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Feature Article – Understanding and Managing your HomePlug network

If you want to have your HomePlug network segment working properly for you and your needs, you will need to be able to manage it properly. This article talks about how to connect the HomePlug devices for best results and how to organise the devices in your HomePlug segment for privacy or improved network performance.

Understanding the typical AC supply

A mains “phase” typically describes a single standard-voltage AC circuit from the street transformer through to your premises. In a typical residential power service, where the general-tariff power passes through one electricity meter, all the power outlets are on the one phase. Most US residential installations have two phases due to the low standard voltage but HomePlug has been designed to work around these installations.

The electricity meter for a typical household AC supply is considered a “firewall” for the HomePlug network segment that operates on that supply because of the way it works. This may be a problem for a multi-building home network where there is another building like a bungalow that is metered separately.

Electrical accessories and the HomePlug network

For best performance, you should have the HomePlug devices plugged directly in to the power outlets. But this is not always feasible due to distance from the outlets or the number of outlets available near the device.

An extension cord can be used for a HomePlug setup as long as it is of the right type. For short runs up to 10 metres, you can use the regular domestic extension cord that is typically used for the vacuum cleaner or portable radio. You will need to use “tradesmen-grade” or “caravan” extension cords for longer runs. As well, daisy-chained extension cords may not be beneficial to the HomePlug signal.

As far as powerboards / power strips and “double adaptors” are concerned, make sure that the HomePlug device is connected to one without surge-suppression or line-conditioning technology. On the other hand, you could use one equipped with surge-suppression or line-conditioning technology if it has an outlet that is marked “HomePlug” and you plug the HomePlug device in to that outlet. You can also get around this problem by plugging your HomePlug device in to one of the outlets on a regular powerboard and plug a surge-suppressor powerboard which has your computer equipment in to another of the outlets of the regular powerboard. A recent-issue HomePlug-Ethernet bridge that has a built-in power outlet or one of the surge-suppressor powerboards which have integrated HomePlug-Ethernet bridge functionality can solve the problem very easily.

Managing your HomePlug network

The network is typically managed with software that is supplied with your HomePlug hardware. This is usually in the form of a configuration tool, typically a version of “PowerPacket” for most operating systems. In some cases, you may have to download the software from the device manufacturer’s Website. Infact, the Solwise website has most of the software available for nearly all of the operating systems.

On the other hand, some devices, typically HomePlug wireless access points and routers can be managed by logging in to a particular Internet address, similar to managing an Internet router.

A recent trend that has emerged is for HomePlug AV devices to implement “SimpleConnect” which uses push-button control to enrol devices to a HomePlug network segment.

HomePlug Device Identifier

This value is unique to each device and is known as a Device Password in a HomePlug 1.0 network. This information is typically printed on a label that is attached to the HomePlug device itself, alongside the MAC address for that device. It may also be attached to the device’s packaging.

HomePlug Network Segment Identifier

This identifier, usually set to “HomePlug” but can be set by the user to a different value, is known to the devices that are part of a HomePlug network segment. It is typically known as a “Network Password” for both the HomePlug 1.0 or “Private Network Name” for some HomePlug AV networks and can allow multiple HomePlug network segments to exist on the one mains phase.

Configuring a Network Segment To A Particular Identifier

You will have to obtain the Device Identifiers from each of the HomePlug devices that are to be part of the Network Segment that is having that identifier. Then, make sure that they are plugged in to the AC supply and can be seen by the HomePlug device you are doing the configuring from. This can be checked using your configuration software that has come with that HomePlug device.

Add all the devices to your network by entering their Device Passwords in to the configuration software. Then go to the “Privacy” or similar option and set the Network Password for all devices that are on your network to make the segment

If the devices use HomePlug AV SimpleConnect, you just need to press the button on the device which is a member of the segment you want to enrol your other device in, then press the button on the device that is to be enrolled.

What you can do

“Pushing out” a HomePlug installation

As I have mentioned before in my feature article on multi-building home networks, you may have to “extend” your HomePlug network if you can’t get proper network operation on some of the mains circuits such as in remote buildings.

This involves creating two different HomePlug segments, with each segment having at least one HomePlug-Ethernet bridge on the same mains service. Then the Ethernet connection from a bridge associated with one HomePlug segment is connected to the Ethernet port on the bridge associated with the other HomePlug segment. These can be connected directly or via an Ethernet switch so one can run network devices from the Ethernet link.

The above setup would then have to be deployed halfway between the HomePlug devices that are trying to communicate such as in an outbuilding nearest the main house like a garage.

