Powerline is a technology for transmitting data over the AC grid. All devices provide an RJ45 Ethernet plug (and some also wifi and USB), so they support client devices of all operating systems. Basic configuration of encryption is likewise OS independent, as nearly all of them use a "pairing" button for that. However, to set the encryption key manually, to make more detailed settings, to read out speed statistics and to update the firmware most come with configuration tools that only work under Windows.
So, can we find a device that can be fully managed under Linux, ideally with free software? After a long search, this turns out to be a simple task. Just use any device that supports the Homeplug AV or Homeplug AV2 standard, and manage it with Open PLC Utils, a free software full-featured management tool developed by AV/AV2 chipset maker Atheros. It allows full device configuration, info reading and upgrading for all INT6000/6300/6400/AR7420 devices, even tampering with the parameter set in the firmware. The only alternative are DS2 chipset based devices, since at least most of them can be fully configured via a built-in web interface (such as the COMTREND Powergrid 9020, their most modern device). However, a tool like Open PLC Utils is preferred here since it effectively replaces a part of the DS2 management software with free software, allowing scripting, modifications etc., and is more powerful in general.
It is said that it does not matter so much in terms of connection speed and quality which exact device you choose, as long as you choose the right chipse. Here, we focus on the Homeplug AV chipsets (INT6000, INT6300, INT6400) and there on the most modern one (INT6400). We avoid the Homeplug AV2 chipsets because they seem not yet mature (see below) and the DS2 chipsets because they are not as readily configurable under Linux.
Recommendation for Germany: Speedport Powerline 100. The best recommendation is so far: Telekom Speedport Powerline 100. It has the INT6400 chipset (most modern one for the Homeplug AV 200 Mbit/s devices), and it is dirt cheap (ca. 20 EUR incl. shipment for a pair of them, via ebay.de) because Telekom made Germany awash with these devices. It also is good quality, since it is a whitelabel product from well-known French brand LEA Networks – see also the very detailed test on tomsnetworking.de (in German). One can use the LEA-made software tool SOFTPLUG for settings beyond simple pairing for encryption, but it runs only under Windows. It is not needed however, as the free software tool Open PLC Utils can likewise be used, also running under Linux.
Discussion of alternatives: Devolo dLAN AVsmart+. These devices are quite nice, as they have an extended status display on the device – compare the manual. They are also readil available in used condition on eBay, but not as dirt cheap as the Speedport Powerline 100. However, they use the older INT6000 chipset [source], leading to a third less speed in long-range applications [source].
Discussion of alternatiives: COMTREND PowerGrid 9020. This is not a Homeplug AB/AV2 device, but uses the non-interoperable DS2 chipset. Reviews on Amazon are good. However, it can be fully managed under Linux as all settings are available within a web interface, as argued for and against above. The Powergrid 9020 is the most modern Powerline device of Madrid-based manufacturer COMTREND so far, and avaible in UK and Europe type plug versions. The UK plug versions are very readily available online, as they are provided by UK based large ISP Britich Telecom (BT) to their customers. The Europe plug versions are quite hard to find though (but here are some). Also see the installation guide and the full manual.
Discussion of alternatives: Homeplug AV2 devices. There are the even more modern 500 Mbit/s Homeplug AV2 devices (using the AR7420 etc. chipsets), however as of 2014-09 this generation of technology seems to not be mature still, often suffering from connection breakdowns, low throughput, the devices running hot etc. (as judged from reviews on Amazon). So we avoid them here, also because they are still more expensive on the second-hand market. But your priorities and mileage may vary. They also can be fully managed with Open PLC Utils.
Linux software for powerline adapters
While Open PLC Utils is clearly the winner, the following list is all the Linux-based powerline software I came across:
- Open PLC Utils. As said, clearly the winner: full-featured and free software.
- Faifa. A manufacturer independent, free software Homeplug AV/AV2 utility for Linux. Allows low-level functions such as control frame dumps. Considered to be the successor to the older plconfig utility, see below.
- plconfig. An older, simple Linux based configuration utility. For download on Github. Superseded by Faifa now.
- dlanlist, dlanpasswd. Open source software that can be downloaded and compiled under Linux and is meant to list (and set the password of) Devolo dLAN devices. Since these conform to the Homeplug AV/AV2 standard, the software might be used to also configure other devices, after some simple modifications.
- devolo Cockpit. A large configuration softwre for Devolo dLAN devices. Seemingly not available as a source version, so adaptations to other devices are not possible.
- Intellon device manager for 3.x firmware (Windows software). Allows full management of INT6x00 chipset devices when using a 3.x firmware version, incl. editing firmware parameters. Its use is described in this article.
- Intellon device manager for 4.x firmware (Windows software). In contrast to the version for 3.x firmwares, this does not support full management of the of INT6x00 chipset devices any more.
The following in-depth articles provide relevant background information about Powerline technology and their successful use:
- Zibri's Blog: Powerline Ethernet Fun and Secrets. A very knowledgable guy, explaining how to tamper with your Powerline AV device, including hacking firmware parameters.
- Xavier Carcelle: Powerline Communications in Practice. Most people won't want to buy it, but the preview accessible via Google search results within the book is enough for most purposes.
- Wikipedia on Homeplug.
- Wikipedia on Powerline.
- avforums.com Homeplug FAQ.
- Tips on tomsnetworking.de for increasing powerline speed and coverage. They even discuss phase couplers there.
Modding and hacking powerline adapters
At 10 EUR for a used device or less, powerline adapters are so cheap that they offer themselves to several non-standard uses. At least teh following come to mind:
- Powerline noise filters. Devices that include an AC plug with noise filter (such as the SpeedportPowerline 100 recommended above) are the cheapest option to use them as frequency filters to prevent contamination of the 50 Hz frequency from other digital devices, mobile phone chargers etc..
- Powerline bridge. It is also possible to create a simple bridge by connecting two of them with a crossover Cat5e cable (or a bridge device in between, if necessary). This should allow crossing phase boundaries in the home cabling, if necessary.
- VDSL P2P modem replacements. And then, of course, these cheap devices are a natural candidate for creating a cheap DIY replacement for pairs of VDSL modems (usually 150 EUR per piece!). It works by connecting twisted phone wire to the signal (via soldering) before it gets modulated on the AC mains power. It is possible to use this for transmitting data over several hundred meters at least.