- Review Price: £98.82
The other week, Benny and I were discussing our favourite technologies of the year. Both of us decided that Ethernet-over-powerlines was definitely one of the coolest things we’ve used all year. True, it’s not a new technology, but this year it’s seen a decent speed boost and seems to have come to prominence in the market. Riyad, Benny and all make use of different brand kits at home, and I would definitely consider it an invaluable technology.
Using your power lines for connecting your network together is much more reliable than wireless, with faster speeds and transmission across greater distances. It’s not as good as standard Ethernet cabling, but it’s a lot more convenient for the home user who doesn’t want to spend hours pulling up carpets and drilling holes.
The last two systems I’ve looked at have been based on HomePlug technology. However, the units I’m looking at today, use chips designed by Panasonic itself.
The kit we received (BL-PA100KT) comes with two units (BL-PA100E) under the brand name of HD-PLC, High-Speed Power Line Network. That’s a lot of codes and numbers, but all of which are useful things to know if you’re trying to hunt one out!
Included in the box, are the two units, a user manual and two power cords. There are no Ethernet cables supplied, which seems a bit Scrooge-like so you need to make sure you order these or have some to hand.
The units are very different to anything we’ve tested before – looking more like a miniature UPS than the Devolo or Solwise units. Instead of plugging directly into the plug socket, these use a two-pin figure of eight connector. Although it adds more cable clutter, this is quite beneficial. The homeplug units that plug directly onto the wall can sometimes be tricky to fit because of their size, while these plugs are standard size. You can also tuck the units away out of sight, or make a show piece out of them as they look quite swish.
One thing I noticed while wandering around Computex, was a lot of cheaply produced HomePlug kit that was all fitted for American plug sockets. These can’t be sold in a UK market, so specific UK versions have to be made. With Panasonic’s system, a cable depending on country can be included, so that the same units can be used in every country. This brings down manufacturing costs and should mean we see prices drop quite quickly.
Unlike the HomePlug system, which is very much Plug-and-Go, the HD-PLC units take a certain amount of set up. One of the units is a master unit and the other is a slave (although both have the ability to be either). These must be paired together, by pressing the “setup” buttons simultaneously. This of course means that initially they have to be near each other before you position them around your house. Once paired though, communication uses 128-Bit AES encryption.
Connecting these up is the same method as the standard HomePlug units. An Ethernet cable goes from your router to the master unit, then a second Ethernet cable goes from the slave unit to your network device (notebook, PC, camera) or even to an 8-port switch where this connectivity can be distributed further. I say 8-port purely because this is the maximum Panasonic recommends.
To test these units, we replicated the same situation as the Devolo and Solwise kits, using two Centrino notebooks, a 100Mbit switch and the open source tool Iometer. Using this, we attained a speed of 50Mbit, which is slightly faster. Panasonic quote 190Mbit on the front of the box, but there is small print to suggest that this is a theoretical maximum. In its defence, Panasonic also quotes actual ratings of 70Mbit for UDP and 42Mbps for TCP transfers. For once, it would seem this is close to reality.
A really smart feature of these units, is in an in-built speed tester. Hold down the “setup” button for a couple of seconds and it will light up zero to three LEDs as an indication of performance. Three LED’s meaning 30Mbit or more. This is a great way of testing to see if the outlet you have chosen to plug into is suitable, without having to resort to complex methods.
Performance of these units is excellent, beating wireless, and even previous units (albeit by a small margin). The Master/Slave pairing system is a minor annoyance that can be forgiven. However, I would be interested to see how performance scales when using the maximum 16 units Panasonic recommends.
Using cables instead of a fixed plug system has the advantage of being able to hide them away, as well as taking them abroad and setting up networks in your hotel rooms.
At £98.82 for the starter kit, minus Ethernet cables, this is slightly more expensive than the Solwise kit and offers a negligible performance improvement. However, the speed test is a useful feature that I would happily pay extra for.
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