the network, nothing would work once it got stuck. On some days, I would perform a dozen such re-connects during a couple of hours I needed to spend on my home PC.

I tried a number of things. Changed the router. Changed the adapter. Got rid of one anti-virus software and replaced it with another one (on the unproven theory that behind-the-scenes workings of the software may have been overloading the narrow channel I was getting from the router). Bought a USB extension cord and placed the adapter as far in the corner of the office as I could to get the possibly less obstructed directional flow from the router to the adapter. Some of those things seemingly improved matters at first but quickly deteriorated afterwards back to the same problem.

My next grand idea was to buy a powerful directional antenna to see if it can get and retain stronger signal. I scouted some of those online, but decided to venture into a nearby Best Buy to see what was available over the counter. It turned out that nothing of the kind was. Instead, I came across a couple of power-line adapter kits.

To be fair, my friend and colleague Brian clued me in on this device quite some time ago. I can only chalk it up to my obtuseness that I never quite figured out what exactly he was trying to explain to me when he described a rectangular box that plugs into an electrical outlet and connects via an ethernet cable to a computer, acting as a wired network adapter. If I recall correctly, when I went to get that after he had suggested it, I instead bought a wireless range expander which spectacularly failed to install on my home network and was returned to the store.

Today, searching for that non-existent directional antenna, I accidentally noticed boxes labeled as power-line adapters. After reading through descriptions on the boxes and consulting with a sales assistant – admittedly, considerably less research than I normally prefer to perform before spending more than a few bucks – I took a risk of choosing one and bringing it home. The box contained two identical pieces of hardware. One went into an electrical outlet next to the router upstairs (connected to one of the router ports). The other got plugged into an outlet next to my desktop and connected to the ethernet port in the back of my PC. I did not press any buttons or run any installation. The three lights on each device lit up and just like that I was on my home network without any wireless adapters present.

Given my earlier experience described a few paragraphs above, it may be premature to declare victory here after just an hour or so. But I certainly no longer rely on wireless signal for the connection – I even went to the trouble of removing wireless adapter software from the PC. The important thing is in that last hour, I have seen not a single hint of losing online connectivity. If I start having problems, they will be of a different kind. Which I’ll take, at this juncture. Fingers crossed anyway.

Hooray for technical progress, I say!

Posted in Technology

4 Comments

  1. Sergey Kornilov

    Ilya,

    it’s brilliant. This might be a solution to the problem I was dealing with for a few years. I need to provide a reliable connection to media player in living room and this is exactly what I’m looking for.

    What brand and model have you got?

  2. Ilya

    I got Netgear XET1001 – the simplest in their line. You may need to step up for a media-heavy connection, to one of the XAV models.

  3. MikeB

    I’ve been using a couple of these for some time now. I live in a tall thin townhouse and had been having endless problems with wireless signals vanishing off into the aether. As installing CAT5 wiring was impossible I finally found an online article about powerline ethernet and decided to give it a try. I now have a reliable 100Mb/s connection between the top floor bedroom/study and the basement office that cost me less then $100. I have to say I’m very pleased with the outcome.

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