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My home office is upstairs and I do not get good wireless reception there (1-2 bars, max ~18Mbps network speed, and speedtest.net tops out at around 2Mbps). About 6 feet away from the metal spiral staircase (if that's relevant) leading upstairs, however, I get 5 bars, 54MBps, and ~7.5Mbps from speedtest.net. This is with wireless-G and WPA2-AES security.

I was considering getting a range extender and hiding it somewhere in that high strength room in hopes of giving me good wireless upstairs, but then I heard about powerline adapters which gives me another option to get better Internet upstairs.

In general, which of the two is better? There are options out there for both that will cost me less than $100 for new hardware, so I do not care about price. I am interested in: (a) whether or not the quality loss from going powerline still beats the quality loss from repeating wireless and (b) if going powerline necessarily makes me network less secure than using WPA2-AES.

Thanks!

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6 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If possible, I would suggest getting an actual Ethernet cable run from your gateway device to whichever room you're having trouble in.

In my particular case, I had a side of the house that got horrible signal attenuation due to the way the house was wired. To resolve this, I opted to have the ISP install two RJ-45 jacks (one next to their gateway device, and another in one of the rooms on the other side of the house) and run an Ethernet cable between them. They charged 70 USD for this service. Then, I installed another wireless AP at the far end of the cable and was done with it.

Theoretically, powerline should make you more secure than any wireless networking would be, because it mostly puts your signal on a physical medium rather than putting it out on the air. That said, it may make you more vulnerable to sniffing by those in very close physical proximity - either individuals who can plug into outlets on the same circuit, or who can get close enough with the proper equipment to analyze the RFI emitted by the powerline network. If the firmware offers any means (I'm not familiar enough with these setups to know) of signal encryption, definitely use it.

Of the options presented, here's the preference order I would recommend, with security as the highest priority. I place the wireless range extender above powerline without encryption, because I personally trust wireless encryption above an unencrypted powerline network. Always bear in mind that whatever encryption you put in place on the powerline or wireless network segments, will not carry over to the other segments of the network.

  1. Ethernet cable extension.
    • Pros: Nominal RFI, minimal latency, highest security, nominal signal leakage
    • Cons: Requires drilling holes, exclusive point-to-point connection
  2. Powerline network with encryption (if available).
    • Pros: No holes required, low latency, high security, expandable
    • Cons: Moderate to high RFI, moderate to high signal leakage
  3. Wireless range extender, using WPA2-AES security.
    • Pros: No holes required, reasonable latency, high security, multi-user service
    • Cons: Sensitive to RFI, high signal leakage
  4. Powerline network without encryption (if encryption is unavailable).
    • Pros: No holes required, low latency, expandable
    • Cons: Moderate to high RFI, lower security, moderate to high signal leakage
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If anything, ethernet cable carrying plain data packets is more vulnerable to sniffing than powerline using 128-bit AES encryption. Wireless using WPA2-AES is also pretty darn secure, but WPA2-TKIP has security 'issues'. –  Linker3000 Jan 25 '11 at 17:22
    
@Linker3000 - However, the ethernet cable requires a much deeper level of physical access to the system than any wireless or powerline system. Powerline still needs a deeper level of physical access than WiFi, but has more widespread reach than the ethernet cable. Often times [signal leakage > non-encryption] in terms of security risks to home networks. –  Iszi Feb 4 '11 at 12:53
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In general, powerline will give you better performance and lower latency than a wireless link - especially when streaming - unless you have a truly noisy power circuit. Any decent brand will also include strong encryption (most use 128-bit AES) and most have a feature that allows you to associate your powerline adaptors into a specific group so that someone can't just add their own adaptor to your power circuit and join in.

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Thanks. That's exactly what I needed to know. –  Mike B Sep 18 '12 at 22:37
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If you want to use powerline, make sure that none of you power outlets or extension leads are filtered. This will effectively block the signal.

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Good point - it's very hit and miss with filtered power outlets –  Linker3000 Jan 25 '11 at 17:19
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The two don't have to be mutually exclusive. I use a powerline network to run an extra access point on a separate frequency, on the same LAN segment, with the same SSID and encryption. This way I get the best of both worlds - my Wifi devices can roam between the two aps at will, I have wired access for the fixed devices. It seems to be the nicest solution to getting coverage in the areas of my house that otherwise have poor coverage (2.5ft thick stone wall in a rented house pretty much rules out any other options for me).

You can even buy some homeplug adapters that are also WiFi aps.

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Have you considered upgrading from Wireless-G to Wireless-N? I had a lot of luck installing an inexpensive Wireless-N router on my network and switching all of my connections over to it.

I ended up turning off the Wireless-G network in my DSL router and went exclusively with the Wireless-N router, which seems to give greater range for even my Wireless-G adapters.

Here's a link to get you started with some inexpensive adapters and routers:

http://dealnews.com/rss/266-

Hope this helps! Jeff

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It may be noteworthy to specify that by "Wireless-N" you (probably) mean "Wireless-N on 2.4 GHz". The 5 GHz signals, while they may be nice since they're on a less noisy frequency, will generally have lesser range, especially through walls. –  Iszi Jan 25 '11 at 15:23
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if choose powerline - the both ends should be on the same power phase, otherwise connection is not guaranteed

but the best option is cable - more reliable, the most secure and better speed

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