Powerline adapters are a useful way of using your home’s existing electrical wiring in place of running in-wall Ethernet cables or having to rely on a Wi-Fi connection to connect to your home network and the Internet. You may be asking if there is a limit to the number of powerline adapters that can be used on a single network, especially if you have a large home that you hope many powerline adapters to cover.
There isn’t a limit to the number of powerline adapters that can be used, however, you will be limited by the number of wall outlets and your total available bandwidth. If you have less bandwidth available, you may want to limit the number of powerline adapters you use.
Let’s take a closer look into why you need at least two powerline adapters to get started with your powerline network and some the reasons as to why you may want to put a limit of the number of adapters that you use.
How Do Powerline Adapters Work?
Powerline adapters work by sending data signals over your home’s existing electrical wiring found within the walls.
It is the frequency used that allows the copper wiring within your walls to provide both AC power whilst also providing powerline Ethernet at the same time.
AC power operates at 50 or 60 Hz depending on where you live, whereas powerline ethernet works at 2,000,000 to 86,000,000 Hz (2 to 86MHz).
This is similar to how DSL internet provides high-speed internet services over the same cabling as your landline phone; they similarly operate at different frequencies.
The adapter that is connected to the router (which is necessary for the powerline network to function) essentially acts as the master, with the other adapters pairing with it.
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Why Do Powerline Adapters Only Work in Pairs?
Having a single powerline adapter is useless.
If you were to plug a single adapter into an available wall outlet and then plug an Ethernet-ready device into it, you will be sorely disappointed to find it does absolutely nothing.
The reason for this is that the powerline adapter has nothing to communicate with.
This is easy to understand when you think of powerline adapters simply as a way of being able to extend your home network from point A to point B; each point being the electrical outlets along the walls of your home.
You wouldn’t expect a device to function if the other end of the Ethernet cable has nothing to connect to, so why would a powerline adapter work any differently?
Thankfully, manufacturers know this and will typically provide two adapters in a single starter kit as just having one would be useless.
That’s not to say you need to only ever buy in pairs, though. You just need to ensure you have one adapter plugged in into an available outlet and then into the router via an Ethernet cable so any additional adapters have something to communicate with.
Can a Single Powerline Adapter Be Added?
Providing you have already established a powerline network with at least two adapters communicating with each other, you can add a single adapter without fear that they only operate when you have them in multiples of two.
In fact, it is recommended to add a single adapter if necessary rather than a pair.
Each powerline adapter on your network will compete for any available bandwidth, so adding a pair in when a single adapter will suffice will likely just result in the bandwidth becoming more of a bottleneck in addition to them costing more to buy.
Is There a Limit to the Number of Powerline Adapters That Can Be Used?
There isn’t a limit of powerline adapters that can be used within a home, however, there are a couple of factors that come into play that may result in you not wanting to go overboard with them.
Firstly, you need to have power outlets available to plug them into.
This may not be an issue for certain rooms in your home that have fewer electrical devices plugged in, however, there may be some rooms such as the living room or family room where available outlets can be seen as a luxury.
Extension leads can be used to add additional outlets, and powerline adapters can work when connected to them, but it generally isn’t recommended.
The other factor that is likely to limit you the most in terms of how many adapters you can reasonably use is the bandwidth you have available.
Each individual adapter will share their connection with the primary/master adapter, which in itself is limited by the maximum bandwidth of itself and your router or network switch if you are using one.
This is where you will see figures like 100mb or 1gb often mentioned; this is a reference to the maximum bandwidth of that particular product.
Depending on the devices that are connected to a particular adapter, you could quickly find that multiple adapters stress the available bandwidth, limiting the other devices within your home.
Generally speaking, the larger your bandwidth, the more powerline adapters you can probably use.
Do Powerline Adapters Work Across Different Electrical Circuits?
A common question that gets asked is whether powerline adapters will work across different electrical circuits.
If you are looking to add many adapters to your home network, chances are the electrical circuit they connect to will differ, particularly if some are downstairs whereas others are upstairs.
Generally, the different floors within a home will operate on their own electrical circuits.
The good news is that powerline adapters will work across different circuits, however, they won’t perform as well compared to them all being connected to the same circuit.
For more information on this particular topic, check out this article where we go more in-depth into powerline adapters and how they work across different circuits.
Can You Mix Different Brands and Models of Powerline Adapters?
Many different companies manufacture powerline adapters, but unfortunately, they don’t all play nicely with each other.
Mix and match different makes and models of adapters and you may run into some compatibility issues.
To ensure complete compatibility, buy the same make and model each time.
This is sometimes easier said than done, though, especially if you already have an older adapter that is no longer sold.
That being said, there are two major specifications of which the majority of powerline adapters will meet at least one of.
This can allow different adapters to work with each other under some circumstances.
Providing the different powerline adapters you have meet the same specification, they should work with each other, but you may miss out on some of the additional security that comes with using an exact match of make and model.
In regards to the number of powerline adapters that you can use within your home, there isn’t a defined limit, however, the number of available outlets you have and the total bandwidth available will limit how many you can reasonably use.
As a general rule of thumb, the more bandwidth you have available, the more adapters you can incorporate into your home network without a large drop in performance across your devices.