Smartphones, tablets, Skype, Sonos, Xbox LIVE, Lovefilm and Netflix; just a few of the things that can clog up a Wi-Fi network at home.
As Wi-Fi gets more popular both in our homes and in gadgets, it often fails. UK start-up Power Ethernet thinks it has the answer in the shape of the PE Socket, a business-grade device that promises to make wired networking possible even as a retrofit.
More reliability is the promise, of course, though the Powerline idea it builds on is not new. A lot of you will have come across a HomePlug AV adapter, a simple gadget from the likes of Solwise, Belkin and even BT that pushes data along existing mains electricity wiring costs less than £100.
So why bother with a PE Socket? A far more serious a proposition than any HomePlug AV device, these sockets are designed to be brought in multiples to replace existing sockets either at home or in business properties. Purchase two of the sockets and you've instantly got a wired network; put one in each room of your house and you've got wired access everywhere, and all without extra cabling. Completely compatible with the HomePlug AV standard, and also supporting Windows, Mac and Linux, each PE Socket includes four Ethernet ports and one integrated filtered power socket.
Attach a broadband router to any port in any socket and a network is instantly created offering speeds of up to 200Mbps. Better still, the ARM processor-equipped PE socket trains upwards, so when noise on the line is created – say, from a vacuum cleaner, fridge or dishwasher – the bandwidth is reduced, but when the line is quieter the network speed is automatically pushed to the maximum possible. Furthermore, that power socket is filtered, so removes all traces of noise and interference from all that data on the mains wiring.
There are many examples where this kind of product really works wonders. A typical scenario might be where reliable network access is needed for a server that is housed in a cupboard, though a far more likely use is simply to avoid having cables from a broadband router then snaking-up stairways and along corridors to reach a home office or a bedroom's games console.
Installation & set-up
Our own situation was thus; cable broadband router and smart TV with Netflix access in living room, and – through a wall that’s completely impenetrable by Wi-Fi – an office with desktop PC. Internet access was via cable that went physically through a hole in the wall (I kid you not), while two floors above in the loft a small home cinema with an Xbox was struggling so badly with a wireless adapter that Xbox Live was but a rumour.
Fitting a standard UK two-gang 35mm deep metal back box (a slimline 25mm-deep version is currently being developed), the PE sockets are relatively easy to install. After turning off the mains, we simply unscrewed the existing panels and disconnected the wiring, installing three PE Sockets without any problems.
The snap-on faceplates are rounded and attractive, though simple and uncluttered. On the left-hand side is the sole power socket, with those four Ethernet ports in a square grid arrangement on the right-hand side. Three small lights turn from red to green to indicate power, successful pairing with other PE Sockets, and network activity (this light blinks continuously) respectively.
In our tests we managed to get speeds of between 100Mbit/s and 120Mbit/s between each PE Socket, which isn’t bad on our noisy electrical network, and proved plenty for simultaneous music and video streams.
The Ethernet ports on the PE Sockets go to sleep when not in use, and the efficiency of the connection between separate sockets depends on the structure of a property's mains wiring. In effect, the more PE Sockets you have, the better, as they act as nodes and appear to mesh together. In our situation, having two PE Sockets downstairs and one in the loft occasionally caused the latter to lose connection to the network (cue some buffering during a Lovefilm movie on an Xbox); the solution is to install either another PE Socket or, much more cheaply, any HomePlug AV device, on the second floor as a bridge. The slight drawback to this is that each node has to be awake, data-wise. That can mean having to leave a computer switched on in an empty room to ensure a link, and create network access in the floor above (though you could consider installing an old wireless router on a middle floor to extend Wi-Fi around a home for smartphones and tablets etc.).
There’s also some free PE Management Software that can measure – and even graph – network speeds as well as remotely access each socket. It can even segment them into two separate networks; this is professional installer-grade stuff.
Great for retrofitting a wired network into older houses or extending one to top floors and through lead-lined walls, this filtered power socket with four Ethernet network ports is easy to install and brings simple whole-house stability to network-connected gadgetry.
Pros: Ease of installation, simplicity
Cons: 'Bridging’ needed in some scenarios; depth of box
Manufactor: Power Ethernet