Solwise Simple Connect powerline Ethernet adaptor
Can protecting a network really be this easy
Review How important is security for a powerline Ethernet network? It's a lot less of an issue than it is with wireless networking, that's for sure. Most powerline connections are shielded by all the gubbins at the meter, but folk in buildings with many dwellings or offices and only one feed to the outside world will need to tweak the technology's security feature.
Powerline adaptors based on the 200Mb/s HomePlug AV standard use 128-bit AES encryption and it's enabled right out of the box. AES isn't trivial to crack, but since the adaptors are all pre-set with the same password - to make setting up networks easier for novices - they may as well not be.
Solwise's PL-200AV Push: new passwords at the push of a button
Everyone who makes powerline adaptors supplies software that allows users to change the password used to encrypt data flowing between your powerline units. The snag here is that these utilities can be intimidating if you're not a techie, and they usually only run on Windows PCs - not much use if you're a Mac or Linux buff, or if you just want to connect a games console to the internet.
Solwise's solution to the problem, dubbed Simple Connect, is to generate passwords randomly, literally at the push of a button, and auto-sync them with all the units on the network. The feature is implemented in its new PL-200AV Push adaptor.
Each Push is clad in white plastic and is a little chunkier than Solwise's previous 200Mb/s HomePlug adaptors - reviewed here - which were coloured blue. We think the older ones look nicer, but the new models do sport better indicator lights, now represented by backlit icons rather than simple LEDs. That certainly makes it easier to see what's going on when you're adaptors are in hard-to-reach, poorly-lit corners as you're not left wondering which light is which. Now it's immediately clear which are the power, powerline and Ethernet activity lights.
And the powerline light changes colour from red to orange to green, to indicate the speed of the link: under 40Mb/s, 40-105Mb/s and greater than 105Mb/s, respectively. Remember, that's the powerline link speed, not what you'll get through the integrated 100Mb/s Ethernet port.
Solwise supplies the new Push as standalone units, and in pairs as starter kits. We tried the latter first, plugging the two units into sockets that currently have other 200Mb/s adaptors. Both are pre-set to work together. With the new boxes in place, bridging our Belkin router and an Apple TV box, the connection was quickly established, and the Apple TV popped up in iTunes ready for synchronisation.
We connected one of the old, default password Solwise 200Mb/s units to a PC, but it was unable to talk to the router and get an IP address, so the two Push units clearly had formed a single, self-contained network.
Adding a third unit to the network is straightforward: press the button on one of the networked Pushes for two seconds, plug in the third unit, press its button for two seconds and wait. The three gadgets should communicate with each other and configure themselves with the same password. Initiating the process on an existing Push means it's impossible for someone to install one of their own and command your network.
With only two units, we couldn't test this process exactly, so we unplugged one unit, reset the password on the other, then attempted to connect the first device to the one with the new password - randomly generated by the box itself. You'll probably want to reset the password this way anyway, to erase the default that Solwise uses.
Plug and play
You have two minutes from initiating the device search on the networked units to press the button on the adaptor you want to add to the network. We waited a moment or two, pressed the button and... after a few seconds the boxes were hosting a powerline link and our MacBook Pro could once again talk to the Apple TV downstairs.
If you have a handy Windows PC, you can still run Solwise's network configuration utility, which allows you to change the password of a connected adaptor and others remotely over the network. It's straightforward, but you have to go and get all the device IDs off each adaptor, which isn't always easy if they're plugged in and running.
And you'll have to do this if you want to use one of the new units with 200Mb/s powerline adaptors from other vendors. Solwise's old PL-200AVs too, unless you first upgrade their firmware to version 2.0.
Of course, all this means the products aren't technically compatible with other powerline products, which are supposed to use a standard password to ensure out-of-the-box interoperability. But then Solwise is pitching the Push at folk who want a secure but easy-to-install network, and at that it succeeds.
Solwise is charging £50 for the Push compared to around £46 for the older PL-200AV. The technically proficient are better off going for the latter, but £4 a unit is a small price for anyone else to pay for the extra ease of use the Simple Connect system brings. Our guess is that it won't be long before the Push is a cheap as the old model.
We had no problem streaming a 1080i HD movie from a PC to a Mac across the Pushes' powerline link. The video took up around 19.2Mb/s of bandwidth. Copying a 5GB folder from one machine to the other at the same time was no trouble either, despite pushing the throughput to 55.6Mb/s. The video played smoothly throughout the transfer. Trying to do another, simultaneous 5GB file transfer killed the video, but that would be hitting the limit for powerline's capacity in any case, so was no great surprise. You should easily be able to handle regular network tasks using the Push, better than 802.11g can manage, certainly.
Finally, the new units are rated at 4.5W - 1W less than their predecessors. So you'll save energy too.
Solwise's push-button password system will seem a gimmick to techies, but it makes protecting a powerline network so much easier for everyone else - people without a PC, in particular.