Submission by Mark Harrison – As all readers of Automated Home know, there is no substitute for the flexibility of CAT5 cabling (see the wiring guide). However, as all homeowners know, there are some places that are hard to reach.
This is the space in which HomePlug kit enters the fray. HomePlug is a wired network, but instead of using dedicated cables, it uses the mains to carry data. Simply plug two or more adaptors into sockets (on the same phase) and they will form two parts of a network. The concept of using mains to carry data isn’t new – it’s what X-10 has been doing for over 25 years!
HomePlug, however, is much, much faster than X-10. It comes in two flavours, 14Mb/Sec and 85Mb/Sec. To put things in perspective, a conventional wired network will run at 100Mb/sec, so even the faster version falls short of CAT5. However, to re-frame, even the “new improved, due to launch” flavours of broadband only run at 8Mb/Sec, so even the slower version of HomePlug is almost double the speed. Given that “normal” broadband is only 1/2 Mb/sec, HomePlug runs many times faster than needed to keep up with Internet access.
In terms of installation, think of a set of HomePlug adaptors being equivalent to a network hub. Each HomePlug adaptor has an RJ-45 socket on it, and you run a patch cable from that socket to the network card / port on your PC. You then plug the HomePlug into the mains.
And in terms of installation, that’s it – you plug the beasts in, and they work. Because they present as a network port rather than a network card there is no configuration to do, whether you’re on Windows, Linux, Mac, local switch, or embedded device. I have three of them – one plugs into my main switch, one plugs into a Rio Receiver (networked MP3 player), and the third plugs into a local 5-port switch, to which attaches a PC, another Rio Receiver, and a VOIP hardphone. All the devices worked fine, first time.
The one configuration option that exists is an add-on bit of software that allows you to configure security addresses so that only authorised HomePlug adaptors can talk to each other. I don’t bother with that – I work on the basis that I control access to my cabling at the phsyical level, and that I know what’s plugged into the mains.
One bit of disinformation that seems to be floating round the Internet is “they conflict with X-10”. My experience is that X-10 messages and HomePlug connections work fine – sending an X-10 message hasn’t caused any noticeable network problems. Hammering the network hasn’t caused any X-10 problems.
The last issue, then, is one of price. Obviously, if you have the CAT5 cabling in place, then an 8-port switch is still your best bet. However, now that HomePlug are being stocked by Linitx, the prices have come down a lot…£22.10 + vat for the 14Mb/Sec version I use, or £33.75 for the 85Mb/Sec.
Should you buy them? – If you can’t run cable realistically, and need a connection that doesn’t break up from time to time, then yes. You won’t catch me switching back to wireless for my VOIP calls.