Adventures with homeplug AV

(I’m talking about a bunch of different hardware here and as such, I’ve chosen to link the specific devices in question. These are things I bought, and have used, and I’m linking these as a reference in case people are curious)

I’ve been working on fixing a few annoyances I’ve had with my home network.There were a few areas that weren’t covered, most of my systems were only accessible over wireless, which in a large apartment block, takes a lot of tweaking to get right and I had bandwidth between the wrong systems. I also had issues with my trusty old DD-WRT infused WRT 54GL,(Which inexplicably stopped working wirelessly) and switched it for a shiny newish Asus RT N56U – It is an older model, but with no 5GHZ gear, a AC router would be overkill. Having fixed up my WRT54GL (did a 30 30 30 reset), I figured I’d tackle the dead zone in my apartment. Putting in proper ethernet cabling isn’t an option for now, so I ended up getting a pair of homeplug AV 200 mbps adaptors. – I picked up a pair of HL113es from Aztech. They worked fine for testing initially, but on hindsight, the miniature models arn’t that useful. I ended up going with a Homeplug AV 500 4 port gig-e switch (also from Aztech) and a 500 mbps TP-Link unit. I guess there’s a few odd things I came across here, that are worth considering if you’re looking at adding a few homeplug AV units.

I had a few issues getting it to work, mainly cause of some of the oddities for the standard -and how its managed

Firstly, homeplug AV is a black box. This is perfectly fine when it works. When it doesn’t though, there’s almost no diagnostic options. You have the blinky signal light. Its green when everything is perfect, orange when its meh, and red when its horrible. When it dosen’t work, it *should* be off, but I had a system where it would be solid green, and go on and off every 10 seconds or so. This is not in the manual. This is not in *any* manual. This tended to happen when the dryer was on, on my gig-e switch, when I was using one of the 200mbps adaptors in a specific location. I can change the network name using a utility, but not check the network name I am using now. I can talk to these units, but they don’t *talk back*. This makes diagnostics when things don’t work a pain in the rear.

And when I say ‘any’ manual, Its because homeplug units seem to have the same type of chips, with the same, reskinned utilities. Don’t bother installing multiple utilities – find one thats reliable (Aztech has different versions for different models which are of varying reliability. I’ve tried 4-5 different utilities for science and they all work the same. I like the tplink varient, the power packet utility, or the Aztech homeplug utility 5.11 – Aztech’s 4.0 series is rubbish). They’ll work together as long as you don’t mix legacy 15 and 85 mbps units with newer ones.

These manuals are also useless. I realise that as a standard with multiple implementations there may be minor differences. However, I can’t find a definitive answer to what happens when I mix 200 and 500 gear – some say it depends on how the traffic flows, and a 500mbps and another identical unit will talk at 500 mnps, and they will drop down to the speed of the slower unit if its between dissimilar units, and other say the whole network will run at the lower speed. I’ve found there seems to be a speedup from using only the faster units, but the units never seem to test as well as they rate. I’ll do more tests as I upgrade the network to something that can cover my needs with entirely 500mbps units

I went with mini plugs cause they were cheaper and I wasn’t sure if it was going to work. The passthrough units arn’t that much more expensive, don’t take up a socket, and filter any device plugged into the socket. Since powerline networks are sensitive to line noise, and switch mode power supplies are noisy, it makes a LOT of sense to use one before a powerstrip where you’re connecting your main network to a powerline network. Don’t bother with mini units – just spend the 10 or so dollars more and get a passthrough unit

Location is everything. The issues I had with the dryer went away when I moved the homeplug unit to a socket further from the dryer. If you are in an electrically noisy environment with big electric motors, you may want to consider isolators or simply moving the homeplug units. I’d test moving units one by one since with the ‘ring’ topology homeplug has, you may have unusual effects from noise – I had a nearer unit have issues, while a further unit still worked, yet that move improved signal quality throughout the network.

Homeplug units come with a default network name. They assume you don’t change them (which is unacceptable for me), or set a random network name. I ended up using the utility to set the network name to a specific one, since the button press method dosen’t actually give me any feedback to whether they are working. Its actually easier for me to do this than to use the ‘simple’ one button system where you need to press the button for *exactly* 1 second or 3 seconds or…. You get the idea.

Once I got it working, and sorted through the noise issues, its pretty decent. With careful rearrangement of my homeplug units, I managed to get a strong, stable connection, Its reasonably fast (I’m seeing about 40mbps each way on lan speed test with the current arrangement, while my old arrangement was ~ 2 downstream – and 4 upstream). I’ve even got it to stop cutting out whenever the dryer runs. I currently have 3 nodes – one at my router (You probably don’t want 2 there, might cause the router to loop in on itself and cause all reality to self destruct).

On the whole, I rather have ethernet, and you almost always have wifi. Homeplug’s a pretty good way for reaching places that don’t have either. Complaints about documentation aside, its a pretty useful addition to a network. I’d suggest getting a starter kit for the cheapest hardware per unit you can find and testing, since you’re rarely going to hit theoratical speeds. Better ‘classes’ do seem faster.


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