Netgear MoCA Coax-Ethernet adapter review

Ben Drawbaugh
B. Drawbaugh|06.25.09

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Netgear MoCA Coax-Ethernet adapter review
Netgear MoCA kit
Although we were just kids when all the world's computers connected to each other via a coax cable, we still recognize the throughput potential of the medium. This and the fact that just about every home in America already has coax running through its walls has always made us wonder why we couldn't utilize those wires to connect our computers. If you've wondered the same thing, then MoCA might just be for you. It is a CableLabe specification that allows devices to utilize the unused bandwidth on the coax at your house to send bits where no other medium can. So if you're sick of trying to stream HD via Wifi and power-line technologies, you're going to really want to click through and read about how these babies work.
The concept

This is a new device so we think a little introduction is in order. While this little box looks like a switch it's really a bridge, in fact it is a Ethernet to coax bridge. You need two devices to get started, but can use up to 16. Each one has two coax connections and one Ethernet. The coax acts as a pass through so you can continue to use the coax cable for its initial purpose -- you know cable TV or an ATSC antenna (not compatible with satellite). With these you can add a network connection anywhere in your house you have a coax cable running.

The best example
Lets say you have one of those new LG Blu-ray players that can stream HD MKV files from your PC, but you don't have a network connection behind your HDTV. You've tried 802.11N WiFi and power-line adapters, but they just don't cut it. So you grab a pair of these and plug one in to the coax running to your cable modem in your office, and you put the other one behind your TV in-line with the cable running to your TV. Plug the one in the office into your switch and the one behind the TV into your Blu-ray player -- sadly it only has one port so your Xbox 360 and PS3 can't play without an additional switch -- and now you have 100Mbps of throughput, which is more than enough to stream any HD movie you've got with bandwidth to spare.

The real word
According to Netgear the MCAB1001 can move 270Mbps across the existing coax in your house while at the same time not interfering with your cable TV. We would've loved to have tested this out ourselves, but the Ethernet ports on them are only 100Mbps. The good news is that in most cases we were able to get the full 100Mbps through a pair of these, but not in every case. The exception is when there are splitters in the middle. Most houses have simple three of four way splitters near the source, but we were able to find someone with a 16 port splitter, and things didn't go as well. The good news is that we were still able to move 30Mbps across the wire, which is more than enough to stream HD.

Setup couldn't be simpler
Using the MCAB1001 as a bridge couldn't be simpler. You plug them in and they just work. There are lights on the front that make it easy to tell if the devices can find each other. As far as your network is concerned they are completely transparent. The bad part of this is that when you do want to break away from the defaults, things aren't nearly as simple. There is a switch on the back that puts the devices into configuration mode, but in addition you have to have special software install on your Windows computer -- no Mac or Linux options. The configuration is pretty limited since things pretty much work out of the box, but you can enable security (in case your neighbors have some of these) and over ride the channel the device uses if it's causing interference.

If all of this sounds great, then you know there has to be a catch. Well the catch is the price and at $200 per pair, you're probably going to want to try some cheaper alternatives first. The good news is that unlike the alternatives this does work as advertised, and considering this is a first generation product we expect the prices to come down. So if $200 sounds like a deal to get a network connection fast enough to stream high quality HD anywhere in your house where you have coax, then we'd say; go for it. You won't be disappointed.
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