Powerline Ethernet is a relatively new concept, that uses the existing electrical wires within a house to deliver wired networking capabilities to different parts of a house. I had been following the development of the standard with anticipation for a few years now, but I was not apparently paying attention as the technology was commercialized relatively quickly.
I came upon the commercial implementations anew, when I was looking for a solution to help extend the wireless range of my ageing router. Wireless repeaters were a potential option, but the idea of taking a degrading signal to re-broadcast it was not something that I appreciated for just an aesthetic point of view. Further, that would also constrain the location of the repeater and leave me open to the need for additional repeaters.
Enter Powerline networking and in particular a company called TP Link. After a bunch of research, I figured I was not sure if this would even work in my house and was not willing to pay the premium of a recognized brand. TP Link was a good balance between positive reviews and price.
Turns out, using the electrical wires in the house to transmit Ethernet signals is ridiculously easy.
You need a couple of pieces of hardware to get things going. The first is the base unit, that plugs into a power socket next to the broadband router. The port on that base unit plugs directly into one of the router ports. This essentially makes the entire home “live”.
You then need a client unit, that you can take anywhere in the house and plug into another power socket. Now, on that unit is an Ethernet port that effectively works as a live network port, that can route packets through the electrical wires, through the base unit, the router and out on the the internet.
If you were only looking for an extension of your wired network, you are done. If however, you are looking to have the second unit act, also, as a WiFi access point you have additional work to do.
The additional work is because the default access point is a cryptic SSID, running an unencrypted signal. I wanted it to have the same SSID and authentication parameters as my original WiFi router, so I could roam upstairs and downstairs between either access point. Figured I'd just configure the TP-Link Powerline client access point that way.
And all hell broke loose.
TP-Link essentially hard codes the configuration IP of the second access point. The address unfortunately was the same as the base of my home network. This resulted in a few hours of mental and networking gymnastics, just to be able to configure the second access points with the SSID and authentication parameters that I liked.
Which brings me to the second point of this post - good core technology but crappy hardware design. The two Powerline plugs were not elegant by any means, but they were functionally simple and effective. But an underlying assumption that one would be OK with default access point parameters, led to some questionable hardware design choices ultimately rendering an otherwise attractive product cumbersome. If only these smaller companies took some of these underlying assumptions seriously enough, there is almost no reason why their products cannot easily compete with the big dogs - in not just the marketplace, but also the social marketplace of the star counts on Amazon.com.
Seriously guys, you should just fix it.