Powerline and WiFi in one box
Sometimes it seems like pretty much every electronic device sold today is WiFi enabled. Manufacturers are obsessed with connecting our devices to the Internet so that they can be communicated with no matter where we are.
Whilst this is a pretty cool thing, there are plenty of people out there who can’t get reliable WiFi coverage in their homes due to the size, structure and topology of them. WiFi range extenders have been around for years now, but this is the first time I’ve seen a kit that combines the technology with Powerline to give you a variety of options for connecting devices up in your home.
The TL-WP4220KIT from TP-Link is a two piece kit comprising of a really tiny 500mbps Powerline adapter and a seperate TL-WPA4220 Powerline adapter. The latter of the two looks pretty much like a normal Powerline adapter, but inside it also has a wireless access point which can be used to generate a WiFi network, or clone and extend your existing one.
Included in the box are the following:
- The TL-WPA4220 Powerline Extender
- A TL-PA4010 Nano Powerline adapter
- 2 x CAT5e network cables
- A utility CD
- A quick start guide
- Other bits of paperwork.
First and foremost, this kit can definitely be used as a normal pair of Powerline adapters. Connect one to your router and the other to some other device, then plug them both into wall outlets, and you’ll have instant connectivity between the devices. The link is automatically encrypted using 128-bit AES encryption as soon as you press the “pair” button on each unit. In fact, you can connect two devices in this manner as the WPA4220 has two Ethernet ports rather than one.
Above and beyond this, the WPA4220 can also be used to clone your existing WiFi network, or you can set up a completely separate WiFi network.
Cloning your existing network can be easily achieved by using the WPS (WiFi Protected Setup) button on a compatible router. This feature is normally used to prevent the need to enter a passkey when connecting a new device to your network, but in this case it’s used to identify your WiFi network and replicate it on the WPA4220.
It’s really simple to do, and TP-Link are kind enough to provide instructions. You just need to press the WPA button on your router, then press the WPA button on the adapter, and after around 20 seconds the Powerline adapter should be configured for use. Then just plug in the other adapter, and the two will sync up automatically. Connect the second adapter to your router via a network cable and you’ll have a fully joined up network.
Of course, if your router doesn’t feature WPS then the only option is to manually setup a separate WiFi hotspot. Thankfully this is quite easy as well. TP-Link provide a utility which allows you to connect to the WPA4220 via your web browser. Doing so brings up the web configuration, from which you can give the WiFi hotspot a name and control its security settings.
Whichever route you choose you’re going to be extending the reach of wireless connectivity in your home. Cloning offers the best solution as it means that you don’t need to worry about connecting to the right network to get the best connection; most devices should automatically switch to the strongest signal.
TP-Link quote network speeds of up to 500Mbps for Powerline and up to 300Mbps for devices connected over WiFi. Of course, the emphasis for both of these is “up to”. Powerline speeds are notoriously difficult to accurately measure as they rely on your homes wiring to bounce the signal between devices. People living in modern houses are likely to get better speeds than those who’s homes were cabled out in the 1950’s. Similarly, wireless speeds are dependant on how much interference there is between the access point and the client device.
My property is notoriously bad for both WiFi signals and Powerline, so it’s the perfect place to test this kit.
After cloning my existing WiFi network using TP-Link’s instructions, I connected up both adapters to the mains and connected the TL-PA4010 to my router. I placed the TL-WPA4220 in my upstairs room where I normally struggle to pick up my WiFi network on my Android phone.
Straight away I noticed a major improvement in WiFi signal strength, I got full bars on my phone, and other devices in the room were showing a stronger connection as well. Web browsing was noticeably improved, as was connection to my home server for streaming music and video.
That being said, when you look at the actual figures the performance of this kit is a little underwhelming. To test the throughput of both the WiFi access point and the Powerline connection I transferred a 1GB file between my server and my laptop. In the first instance I did so using my laptops wireless connection, and then I connected the laptop directly to the Powerline device via a network cable. In both cases, the transfer speed was calculated to be around 30Mbps, well below the 300 and 500 ratings of the wireless and Powerline connections respectively.
As I said, my property is notoriously bad for both wireless and Powerline networks. There’s a lot of other homes in the vicinity which leads to interference both in the air waves and on the mains cabling. That being said, 30Mbps is still enough to stream HD video content from another device on your network, or from the Internet.
This kit is a novel one in my eyes, because it’s the first time I can recall a kit combining the two worlds of WiFi and Powerline into one product. Personally, I think there’s definitely a market for this type of device, especially if the topology of your home or office makes just using WiFi or just using Powerline unsuitable.
The WiFi cloning feature is a good one for those with routers that support WPS, it really does simplify things to have multiple access points with the same SSID and passcode. Even if your router doesn’t support WPS, you can still setup a separate access point using the included utility, so you can still make use of the wireless functionality without too much hassle.
Like most Powerline devices, the TL-WPA4220 is let down by its false claims of being a true 500Mbps device. When manufacturers talk about those speeds they’re talking about tests undertaken in a lab under ideal conditions. In real terms you’re never going to achieve that kind of throughput yourself, just like you’re not going to achieve 300Mbps over the WiFi connection, it’s just a fact of life.
That being said, if it’s a choice between a slow WiFi connection and no WiFi connection at all, I know what I’d pick, and in that sense this kit does definitely fill a hole.
What’s more, these particular adapters are amongst the most unobtrusive that I’ve ever had a look at. The TL-PA0410 really is tiny, and the TL-WPA4220 isn’t that much bigger. When you consider that it crams in two Ethernet ports and a WiFi hotspot, it’s pretty impressive. Those of us who are concerned about flashing lights ruining the mood will be happy to know that the green LEDs in both units are actually not that bright. Certainly they shouldn’t be keeping you up at night, and if they do then it’s nothing that a piece of masking tape won’t take care of.
Would I buy these units? Not personally. But I do know people that I’d recommend them too. Working in IT has spoiled me to the point that I want Gigabit network speeds in all rooms, but general users should find these units sufficient for streaming media, online gaming and general web browsing.