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Do Powerline Adapters Work in Apartments?

Learn about whether Powerline adapters are suitable for apartments. How do Powerline adapters compare to Wi-Fi and alternatives?

Powerline Adapter Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

Last Updated: December 28, 2021

Written by Kevin Jones

Do Powerline Adapters Work in Apartments?

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Powerline adapters will work in an apartment if the wiring is adequate, there is minimal interference, and rooms are on the same circuit.

Wiring Condition

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Powerline adapters can be affected by the quality of your home AC wiring.

For example, an old apartment with ancient wiring may experience a more significant amount of interference than a newly built apartment. However, it can still work, depending on the other factors.

Interference

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If your apartment shares a transformer with multiple other units, you may experience some interference from those homes. This interference from neighbor units is often out of your control.

Additionally, neighbors who are also using Powerline devices may be competing for the same frequencies. Having multiple powerline networks wouldn't be a show-stopper, but it can reduce the maximum speeds.

The best way to tell if your wire condition and noise/interference levels are adequate is to connect Powerline adapters and test the experienced speeds.

I know that needing to try this with Powerline adapters isn't ideal. However, it is difficult to predict what types of interference you may or may not experience.

Same Circuit

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Most Powerline adapters indicate that they will only work when connected to the same circuit. Let's dig into the details of how this works.

How Electrical Panels Are Wired

First, let's discuss how home electrical panels are wired in North America.

Three lines run from the power company's transformer (the thing that looks like a can on a power pole) to your home: a neutral and two hot leads (line 1, line 2).

There are 120 V between line 1 and neutral and between line 2 and neutral.

There are 240 V between line 1 and line 2.

Circuit breakers are labeled for various rooms or appliances on your electrical panel. Circuit breakers limit the current from exceeding the desired threshold to ensure that your wires don't melt.

Lights and outlets in rooms need 120 V, so circuit breakers for those rooms connect to neutral and either line 1 or line 2.

Larger appliances need 240 V, so those circuit breakers connect to line 1 and line 2.

Each row in an electrical panel alternates between line 1 and line 2. Because 120 V breakers only need to connect to either line 1 or line 2, but not both, they take up a single row of an electrical panel's left or right column.

Here's an example electrical panel layout:

Line Left Column of Electrical Panel Right Column of Electrical Panel
Line 1 Circuit Breaker 1 Circuit Breaker 2
Line 2 Circuit Breaker 3 Circuit Breaker 4
Line 1 Circuit Breaker 5 Circuit Breaker 6
Line 2 Circuit Breaker 7 Circuit Breaker 8
Line 1 Circuit Breaker 9 Circuit Breaker 10
... ... ...

Note that lines 1 and 2 may not always be the same for an electrical panel's left and right columns. For example, whether breakers 1 and 2 both use line 1 will depend on the manufacturer.

Similarly, 240 V breakers need to connect to both line 1 and line 2, so they use two rows of a column of the electrical panel.

Legs and Phases

Each of the lines described above is considered a circuit or leg.

With North American "split-phase" electrical systems, communication between legs would go through the power meter and transformer. Going through these hurdles makes communication difficult.

In some countries, where "multi-phase" installations exist, communication between legs is even more problematic.

Powerline Compatibility

Powerline technology is not able to communicate well across legs. The performance impact will be considerable if attempting to communicate across legs. The connection may be intermittent, if it works at all. Communication across phases or legs is often the cause of slower than expected speeds.

Only rooms on the same leg will communicate at high speed via Powerline.

This requirement means that in some cases, you may only be able to use powerline adapters between particular rooms, depending on your home's wiring.

How to Use the Same Circuit

For North American installations, you can use the table above to determine if rooms will be able to communicate. For example, Circuit Breakers in positions 1 and 5 should be able to communicate because they both use Line 1.

However, keep in mind that the same may not be true when comparing the left column to the right column of an electrical panel. Whether breakers 1 and 2 both use line 1 will depend on the manufacturer.

Check out my Recommended Powerline Adapters below.

