Building the perfect home network can be tricky, especially if you’re dealing with multiple systems all over your home and it gets even more complicated when you want to start streaming or sharing files or media over the connection.
While wireless technology has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years with now large scale uptake of the draft 802.11n standard, wireless connections can be flaky in larger houses with more solid construction, and the speed and range will vary depending on a whole range of variables.
Of course, fitting Cat5e cabling into every room is the ideal solution, delivering full gigabit networking wherever you need it. Unfortunately the installation is time consuming and tricky and you’ll need to be confident enough to start knocking holes in plasterboard and routing cables beneath floor boards if you want to get a finished setup that doesn’t make your house look like something from one of those DIY nightmare shows.
The ideal solution then is the much vaunted power line network, utilising the existing network of electrical cabling in your walls to deliver network access wherever there’s a plug socket in your home. Potentially the idea is a brilliant one, combining the reliability and speed of a cables connection with the convenience of wireless; well, not quite, you can’t use a power line network while out in the garden or when sitting on the loo (Ever heard of extension cables? - Ed.).
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Sadly though, the technology has so far failed to live up to expectations and previous generation power line networking gear was not only very expensive, but also slow, dependant on the layout of your home’s electrical system and for the most part caused more headaches than it solved – in short, it was a bit rubbish.
However, the pricing of such kits has now dropped to affordable levels, and with new claims of network speeds approaching 200Mbps over the existing power cables in your home it seems a good time to take a second look at the technology in the form of Belkin’s Powerline AV Starter Kit.
Consisting of two power line adapters, with a Cat5 port on one side and a figure eight power cable on the other they are brilliantly simple to install and set up. In fact set up really isn’t the word to use as there are no configuration options or remote access menus whatsoever; you just plug them in at either end and the kit does the rest for you.
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It’s a refreshing change from stressing about WPA and WEP keys for securing the wireless network and really is simplicity itself to install. There are also three activity lights indicating power, network and network activity on each unit, so it’s easy to see if the system is up and running.
Once connected the kit turns your home electrical system into a kind of on the fly network hub, with any spare socket acting as a potential extension to the network. This particular kit supports up to a whopping sixteen different devices concurrently connected, although it’s worth bearing in mind that all power line networks will share the quoted network capacity of the kit. With a range of 300m of cabling, the kit should also comfortably provide power line network coverage to your entire house.
Do remember though that you’ll need a new adapter for every new connection you might want to add, which makes the kit impractical for networks with larger numbers of systems – at £60 a pair this solution is a great deal more expensive than a wireless network or a big box of long Cat5e cables.
As well as being simple to setup Belkin has really gone to the extra effort of making the kit flexible too. As well as the two power line network adapters you also get two 1m Cat5e cables, two 2m 3-pin mains plug to figure eight power cables and two straight 3-pin plug to figure eight cables.
This means that if the plug you want to use is in a tight space you’ll still easily be able to access the network socket and vice versa if you don’t want cable hanging everywhere and just want a wall mounted network socket, you can have that too.