Powerline networking has had a troubled history, not least of which is the ongoing rivalry between the Homeplug Powerline Alliance (HPA) and DS2's Universal Powerline Association (UPA). The fastest HPA standard is currently Homeplug AV, which offers 200Mbps speeds, although a 1Gbps Homeplug AV2 standard is in the pipeline and may appear in 2011.
These two new high-speed products from Solwise and Netgear are Homeplug-certified, maintaining full compatibility with existing Homeplug AV equipment, but use two different methods to offer 1Gbps (Solwise) or 500Mbps (Netgear) speeds. Neither is compatible with UPA-certified products.
The Solwise adapters are based on a novel chip from Gigle Networks, the GGL541 (also used by Belkin in its Powerline HD adapters), which uses a proprietary technology called Mediaxtream to achieve 1Gbps PHY rates. It does this by signalling using a 50-300MHz frequency band instead of Homeplug AV's 2-28MHz band. The chip also incorporates a meshing technology called Xtendnet that's designed to improve performance in noisy conditions. The adapters can connect to Homeplug AV devices at full 200Mbps speed, with connection speeds indicated by coloured LEDs — blue for Mediaxtream and green for Homeplug AV. They will co-exist with Homeplug 1.0 devices, but are not interoperable.
There's a Gigabit Ethernet port, a connection button and a reset switch on each adapter. The cost is £44.66 each (inc. VAT). We tried out a pair of these adapters and saw real throughputs (using Passmark's Network Test) in a normal domestic environment of around 90-95Mbps, which compares favourably to the 35-40Mbps we achieved with Homeplug AV adapters.
Netgear's new range is rather more comprehensive, with both basic and 'piggyback' (with a passthrough mains socket) models available. Although Netgear doesn't indicate the silicon used, it seems likely that these could be using the Atheros AR7400 chip, launched at the beginning of 2010. This extends the Homeplug AV frequencies up to 68MHz in order to achieve the increased speeds, and again is fully compatible with Homeplug AV. A Gigabit Ethernet port is provided, and the AV+ models include the filtered passthrough mains outlet.
Both AV 500 and AV+ 500 models are available individually or in paired kits. US pricing is $159 for the AV twin-pack and $179 for the AV+ 500 twin-pack; UK pricing and availability has not yet been announced.
Netgear has also announced a new Homeplug AV device, the Powerline AV 200 Wireless-N Extender Kit. This features a 100Mbps Ethernet port plus a 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi radio. A kit consisting of one Wireless-N adapter plus a wired AV 200 adapter costs $169.99.
Powerline networking is an incredibly convenient way of creating or extending a network in places where network cables or Wi-Fi are impractical. With speeds edging higher and prices reducing, it's certainly not the slow and expensive option it once was. Although they're unlikely to deliver anywhere near the headline speeds in the real world, it looks as though these new models should deliver noticeable performance improvements.
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