Tuesday, 15 May 2012 09:56

Review: Billion BiPAC P108


Powerline networking has reached the point where it just works.  Mostly.  The Billion BiPAC P108 achieves that.

For the unaware, powerline networking uses the power cabling in the home to carry network traffic between computers.  This requires a device that plugs into the mains power close to every computer and a "blue cable" from the device into the computer.  That's all.

Of course there's potentially more to it, but not at its simplest.

The Billion BiPAC P108 (hereafter referred to as 'the Billion') consists of two power packs, a couple of blue cables (except for some strange reason they're yellow!) a simple instruction pamphlet and a CD.

For the simplest of installations, the disk isn't required.  Simply connect both end-points into the mains power sockets, the yellow cables one into the broadband modem and the other into the PC and everything wakes up as if by magic.

Of course 'simple' doesn't include any level of security.  This requires the installation disk which will enable encryption between the two devices.

This writer has an Optus cable broadband connection for the Chaotic Manor to connect to the universe which is sufficiently fast to give the Billion a suitable test.  In this environment, three computers were tested, a computer connected directly (via ethernet) to the cable modem, another computer with a wireless G connection and a third computer using the Billion.

Using the Optus speedtest service, all three computers showed significant variation in download speed (clearly due to the usage of other nearby households) but they all showed very consistent data in the other parameters.

The computer connected directly to the cable modem via an ethernet cable was probably the fastest (although other users' usage made this difficult to determine).  What was clearer was that this computer had (by far) the lowest ping response (9ms) and a marginally quicker upload speed.

The wireless computer showed a ping response of about double (20ms) the wired computer, but the download was almost identical (on average 491kb/sec for the wireless vs 492b/sec for the wired).

Having established a household baseline, the Billion was assessed.  Here again the download data was inconclusive - users outside the house were probably the governing factor (across all three devices, download rates between 5Mb/sec and 18Mb/sec were observed.  However, the other factors were significant.  The ping response for the Billion was double that of the wireless computer and near-enough to four times that of the directly-connected computer.  In addition, the upload rate of the Billion was a little slower than the other computers - 492 vs 491 vs 483 kb/sec).

So, why would you choose a Billion device?  Read on.

In the previous house this writer occupied, the family microwave oven was in a direct line between the cable modem/wireless hub and my working computer.  Needless to say, all work stopped when dinner was defrosting.

For other users, the thickness of walls may block radio waves and deny any form of wireless networking.  This is of particular significance for businesses occupying heritage listed buildings where drilling through walls for cabling is totally forbidden.

In both cases, communication across power cabling would solve the problem.

The security professional amongst our readership would wonder how the communication was protected.  Never fear, there is an option to associate a password with each device.

Is there a negative?  Probably only if a ham radio enthusiast lived nearby.  Although not tested by this writer, powerline networking has the reputation of broadcasting a very noisy signal across a wide frequency range.

Of course the other issue is that the networking sign al is confined to a single phase within the zone downstream from a transformer.  This means two things.

Firstly that computers connected to multiple phases in a house cannot communicate with each other and secondly that locations on the same phase across multiple houses CAN talk to each other (remember the password protection discussed earlier?).

Over-all, this is a useful method to connect computers where other ways present difficulties and iTWire recommends the Billion device.  We just wish the yellow cables were a little longer - 1m makes for a very tight fit.


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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.



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