With real-world data speeds of close to four times that of a regular Ethernet connection, the new ZyXel Homeplug AV2 Gigabit Powerline Adapter Starter Kit (model PLA5206KIT) is one of the fastest ways to extend your Internet connection to a place that a cable or your Wi-Fi network won't reach. It's also very easy to use, taking less than a minute to get it up and running, out of the box.
Costing some $160 (with two adapters included,) however, the PLA5206KIT kit is rather expensive. (ZyXel has not yet announced pricing in the UK or Australia.) But that aside, if you're looking for a quick and reliable way to extend your network to a home corner where Wi-Fi signal can't reach, the PLA5206KIT remains an excellent choice.
For more affordable options, however, check out this list of top powerline adapters on the market.
Design and setup
Like all powerline adapters, the PLA5206KIT includes two identical adapters (both model PLA5206) to create the first powerline connection for a single device. After that, you need just one more adapter for each additional device, and the PLA5206 is also available as a single unit for about $85. The general rule of powerline networking is you buy a number of powerline adapters equal to the number of wired clients (computers, printer, game consoles and so on) plus one. The extra unit connects to the existing router (or switch) and brings the network to the rest of other adapters. Generally, for optimal performance, you can use up to 16 devices via a powerline network.
The PLA5206 adapter itself uses a traditional snap-in design, looking like the power adapter of a small electronic device but with a network port at one end. Measuring 2.4 x 3.66 x 1.26 inches (61 x 93 x 32 mm), it's relatively large. This means that when in use, it might block access to adjacent wall sockets. Since the adapter doesn't feature a pass-through socket, it can't be used at a place where there's only one power socket, either. Note that in order to work well, powerline adapters need to be plugged directly into the wall, not via a power strip or surge protector.
Similar to most of the power-line adapters I've reviewed, the PLA5206KIT is very easy to set up. First you hook up one of the adapters to the existing router (or switch) using a network cable (two short cables are included with the kit). Then you connect the second adapter to an Ethernet-ready device, such as a printer at, say, the far end of the house. Then plug each adapter into a power socket and you're done. The adapters now use the electrical wiring in between the two sockets as a network cable.
Generally speaking, a powerline connection is basically an alternative to running a long network cable between a router and an Ethernet-ready device. In most cases, a pair of powerline adapters is actually much cheaper than the total cost of installing a network cable, which involves the cable itself and and the two network wall ports, and it takes much less time to install.
The PLA5206 sports the latest HomePlug AV2 powerline standard, which is capable of delivering up to 1,000Mbps. Its network port supports Gigabit Ethernet (1,000Mbps), which is a very important feature because it allows the adapter to provide the highest possible speed. A lot of other adapters of the same powerline standard come with a regular Ethernet (100Mbps) network port, which means the port is a bottleneck that slows down the powerline connection.
Near the network port, the PLA5206 has a button that can be used to create or reset the encryption between two units. You just need to press and hold the button for about two seconds at one unit, then, within two minutes, do the same at the other to create a secure connection between the two of them. ZyXel says data transmission through the PLA5206 is protected by 128-bit advanced encryption security (AES). You only need to use the encryption if you live in a building with multiple units and don't want others to tap into your home network by using a powerline adapter of their own.