Powerline Networking Guide -How To Setup HomePlug Adapters

powerline-socketInstead of running new Ethernet cables to connect your devices to your home network then why not use your existing electrical power cables?

That is the idea behind Powerline or Homeplug networks.

Note: HomePlug is the family name for power line specifications for networking over existing home electrical wiring.

HomePlug adapters are typically used to connect non Wi-Fi equipped devices to a home network, and to extend theĀ  range of existing networks.

You normally buy homeplug adapters in pairs, and in this case all you need to do is plug them in, and they work.

However replacing faulty devices or extending an existing powerline network is a different story.

What you will Learn

In this guide we will look at powerline networking usingĀ  homeplug Ethernet adapters, how it works, and how you set up a home network. You will learn:

  • How powerline networking works.
  • How It integrates into your existing home network.
  • How to create a powerline network using homeplug adapters
  • How to add and remove adapters from a network
  • How various standards interoperate.
  • What tools you can use.

Powerline Networking Overview

Powerline networking utilizes your existing mains electrical cable to connect devices together.

Devices like computers plug into a powerline adapter using an Ethernet cable with a UTP connector, just like they would plug into an Ethernet hub or switch.

The power line adapter then plugs into the mains, and uses the mains wiring to transmit the data.

Another power line adapter is required somewhere on the same mains cable system to extract the signal. (

powerline-nrtworking-diagram

Advantages

  • No additional wiring required
  • Wiring is usually hidden
  • Can use Powerline adapter to power the device e.g. with pass through devices
  • Fast speeds of 500Mbps are possible with new models
  • Long range and not affected by thick walls and other obstacles like Wi-Fi.

Common Powerline Uses

They are often used:

  • To connect devices to a home network that are out of range of the wireless router.
  • To connect a device to the network that requires a high speed and reliable connection e.g. games consoles.
  • To provide wireless range extension using a powerline Wi-Fi booster.

Powerline/Homeplug Standards

Powerline standards have evolved since the initial homeplug 1.0. It is important to be aware of the different standards because of potential inter operability issues.

The standards are:

  • Homeplug 1.0 Speeds 14Mbs
  • Homeplug 1.0 with Turbo Speeds 85Mbs
  • Homeplug AV speeds 200Mbs speeds of 500Mbps are now available and marketed normally as AV500.
  • Homeplug AV2 (latest) GB speeds
  • HomePlug Green PHY -low power version and low speed.

See Wiki- for more detail.

HomePlug Inter-Operability

You will probably face inter operability issues when you need to add another adapter to an existing network or replace a faulty adapter.

Generally homeplug 1.0 devices will only work with other homeplug 1.0 devices, and Homeplug AV,AV2 and HomePlug Green PHY will all work together, but will not work with Homeplug 1.0 devices.

  • Homeplug 1.0 works with HomePlug 1.0 Turbo (85 Mbps).
  • HomePlug AV can coexist on same cable with Homeplug 1.0 adapters, but will not work with homeplug 1.0.
  • HomePlug AV 200 works with homeplug AV 500M but at the lower speed.
  • AV,AV2 and HomePlug Green PHY are fully interoperable but at the speed of the lowest speed adapter.

Note: Coexist means that they do not interfere with each other when plugged into the same mains wiring system

How Powerline Adapters Work

Having a basic understanding of how the powerline network works is crucial to troubleshooting problems, and for building,repairing and upgrading them.

Powerline adapters share the same physical media (the mains cable).

This means that in a neighbourhood of houses that all use powerline adapters there is a potential security risk.

To overcome this powerline adapters form logical networks based on a security key or password called a NMK (Network Management Key).

This key is used to encrypt the data on the network using 128 bit AES (AV2 standard) or 56 bit DES (AV1 standard).

powerline-network-diagram

Creating Powerline Networks

To build a powerline network you need at least two homeplug adapters.

Normally you buy adapters in pairs, and the manufacturer will normally ship each pair with a common NMK.

This means that when you plug them into your mains socket they will establish a connection between themselves, and form a logical network.

If they don’t automatically establish a connection then you will need to intervene and manually initiate pairing.

The basic idea is that you put one of the adapters in a receptive mode where it listens for another adapter trying to establish a connection.

You then do the same with the other adapter. The two adapters should locate each other and agree a shared key.

Note: the adapters will remember this key even if they are unplugged from the mains.

Note: On Older adapters (AV1) don’t have a share/security button to initiate the paring process you may need to program each adapter with the same key using the software utility that comes with the adapter.

Some manufactures will ship adapters with a common NMK.

This means that adding adapters to an existing network is easy as the new adapters have the same NMK as the ones already on the network.

However this is a security risk and you should change the NMK from the default.

