Netcomm NP206 Wireless Powerline Kit Review

Like most people, I don’t have the perfect network setup at home. My main desktop computer (which usage declines year on year), server, modem/router/switch/access point combo box sits at one end of the house while the lounge, dining and outdoor deck sits at the other end of the house. In the era of mobile devices I tend to do more of my computing at the comfy end of the house (especially in winter when the fireplace is used). This can get frustrating at the best of times. The WiFi signal bounces between 1 and 0 bars and results in me either giving up or simply moving closer to the other end of the house. Visit boostpoorsignal.com to learn some easy steps to boost poor signal strength.

The problem could be easily solved by a second AP, some running of CAT5e/6 cabling back to the combo box. Unfortunately this home is not my own, I just live here. So, I more or less just put up with it, tweak 2.4ghz spectrum channels, reposition the combo box in different ways to little or no effect.

The other week though, I had enough. I thought, in this day and age I expect a little more from my home network and it was time to resolve this problem. But the question was how?

The answer came to me in a dream…actually no, I simply remembered back to a technology I more or less dismissed at its inception and thought it was worth a second look.

HomePlugAV, Powerline, IEEE 1901, Ethernet over Power (EoP), what ever you want to call it, defines high speed communications and networks over traditional power lines.

Enter the Netcomm NP206 Wireless Powerline Kit

np206_box

The Netcomm NP206 Wireless Powerline Kit contains the following:

  • 1x Powerline Adapter with AC Pass-through
    • Intellon INT6400 (Powerline chipset)
  • 1x Powerline Adapter with 802.11n
    • Intellon INT6400 (Powerline chipset)
    • Ralink RT3052 (802.11n chipset)
  • 2x Ethernet Cables
  • 1x Quick Start Guide
  • 1x Product Warranty

Disappointingly, the Ralink RT3052 is quite an old 802.11n AP/Router SoC that dates back all the way to 2008 and thus is single band, 2.4GHz only. On the flip side, only one of my devices in my collection is dual band and the density of devices nor spectrum congestion is an issue where I live.

np206_unbox

Once unboxed, setup is rather painless. Netcomm have already pre-paired the adapters together in a powerline network (this is separate to a traditional data network) and all you  have to do is simply plug them both in and connect the single Ethernet over Power adapter one to your combo box via the supplied (x2) Ethernet cable.

The result is I had a new SSID pumping out at full strength in our lounge room which is connected to my existing data network.

Great, but I wasn’t done.

Like any IT Professional would, I wanted roaming WiFi. A quick visit to the Netcomm website, grab and install their utility, connect the computer to the Wireless Access Point/Ethernet over Power adapter via Ethernet and fire up the utility to change the SSID.

Now that I am back to a single SSID WiFi network, what about the results? Well apart from having plenty of signal, I performed some brief and not overly scientific tests to get a basic idea of the difference the NP206 kit made.

First, I established a base line featuring the bandwith available (according to Windows 8 and Android 4.3 phone), downloading a 10mb test file from my ISPs file mirror and copying said 10mb test file to my server (Windows 2012 R2 Preview w/ single Gigabit Ethernet connected) over the WiFi.

And now doing the same tests after the installation of the NP206 kit.

There you have it; better results all round.

While the Netcomm NP206 hasn’t provided me with absolutely killer wireless speeds (this particular kits powerline network bandwidth tops out at a theoretical 200mbps compared to the theoretical 300mbps bandwidth of 802.11n), it has done exactly what I asked it to; significantly improve the WiFi in an area of our house.

Companies such as Milsoft Utility Solutions is giving electric utility personnel the tools they need to model and analyze the electric distribution network so that they can plan, operate and manage the system at minimum capital and operating costs.

I certainly think there is a application for powerline networking gear. It will be more or less restricted to consumer’s homes but that is where it’s strength lies. It is perfect for those who don’t (or cannot) go around digging into their walls and threading networking cabling between cobwebs and structural beams. Let’s be honest… powerline kits certainly will out perform WiFi repeaters.

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4 Comments

  1. John Ashby
    31/10/2013
    Reply

    Helpful write up on the Netcomm 206. I just installed it to help with similar problems across a long house. Regarding ‘roaming’ wifi, are you saying that by changing the Netcomm SSID to the same as the SSID for my modem that devices moving around the house would then seek the strongest signal?// Thanks

    • 31/10/2013
      Reply

      Hi John,
      You’re spot on the mark. If both SSIDs are the same (and the security settings ala password are the same) your devices will roam between the two as if they were one big wireless network. No interaction needed at the device end.

  2. mickeyj4j
    28/12/2013
    Reply

    this is a good tutorial. but where did you get the app from. i have a macbook pro and its not comparable.

    is there a way to access the router via the router address in your browser. i can’t find it online. this is annoying for advanced users, or usage.

    • 28/12/2013
      Reply

      Hi mickeyj4j,

      I downloaded the app from the products support page (http://www.netcommwireless.com/product/powerline/np206). Unfortunately it doesn’t look like there is a OSX version. I did an IP and some port scanning and couldn’t find anything to manage it remotely. It’s quite possible if it’s connected using a crossover Ethernet cable something might pop up (the app requires you to be directly connected).

Helpful? Have a question on the above?