Devolo dLan Highspeed Ethernet Starter Kit Review

I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of these for free recently (legally, I hasten to add), so thought I would review it so the rest of you can make a more informed decision, not just about this product, but power line networking in general.

A number of years ago there were rumblings about how broadband would soon be supplied by our power companies. To connect to the internet, all you would need to do is plug in an adapter anywhere in your home/building and attach a cable to your PC. Genius idea, more money for the power company, they have to-the-door cabling to practically every home already, more competition in the marketplace, it made sense. That has slowly disappeared, although it gets mentioned again every so often (not heard of anyone actually doing it though).

A spin-off of this was internal home networking using your power circuits. This makes sense to most people because:

  • a) Most people don’t have CAT-5 cabling through-out their home, and
  • b) Everyone (well, almost) has power circuits that run into every room

So, the idea is simple, turn your power circuit into a network. That’s what these (and other) ‘plugs’ do. Even better, they use a standard called HomePlug, which is supported by a number of companies and allows inter-operation between devices. There are different versions, depending on the speed you need (ranging from 14mbps to 200mbps). Many people will be wondering why you would need this when wireless is so ubiquitous and easy to setup (and boy, is it not). Well, a number of reasons:

  1. Wireless is notoriously flakey and is susceptible to interference from a range of sources
  2. Wireless networks can be insecure
  3. Wireless networks can be challenging to setup for ordinary users (hell, even for experienced ones sometimes)
  4. Wireless networks are not very quick

A physical network answers all these downfalls, it’s more solid, less susceptible to interference, more secure (not totally, although you can encrypt the information sent over the power lines), simple to setup and, typically, faster (wireless N may push them, but as it hasn’t even been agreed yet, despite some manufacturers getting bored and producing ‘draft-N’ devices), the one big issue is that you need to put cabling in, but not is you use existing cabling you already have. The pack I had was the 85mbps version, though someone I know recently bought the 200mbps version to stream HDTV content to his TV (note these are ‘theoretical’ speeds), partly because wireless signals do not travel around his house well.

That’s where I see these devices really rocking, now that PCs are entering the living room and more and more content is being stored on PCs and network drives, but we want to break it free of the PC and access it on our TV, not crowd around a desktop or look over people’s shoulders at a laptop. Games consoles too are more likely to have a network connection now so they can download things over the internet and allow you to play other people. These sorts of applications need high-speed, reliable connections to work well.

The starter kit comes with two plugs (but you can buy additional ones to connect more devices/rooms) and boasts ‘one minute installation.’ They’re not wrong. Open the packet, dig out the plugs, plug one in to a wall socket near your modem/router, attach a network cable (supplied) and plug the other end into your modem/router, walk to where you want the other connection, plug in the second adapter, attach a network cable (supplied) and plug it into your computer and you’re done (there’s a little more if you to use encryption). That was it.

I tested by accessing some files and playing some of my (legally) ripped DVDs from a NAS drive, all worked fine. My friend has been able to stream HDTV via an Xbox 360 to his TV without problems and also found setup easy. At the moment the plan is to use these for connecting a media centre PC up under the TV so it can connect to the internet for surfing and downloading the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG).

You can also get things like wireless extenders to take wireless signals to places they otherwise cannot reach (the stated range of the power line adapters is 200 meters). The only problem is that you need a plug socket. I believe they will work in a power bar/extension lead but the further from the socket they are the lower the signal strength and speed, although this hasn’t been an issue.

The devices are a little pricey, the 14mbps kit is £62.02 (on Ebuyer), while the 85mbps kit is £89.54 and the 200mbps kit £132.30, but you can get cheaper ones from other vendors. I thought the idea sounded good when I heard it and I haven’t been proved wrong, roll on in-home power line networking, even if the power companies aren’t interested in supplying broadband.