Powerline Networking Scenarios

  1. Creating a new powerline network.
  2. Replacing a broken adapter.
  3. Adding new adapters to an existing powerline network.
  4. Leaving a Network.

Creating a New Powerline Network

This assumes that you have purchased the adapters as a pair. In which case just plug them into the mains socket preferably close to each other and they should pair.

Once paired you can move them to the required location.

If they don’t pair then use the pairing procedure below, but you may also want to consult the documentation that came with the adapters.

Pairing Procedure
  1. Press the security or NMK button on adapter A for less than 3 seconds and the power LED should flash
  2. Within one minute Press the security or NMK button on adapter B for less than 3 seconds and the power LED should flash.
  3. Both power LEDs should stop flashing and stay illuminated for a successful connection.

If pairing is unsuccessful then see troubleshooting section.

Replacing a Broken Adapter

If one of you adapters goes faulty then you can replace it. However you should be aware of the following.

  • Homeplug 1.0 works with HomePlug 1.0 Turbo (85 Mbps) but not with Homeplug AV1 or AV2 adapters. Therefore if you have the older adaptors then consider replacing both adapters with new ones.
  • If you Have Homeplug AV1 adapters then try to replace the broken one with one of the same speed, and from the same manufacturer when possible. However it is not crucial as devices from different manufactures should work together.
  • A Homeplug AV1 200Mbps adapter paired with a Homeplug AV1 500Mbps adapter will run at the lower speed.

To pair the new adapter to the existing one use the same pairing procedure as covered above, If pairing is unsuccessful then see troubleshooting section.

Adding new Adapters to an Existing Powerline Network

Adapters must be added one at a time and the pairing process carried out each time.

For example to add two new adapters C and D to an existing network with adapters A and B then proceed as follows:

  1. Pair adapter C with either Adapter A or B but not both.
  2. Pair adapter D with either Adapter A or B or C.
  3. The Logical network now consists of adapters A,B,C,D

Note: pairing procedure covered above:

Leaving a Network.

To remove an adapter from an existing network then press the security/NMK button for 10 seconds while still plugged it.

The adapter will generate a new random password which places it outside the existing logical network.

Troubleshooting

Things to try

  • If they don’t pair you can try resetting both devices by pressing the security/NMK button for 10 seconds and then try again.
  • You can also use the the utility that came with your adapters to set the key on the adapters. See using the Powerline utility.

Using The Powerline Software Utility

You should receive a DVD with your adapter containing software that you can use to mange your powerline adapters.

To manage individual adapters the best way is to plug the Ethernet cable from your computer into the powerline adapter.

Therefore you should ideally install the software on a Laptop.

You can remotely manage adapters, but to do that you will need to know the password of the adapter.

Each adapter has its own individual password. Note this is not the same as the NMK.

This password is hard coded into the adapter and is used to manage the adapter.

It is usually found on the unit (screenshot below)

homeplug-password

Here is a screen shot of my network showing two adapters.I have entered the management password for one of the adapters but not for the second.

power-packet-monitor

This means that currently I can only make changes to the one with the password set.

To set a password for the encryption most utilities have a security option but mine uses the privacy tab, and is accomplished by giving it a network name (homeplug by default).
home-plug-network-name

The network name needs to be applied to all adapters on the network which can only be accomplished if you have entered the password of each adapter into the management software.

However the local adapter (the one your computer is connected to ) can be configured without entering the password. (screen shot below)

homeplug-adaptor-set-network-key

So you can move from one adapter to the other with your laptop and set each one individually.

Summary

Powerline/Homeplug networks are very good way of extending your home network without running cables, and for connecting devices that need a fast and reliable connection.

Abbreviations Used

PLC Power Line Communication

NMK Network Membership Key

AVLN – Logical network of AV adaptors

Resources and references:

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11 comments

  1. Very usefull article, thanks you.
    Wou’d you have an advice for a generic powerline utility compatible with homeplug av2 and modern 64bits windows os (or linux)

    1. Hi
      I’ve looked for one but haven’t found anything yet. There don’t seem to be any tools/utilites for powerline networking.
      If you come across any then grateful you let me know
      rgds
      steve
      I

  2. Hi,
    another question.
    If you would like to use your HomePlug to “move” your router, is that possible?

    ISP—–CPE—-Homeplug—–Electrical net—–Homeplug—-Router/Wifi—–HomePlug—-Electrical net—-Homeplug—-OutdoorWAP

    1. Hi
      I’ve never done this but provided that the router connects to the CPE using Ethernet then I would say yes. However you have 4 homeplugs and they should be configured in pairs as two networks not as a single network.
      The homeplugs between the router and CPE one network and the homeplugs between the router and WAP the second network.

  3. Steve, thank you for a very informative article. It has helped me understand Powerline networking in our home setting. In particular, how the adapters connect by way of NMK. Thank you.

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