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Powerline Adapters vs. Wi-Fi? Which You Should Use (2021)

How do Powerline Adapters compare to Wi-Fi? Which is better? Learn about Powerline adapters and other solutions for your home network.

Powerline Adapter Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

Last Updated: November 24, 2021

Written by Kevin Jones

Powerline Adapters vs. Wi-Fi

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Powerline adapters can be an excellent solution for distributing Internet access throughout your home. In particular, it's a great choice when your environment has too many obstructions or too much interference for Wi-Fi, and you don't want to hardwire Ethernet.

Powerline throughput is about on par with Wi-Fi. However, Wi-Fi latency is higher (worse) than Powerline latency.

Both Wi-Fi and Powerline adapters can be subject to intermittent interference. Powerline adapters can be affected when running large home appliances. In contrast, Wi-Fi can be affected by other wireless devices, microwaves, and obstructions (e.g., walls blocking the signal).

Powerline adapters can be significantly affected by the quality of your home AC wiring. If the quality of your home wiring isn't known, you will not know whether it will work well before trying it.

I recommend that you use Wi-Fi rather than Powerline adapters if you:

  • Have a reasonably small coverage area or can use multiple Wi-Fi access points
  • Don't have dense obstructions which will block the signal
  • Don't have too much Wi-Fi interference (e.g., from neighbors)

If you want to use your network for fast-paced games, I don't recommend Wi-Fi or Powerline adapters.

As I'll discuss below, MoCA adapters (Ethernet over coax) may be a great alternative solution. If you have existing coax wiring in your home, MoCA provides a better overall connection.

Check out my Recommended Powerline Adapters and Wi-Fi Systems below.

NETGEAR Powerline Adapter Kit, 2000 Mbps NETGEAR Powerline Adapter Kit, 2000 Mbps Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

What Are Powerline Adapters?

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A pair of Powerline adapters allows you to use AC wiring for Ethernet communication. Powerline adapters behave like an extension for an Ethernet cable. You can create an Ethernet network by simply plugging a pair of Powerline adapters into your wall outlets. Powerline adapters can communicate over the same wires as you use for AC power transmission.

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

MoCA

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.

Suppose you don't need to use the total capacity of your Internet connection, or your Internet speeds are low already. In that case, 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 high-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.

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

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

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 low connection speed of 50-350 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

Pros and Cons of Wi-Fi

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If you don't want to put holes in your walls to add new Ethernet wiring, then Wi-Fi can be a great solution. However, you may need a Wi-Fi repeater or mesh system to eliminate Wi-Fi dead zones if you have a big home.

Pros:

  • Easy to set up
  • Newer versions support high speeds

Cons:

  • Higher latency can be bad for gaming
  • Walls and other obstacles can block the signal

Are Powerline Adapters Good for Gaming?

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Powerline adapters should be considered a last resort when using them to provide high-speed Internet to your gaming computer or console.

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.

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.
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  • This model includes some great features:

    • An extra passthrough Ethernet port
    • An extra outlet (although the device will block part of a second wall outlet)
    • 2 Gbps (theoretical) speeds
    • Support for encryption
  • Check the latest price of the NETGEAR Powerline 2000 Mbps Adapter Kit on Amazon (affiliate link).

    NETGEAR Powerline Adapter Kit, 2000 Mbps NETGEAR Powerline Adapter Kit, 2000 Mbps Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Additional accessories you may need: Tripp Lite Cat6a 10G Patch Cable 3ft Tripp Lite Cat6a 10G Patch Cable 3ft Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

  • Wi-Fi 6 for some of the fastest Wi-Fi speeds
  • Supports up to 40 devices at once
  • Satellite extender helps to eliminate dead zones NETGEAR Orbi Whole Home Tri-band Mesh WiFi 6 System NETGEAR Orbi Whole Home Tri-band Mesh WiFi 6 System Check Price on Amazon (affiliate link)

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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