A “Ridiculously Easy” Wi-Fi Alternative

By Brian Bergstein, AP Technology Editor

BOSTON (AP) — Setting up a Wi-Fi network at home has gotten much easier, yet the process can still be daunting. Or the wireless signal won't reach everywhere. A good alternative that has gotten little attention involves your electric sockets.

Simply plug palm-sized adapters into regular wall outlets and connect your computers to the adapters. Believe it or not, your Internet traffic goes through your home electric wires, allowing you to extend the reach of Wi-Fi or avoid it completely. And perhaps even more unbelievably, getting this going is ridiculously easy.

The technology has been around for years but has recently come down enough in price to merit a new look.

In 2006, when The Associated Press first checked out Netgear Inc.'s Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter, two wall adapters cost $250. That got one computer online; the second adapter had to be connected to your cable or DSL modem or a router. Meanwhile, for well under $100, Wi-Fi can send signals to multiple PCs, TVs and gaming devices.

These days, Netgear adapters roughly comparable to the ones we tried in '06 retail for about $130. I also recently tested similar Hercules ePlugs from Guillemot Corp. that are available on Amazon.com for about the same price. Better yet, for about $79 you can get versions of these adapters that operate at a slower speed — which still could be good enough for most people.

At that price, it's more competitive with Wi-Fi. At the very least, the technology is a good enhancement to Wi-Fi if that wireless magic can't blanket your whole house.

Any powerline adapter that, like the Hercules or Netgear models, uses the "HomePlug" networking standard should work pretty much the same.

Unlike the Hercules of ancient myth, who had 12 labors to perform, the Hercules ePlug just does one thing: It gets devices online, wherever they happen to be in your house. The box contains just four items: two adapters and two Ethernet cables (the ones that look like landline phone cords, but have fatter prongs).

Once you connect one adapter to your modem or a router and plug it into the wall, green lights tell you everything is functioning. Then you go elsewhere in your house and plug in the other adapter. More green lights. Connect that adapter to the Ethernet port in a desktop or laptop, and you're online. That's all.

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