WiFi Dead Zones and Powerline Adapters #illumedati 1


Hey guys! It’s Whatever Wednesdays again, and I’m here with another random topic which came to mind today, which is WiFi Dead Zones and Powerline Adapters.

I think we all know what a WiFi dead zone is. It’s where you suddenly lose signal and you start doing a little rain dance in an attempt to make your phone/tablet/laptop/etc. reconnect to the router. I usually pride myself on keeping up to date with anything related to computers, but I haven’t really needed to. As such, I did know what a Powerline Adapter is… but not how far they have come…

Stock Photo from: Pixabay


So why the post about WiFi Dead Zones today?

Well, I bought my house about a year ago. Its setup is a little non-traditional from mainland houses (aside from houses near the ocean), but is pretty common here in Hawaii.  Basically, you walk in from the garage/front door onto the ground floor. However, the second floor (most of the bedrooms) is actually underneath the house, and is considered a “basement”. However, this is not really a basement in the traditional sense, as it isn’t underground. There is actually a sub-basement below that, which elevates the house off of the ground.

This kind of construction is considered “stilt housing”. I couldn’t find a great explanation for why this is more common in Hawaii. However, in my particular case my backyard has a stream, which can become a river when it rains. For the purposes of flood insurance, the house has to be elevated significantly from the level of the stream. Other reasons I have heard for it being common in Hawaii are that it helps prevent ground termites and allows for building into mountains or on cliffs.

That said, my problem is that my cable internet comes in at the back of my first floor where the TV is situated. Naturally, I put my router here too. When I was setting up my internet, I foresaw that because of the layout of the house, getting good wifi signal to penetrate into the bedrooms downstairs was going to be difficult. For that reason, I opted to go with one of the strongest routers I could find:

ASUS RT-AC87U Wireless-AC2400 Dual Band Gigabit Router

From all my research, this router is a monster in terms of coverage and speed. Techradar Review

WiFi was “ok” in most of the bedrooms underneath the house.However, it did not reach all the way to the front of the house downstairs, including the bedroom of my kids. While this isn’t a huge problem now, my daughter can’t use her iPad very well in her own room, which makes her sad. Her room is a part of a dead zone.


So, how are you going to solve this problem?

Well, I started doing research. There are a lot of other options available. For example, you can buy a range extender which is kind of a band-aid to the problem. Unfortunately, the way a range extender works is that it needs to be an area that already has good signal, and then it just extends the signal from there. For me, that would mean putting a range extender in my home office (the room underneath the TV room). From there, I would expect the range extender would have enough coverage to include the front of the house. However, even in my own home office the WiFi signal isn’t bulletproof. So if you are extending a signal which isn’t great to begin with… it’s not going to be great.

The other option would be to put a range extender in my kitchen at the mid-way point. This is also a consideration, but it doesn’t solve the problem that the signal in my home office isn’t great in the first place.

Ok, so what other options are there?

Well, the best option would be to drill a hole through my floor and run a Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable down into my home office. However, I’m not really a fan of putting holes in the floor and I have no idea what is underneath the floor on the first level, or what kind of conduit I would need to make. In other words, this would need to be something for an electrician to do… which may be expensive. Additionally, putting holes in a house I just bought doesn’t appeal to me. Nonetheless, this may still be an option later if Gigabit internet ever becomes a thing here in Hawaii.

But then I remembered that there was something called a powerline adapter which takes your signal and routes it through the existing powerlines of the house. So basically, you plug a powerline adapter in and run an ethernet cable from your router to your powerline adapter. Then somewhere else, you plug another powerline adapter in and run an ethernet cable from there to your computer (or another router, or whatever). The signal is transmitted from your router to your powerline adapter, through the powerlines, into the other powerline adapter and then into your computer. It attempts to utilize the wiring already in your house to give your internet. Pretty neat right?

This idea itself is not new. However, the first few iterations of this technology weren’t that great and real world data transfers were only about 5 Mbps. However, technology involves, and new standards were created. The newest standard is the AV2 standard, which uses Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology to send data over the fastest two wires in a typical three-wire (live, neutral and ground) home electrical system. Basically, the technology is better… but just how good is it? Is it ready for prime time?


Ok, so just how fast are powerline adapters?

Well, first things first. For some reason, all the companies keep using their “theoretical” maximums on all of their products. This makes consumers confused and angry.

For example, the AV500 models are rated to a theoretical maximum of 500 Mbps. This kind of maximum will never be seen in real world conditions. The real world speeds will probably be somewhere between 75-100 Mbps. This variability depends on how your house is wired and how far the outlets (and powerline adapters) are from one another.

