Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Home Networking: PowerLine Ethernet vs Wireless Bridging

Old Setup

I currently stay at a flat where each room has a network point and all connect to the building's switches. I disconnected all points from the building's switch and used my own to isolate the traffic.

This has served me well for years until last year where dust, humidity and water leakages have killed the switch, and as I'll be moving out to a new place, I didn't want to buy another switch.

Enter PowerLine Ethernet

Instead of laying network cables around, I thought of using PowerLine Ethernet adapters. Those allow you create a network between devices using house power cables, as long as all cables terminate to the same distribution board (the one that has the circuit breakers).

Attempt 1

I bought a D-Link "DHP-W310AV" kit which includes one adapter that serves as a wifi access point + Ethernet port and one adapter with only Ethernet.

I connected the adapter with Ethernet + WiFi in my room and the other one with only Ethernet in the hallway and connected an Asus access point to it to serve the rest of the house.

The D-Link adapter was difficult to configure, very buggy during configuration, breaks connection between adapters easily, and drops connections often causing timeouts. It took me about 2 hours to get things working and felt like I was dissembling explosives! It was garbage.

Attempt 2

I thought it was the D-Link that's a failure, so I ordered a TP-Link "TL-PA4010" kit. It doesn't offer wireless built into it, but it was such a breeze to configure! It took 5 minutes only. It also supports AES encryption, for the paranoid.

Things got better, but not that better. I still got intermittent DNS failures. So this prompted me to link failures to events in the house, and it seemed like the issues were due to high interference with home appliances.

Current Setup

I had bought Ubiquiti access points long ago but them in their box to use in the new place later on, but after all this fuss, I got fed up and pulled out the rabbit from the magic hat.

What I bought was Ubiquiti's UniFi AP 3-pack for $200! Can't beat that price, and what's even better, is that UniFi family comes with a free controller software that allows you to manage thousands of access points (APs) in multiple sites and get statistics. Lots of fancy features at a very attractive price.

One AP got connected to my switch in my room (which connects to the gateway) and another sat in the hallway. The hallway AP connected to the one in my room via wireless, not Ethernet. This way I can avoid the requirement for any Ethernet cabling however it's to be deployed.

Everything is working great now. Here are some screenshots from the UniFi controller interface:

The UniFi APs are so great for anyone needing 3 or more APs in a place, be it a house or a business location, because once you make a configuration it gets pushed to all APs in one shot! No hassle of managing multiple configurations.

They come packed with many features that I haven't listed here. You can download the controller for free from here and explore the options even if you don't have any AP (physically). Compared to Cisco or Meraki APs, these come with similar features and at no additional cost of management software, unlike what Cisco asks for, and you get to run the controller software on your own machines, so no need to trust the data to a hosted platform like Meraki's.

The controller software was written in Java, so it runs on Linux, Windows & Mac. This means you can even run it on a Raspberry Pi!


Mhmd said...

Hello there,
seems like a nice network setup,im thinking of doing the same, i have a Cisco router but the signal doesn't cover the whole flat,so im thinking of buying UniFi AP and connect it to the router and disable the cisco wireless feature.
is the UniFi® AP wireless range really good?

MBH said...

They have multiple ranges. I used the smallest one (AP, not AP Pro) and I could cover the whole house with one AP, but the signal may not be max so those at the edge might not receive enough, and we have a lot of concrete walls filled with steel in the flat, so those block the signal. My flat is 200 m^2. The AP in my room covers all bed rooms and the AP in the hallway between the living room and the bedrooms covers the living room and the remainder of the flat.

If you have a diagram of your place and where you want to place the APs, share it.

You can also use a tool called Ekahau HeatMapper to deploy an existing AP and see how far its signal will go, then you can see which parts of the house are not covered due to concrete/steel structures.

Mhmd said...

Ill check the tool , i have a smaller flat , but alot of walls that makes the signal weaker , i have a tp-link range extender but it cut down the speed of the bandwith to half as all range extenders do , ill try the tool and see whats suitable for me. Thanks