NETGEAR Powerline Adapter Kit, 2000 Mbps NETGEAR Powerline Adapter Kit, 2000 Mbps Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

Powerline vs. Alternatives

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Ethernet Cable & Alternatives Setup Complexity Supported Speeds Supported Distance Latency Reliability
Ethernet Cable - Ethernet over Twisted Pair (e.g., Cat 6a) Excellent Excellent Good Excellent Excellent
Powerline - Ethernet over Powerline Excellent Fair Good Fair Poor
MoCA - Ethernet over Coax Good Good Good Good Good
Wi-Fi - Wireless Good Fair Fair Poor Fair

Learn more about MoCA adapters in my article, Ethernet Over Coax?! A Complete Guide to MoCA Adapters.

Use Cases for Powerline Adapters

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  • Use existing home wiring as a replacement for Ethernet cables.
  • Extend wireless coverage.
  • Backhaul for a Mesh Wi-Fi System (i.e., a wired backbone for the Wi-Fi satellites).
  • Get Internet access into hard-to-reach places in your home.
  • Use wired connections to avoid Wi-Fi interference from neighbors.
  • Avoid the latency of Wi-Fi while playing games on consoles and computers.
  • A secure alternative to Wi-Fi.

Pros and Cons of Powerline

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Pros:

  • Easy wiring using existing power outlets (connect an Ethernet cable)
  • Low cost (compared to MoCA adapters)
  • Encrypted (some products)
  • Up to a 300-meter range
  • Some models have built-in Wi-Fi
  • Plug and play setup (no configuration required)

Cons:

  • Often a lower connection speed of around 150-350 Mbps compared to the advertised 1-2 Gbps
  • Powerline devices need to be on the same electrical circuit
  • May cause noticeable electromagnetic interference with some devices such as speakers (static sound)
  • Power strip, GFCI outlets, and AFCI circuit breakers may degrade Powerline network signals
  • Some models block an outlet when connecting directly into a wall outlet

MoCA vs. Powerline

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Suppose you're looking for an alternative to Ethernet cables and Wi-Fi. In that case, we believe that MoCA (Ethernet over Coax) is the clear winner compared to Powerline due to the faster speeds and better signal quality. However, there are still some use cases where Powerline may be the best solution. Powerline is a little easier to set up than MoCA. MoCA adapters require coax cabling in your rooms, which may not exist in your case.

Learn more about MoCA adapters in my article, Ethernet Over Coax?! A Complete Guide to MoCA Adapters.

Suppose your Internet speed is less than 200 Mbps or your devices on the network do not support gigabit Ethernet. In these cases, Powerline adapters may be the best of the two options for you, as they offer a lower price point.

On the other hand, MoCA adapters are a better option when you want to fully utilize a higher-speed Internet connection and have existing coax cabling between rooms.

You could also consider using both! For example, MoCA adapters might work great for connecting an upstairs and downstairs via coax. At the same time, Powerline adapters would be great for getting Internet to a garage that has no coax line available.

For even more alternatives, check out my article, The 6 Best Ethernet Cable Alternatives for Home Networks.

Are Powerline Adapters Good for Gaming?

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Powerline adapters will work for providing high-speed Internet to your gaming computer or console, but they are not your best option.

Powerline adapters have lower latency than Wi-Fi, which is good. However, they do not have the same reliability or speed compared to their alternatives.

Suppose you have coax cabling in your home. In that case, MoCA adapters are a better option, as they provide faster speeds and better reliability.

Ethernet cables (e.g., Cat 6a cable) will always provide the fastest, most reliable, and lowest latency solution.

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How to Set Up Powerline Adapters

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Powerline adapters can be very simple to set up. Conceptually, you can think of a pair of Powerline adapters as an extension for an Ethernet cable. More than two Powerline adapters behave like an Ethernet hub combined with Ethernet cables.

Most Powerline adapters are configured similarly.

To set up Powerline adapters:

  1. Plug one Powerline adapter into a power outlet and connect it to your Internet router via an Ethernet cable.
  2. Plug one or more additional Powerline adapters into power outlets in rooms where you want Internet access. Connect them to computers or other network devices via Ethernet cables.
  3. Pair the Powerline adapters by holding down the button on each adapter for a few seconds.

That's it! Your devices should now be on the network and have Internet access.

Building Your Network

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If you want to learn more about internet equipment, networking, wiring, or troubleshooting, check out these articles:

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