HomePlug AV and 1.0 in the same premises

HomePlug 1.0 and AV can exist on the same mains service but will work as separate network segments in a manner which doesn’t compromise their bandwidth. The separate network segment issue can be mitigated with a Ethernet bridge device from each technology connected to each other or to the LAN ports of a router or Ethernet switch.

Conclusion

Once you know how to understand and manage the HomePlug powerline network, you can gain a lot more out of this technology and make it work well in your building.

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17 February 2009 Posted by | Feature Article, HomePlug powerline networking, Network Management | | 1 Comment

HomePlug in the commercial or institutional environment

Often HomePlug powerline networks are, by the name of the technology, pitched at residential networks, typically single-dwelling homes. But can a HomePlug powerline network, whether a v1.0 Turbo or an AV network exist in a block of flats, a shop or a small office?

There are many applications for the use of a HomePlug in the commercial or institutional environment. One would be to set up a network printer or other network-enabled device in a manner that allows the location to be changed at a moment’s notice. This would be of importance for equipment likely to be on the shop floor for example.

Another application would be to set up a multiple-access-point wireless network to extend the coverage of the wireless hotspot in your café or bar. One of the HomePlug wireless access points can easily do this job especially on a temporary setup or setups where you need to remove the access point at night as a security measure.

You may also want to use HomePlug for establishing a temporary network as part of an event that you host at a town hall, school assembly hall or other community facility, thus avoiding extra cables or unreliable wireless networks. Then there is the ability to try out computer-equipment locations for a certain amount of time before you have the electricians pull the Ethernet cabling to the final location.

An example of this kind of setup

At the moment, Devolo, a German company who manufactures HomePlug network devices, have “taken the bull by the horns” in its home market. They have run a German-language Web portal, about using HomePlug as a solution for establishing computer networks in schools. On this page, there are examples of three schools who have established HomePlug network segments that are known to be in full service.

AC power issues

The main issue is that AC power supplies which supply most of these locations aren’t similar to the typical residential AC power supply. These supplies typically involve a “multi-phase” wiring plan that is typically set up for larger motors or other large loads. This shouldn’t be really of concern for setups covering a flat, small shop or office because most of the power wiring is similar to that of a regular house. In the case of shops and other premises that have special equipment like large commercial refrigeration setups, the special equipment is typically wired to its own group of phases while the ordinary power outlets are wired to a single phase, in a manner similar to a domestic setup.

Similarly the large motors like those that typically drive commercial refrigeration / air-conditioning or lifts and escalators can yield interference as they are used. Similarly, arc welding and similar work equipment can increase the amount of interference in the power line. Another issue to remember is that there is very little chance of a HomePlug segment working if you plug any of the HomePlug devices in to one of those three-phase – single-phase powerboards used primarily to run large clusters of standard lighting or cooking equipment from a three-phase outlet. This is usually due to the use of transformers and different phases in these installations.

Testing a HomePlug network segment

When you set up a HomePlug powerline network segment in any of these premises that you haven’t dealt with before or where significant work has been done, you may have to do a test run at the locations you intend to set up your installation at before you run the installation full-time.

You could run the “PowerPacket” utility that comes with most HomePlug-Ethernet bridges to observe the link quality of your HomePlug segment and the existence of the other HomePlug devices that you have plugged in at the locations you want to use. The latter observation can be useful if some of the ordinary power outlets in the premises are wired to different phases. You can also observe changes in link quality when any of the heavy motors are in operation such as whenever someone is using the lift or the refrigeration compressor that serves the commercial refrigeration installation comes on.

Another test would be to do a simple network-based file-copy between computers connected to the HomePlug devices and time that copy process for actual throughput measurement.  At this time, it may be worth looking for changes in network behaviour when any of the heavy motors are in operation as in the situations described above.

But before you do these tests, make sure that the HomePlug equipment you intend to deploy in the commercial environment works properly at your home or at a location where you know from experience this kind of equipment has worked. Also, make sure that you can return the HomePlug equipment to whoever you bought it from if it doesn’t work or be able to buy the equipment “on approval”.

Other setup issues

Another good practice with deploying HomePlug in these locations is to set up an installation-unique Network Password for the installation. This can be easily done with HomePlug AV devices that have “Simple Connect” push-button setup because the HomePlug AV devices work out a unique code for that installation. On the other hand, you would have to use the setup software like PowerPacket to align all the devices (which have the Device Passwords physically on them) to the same Network Password. This allows your HomePlug network segment to work in a secure fashion.

Once you have used HomePlug in these kind of setups, you can be able to know what it can and cannot do in a particular location and defeat the common limitation of HomePlug being just for the home.

7 February 2009 Posted by | HomePlug powerline networking, Network Management, SOHO / Small business computer setups | | Leave a comment