For most people, 100 Mbps is enough. Your cable internet provider probably gives you less than 100 Mbps down anyways. Unless you are a power user who opted for a higher speed such as 200 or 300 Mbps. So, for most people an AV500 model will be just fine.

However, for those of you with 500 Mbps down, or Gigabit Internet (Google Fiber, etc.), you will want the fastest speed possible. AV1200 and AV2000 models are your best bet. Once again, these theoretical maximums are 1200 Mbps and 2000 Mbps. This makes even less sense because most routers are only Gigabit (1000) anyways, how could they possibly give 1200 or 1500? Like I said, things like this make the consumer confused… and angry. However, since all the companies have stubbornly decided to use this theoretical maximum, that’s what we are dealing with.

If you opt for a AV1200 or AV2000 model and you have Gigabit internet, you may see up to ~ 400 Mbps… but only if you are using the adapter in the same room or very close by. If you move it to another room, it will drop significantly to around 100 Mbps again.

For those who are wondering, I have 300 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up Internet. There are a lot iPhones, iPads and computers in my house connected to my one router, so I opted for the highest bandwidth available to me currently.


This is… underwhelming… are you going to get one?

Well, like I said, even if I only got 100 Mbps in my home office, as long as it was stable, I’d be pretty happy. My thinking is that if this solution works and is stable, then I can buy another router for my office to plug into the powerline adapter and broadcast to other bedrooms downstairs, which should get rid of dead zones.

So, you’re going to buy one? Which one did you order?

To be honest, I am somewhat of an optimist. I am hoping that someday Hawaii will get Gigabit internet, so I opted for the best one currently available:

TP-Link AV2000 Powerline Adapter Kit

I don’t expect to see anywhere close to the 400+ Mbps they were getting, but perhaps I’ll get lucky and see a little more than 100 Mbps. Like I said, I’m more interested in stability. This is the most expensive option though, currently running around $100.

TP-Link AV1200 Power Line Starter Kit

In some tests, this one did just as good (or better) as the AV2000. It also costs a little less, at around $75.

TP-Link AV500 2-Port Powerline Adapter w/ Power Outlet Pass-Through

For those who just want to try to get some internet into a room with a dead zone for as little money as possible, this one should fit the bill, at around $55.


Are there are other brands?

Of course, there are ton of other ones.

However, in my (limited) research TP-Link came up the most so I went with them. For completeness’s sake here are two others:

ZyXEL Pass-Thru Ethernet Adapter AV2000 Powerline  (~$90)

NETGEAR PowerLINE 1200 Mbps, 1 Gigabit Port with Pass-Through (~$90)


Anything else I should know?

Pass-through

After reading a bunch of reviews, I would advise that you buy one with pass-through. These adapters take up one plug in your outlet and they must be plugged directly into the outlet to work correctly. For this reason, you’re losing some flexibility. If you buy a powerline adapter with a pass through, then you are able to plug a device into the powerline adapter itself. The power will “pass-through” the adapter to power your devices (such as power strip).

All of the ones I listed above have pass-through. However, if you want to save $10 or so, you can get the versions without the pass-through, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Number of Ports

There are also slight model variations within the same line. For example, some of these powerline adapters may have 1 port, and others may have up to 3. This isn’t a huge a deal in my opinion, because you could always add your own router or switch later. However, if you already know you will need to hook up 3 items to the adapter, probably a good idea to get one that already has 3 built in.

Anything rated AV1200 or AV2000 should have a Gigabit ports.

Ethernet Cable

These should all come with at least a Cat 5e cable (if not a Cat 6). I think some of the earlier powerline adapters came with Cat 5 (not Cat 5e) cable before, which limits your speed to 100 Mbps. Obviously, it didn’t make sense to rate your powerline adapter at “500 Mbps” and then provide a cable that only allows for “100 Mbps”.

Cat 5e is 1000 Mbps (Gigabit) and Cat 6 is capable of 10000 Mbps (10 Gigabit).


TL;DR

WiFi dead zones are very annoying.

Previously your only options were to add cables to your house or to use a range extender.

Powerline adapters initially weren’t great. However, recently they have become better with the advent of AV2.

Make no mistake, nothing beats a cable. However, this plug and play solution may be an easier option for some of us with WiFi dead zones.


Look for my real world review in a future Whatever Wednesdays Post.

 

-Sensei

What do you think about Powerline Adapters? Do they work, or is it all hype?

Questions, Comments and Suggestions are welcome.

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