Troubleshooting Powerline Ethernet Connections

Powerline Ethernet is a great technology that allows bridging of computer networks via power wiring infrastructure that already exists in a lot of dwellings. It is a cost effective solution for low-latency network performance in an environment where traditional network cabling is too expensive and Wi-Fi is too slow or impractical to implement. It works by sending radio signals down conventional 110v/240v power wiring between two units and creating a network link, just as if you had a traditional cable (albeit with some throughput limitations due to wiring constraints).

However, like many technologies, it isn’t perfect. If you are finding that your Powerline Ethernet connection is occasionally dropping out or performing poorly (eg. showing two lights instead of three and causing slow speeds or connection loss behind the Powerline Ethernet network), don’t fret – this is a rare occurrence that can be caused by a range of factors, such as:

  • Power surges, dips or loss, either from external or internal causes (eg. bad weather or household appliance overcurrent / short circuit)
  • Poor quality internal wiring or wall plugs – (eg. cheap or old plugs, especially those in a humid environment)
  • Interference from surge protection, filtering or power distribution devices (eg. powerboards, circuit breakers)
  • Excessive power cable length, or having to travel through multiple power circuits
  • Physical disruption (eg. being knocked slightly out of plug, large adjacent power packs pushing against powerline unit)
  • Interference with other powerline ethernet unit from nearby properties (most common in apartment-style housing where some power infrastructure is shared)
  • Unpair of units (eg. accidental press of pair button on powerline unit)
  • Ethernet disconnection – some powerline units will go to sleep if the devices connected via ethernet are powered off (eg. modems / routers)
  • Defective powerline unit(s) (rare, but can happen)

Before we take a look into troubleshooting steps, it’s a good idea to take a look at the lights that are on the powerline ethernet units. Below is a picture of a standard powerline ethernet unit, with all three lights lit:

The status of these lights are very important. From top to bottom, these are:

  • Power Status LED. This indicates if the Powerline Ethernet units have any power at all.
  • Powerline Ethernet Link. This is the most common light that tends to go out, and it means that that this Powerline Ethernet unit does not have an active link with another Powerline Ethernet unit.
  • Ethernet link. If this light is not lot, this means that the network device that connects to this unit is not plugged in properly, is not switched on, or the cable is bad

Some Powerline Ethernet units also have a fourth LED for Wi-Fi (which looks a bit like a radio wave icon) or may have the LEDs in a slightly different order, but the same concept applies – consult the manual for your particular model for more details if you are unsure. The first and the third LEDs are easy to diagnose – try another power plug, and try another cable or network device – if there’s still nothing on these LEDs, then your unit may be defective and need to be replaced. It’s rare, but it can happen.

The more likely scenario is that the Powerline Ethernet Link LED (the 2nd LED in our example) is not lit. We’ll assume that your network has been setup already and works fine before the Powerline Network (eg. if you are connected directly to the main modem/router) was working until recently, and everything is powered on as normal. We’ll assume you have no connection all all, but if you are just experiencing slow speeds (running tests on speedtest.net can also help identify performance issues), the same concepts apply.To restore connectivity, try these troubleshooting tips, in this order:

  1. Power off both Powerline Ethernet adapters and leave for 1 minute. Power them both back on and check to see all LEDs return.
  2. Re-pair the Powerline Ethernet adapters by tapping the “pair” button (located usually on the front or underneath) on both Powerline Ethernet units. The Powerline Ethernet Link light should blink when in pairing mode, and then go solid once a link is achieved. If it doesn’t seem to be going into pairing mode, try holding the button instead of a quick tap.
  3. If the units still do not want to pair, move one or more of the Powerline Ethernet adapters to a different power plug in the same room. Make sure it’s directly into the wall with no filters, power boards, or other adapters. It shouldn’t have any large plugs next to it that may interfere with the connection.
  4. If you’re still not getting a connection, time to rule out a possible issue with the Powerline Ethernet adapters themselves. Unplug both units and try plugging them both in right next to each other (or both in the same power board) and see if a Powerline Ethernet Link (2nd LED in our example above) is achieved. If no link is achieved, try pressing the pair button again on both units. If there is still no pair achieved then your units may be defective.
  5. Assuming the test above worked, try placing the Powerline Units back in their original positions. If no link is achieved again, or the link disconnects regularly, then the most likely explanation for connectivity issues is the quality or excessive length of the power wiring. Try moving one or more of your Powerline Units (along with their respective network equipment) to a different room, ideally closer together, and on the same power circuit. Depending on the layout of the power wiring in your building, it may even be possible that a room further away is on the same power circuit, and may work better. If you know how the circuits are wired, use this knowledge to pick an optimal location for the equipment, otherwise you may need to perform some trial and error.
  6. If you manage to get a working link, but you find that you get occasional disconnections when certain electrical equipment is used (eg. Air conditioners, microwaves, vacuum cleaners and other high-powered appliances), investigate whether there is a fault with these appliances or your power wiring infrastructure that is causing dips in voltage, which therefore cause a disconnection in Powerline Ethernet units. You may need to replace this equipment or consult an electrician if this becomes a regular and frustrating occurrence.

If you’re still unable to achieve a stable link after all this troubleshooting, you may need to consider an alternative to Powerline Ethernet as it is most likely that your power wiring infrastructure is inadequate for Powerline Ethernet. Whilst costly, it may be more practical to hire an electrician to install suitable CAT6 Ethernet cabling to create a reliable network link within the premises. Alternatively, a high-end Wi-Fi solution such as point-to-point Wi-Fi or a Wi-Fi mesh network may be suitable alternative, but these are also somewhat costly.

Hopefully this helps. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave a question below.

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