Building a solid wired and wireless network

The backbone of a technology filled home is a reliable wired and wireless network. The performance of devices like iPads, iPhones, laptops, and gaming consoles are directly related to the speed and stability of a home's network. Also, for a whole home automation system like Savant to function free of lag or technical error, a professionally installed wireless network is a requirement. 

But my cable guy gave me this router...

Cable companies provide everything average consumers need to get WIFI running in their homes. The idea is to set up end users with a network, quickly and easily, with the field technician spending as little time as possible to complete the job. This isn't to say that cable companies always provide poor customer service, but often important considerations like router placement and bandwidth usage fall by the wayside. It's not often that a cable installer will ask enough questions to know which devices are important enough to be hardwired, or which parts of the house should get the best WIFI coverage. Also when it comes to hardware, the routers that cable companies provide are less than ideal. Not only do they not have enough processing power to distribute data at higher bandwidths, but some companies have taken to the less than honest practice of piggybacking their public hotspots off of their customer's routers. More on that here.

Rececently, Comcast was sued by customers for turning routers into public hotspots. Source: arstechnica, read the full article here.

Rececently, Comcast was sued by customers for turning routers into public hotspots. Source: arstechnica, read the full article here.

 

From the ground up

The best way to get the most out of your home network is to design it while your house is being built. It is much easier to wire a home when its walls are wide open for construction. Wiring a home this way will allow you to give wired priority to rooms that will contain data hungry devices, and keep your wireless network from being overloaded with traffic. Also placement of wireless access points can be planned to provide whole house coverage (including outdoors) without being constrained to existing wiring. Planning ahead for network wiring during home construction can save thousands of dollars in labor and renovation costs in the future. A home with network wiring in place will also have greater desirability and resale value than one without, especially for tech savvy buyers.

It's much easier to wire a home during initial construction.

It's much easier to wire a home during initial construction.

After the fact

For those who want to improve network speeds and coverage at an existing home, don't worry. While it may not be possible to achieve total network perfection without tearing open walls and ceilings, there are ways to get pretty close.

Wireless networks can be improved and extended through mesh connections. This option allows users to extend the coverage of their network wirelessly when no viable network wiring is present. Mesh connections are easy and convenient, but unfortunately come with downsides. With all other factors being equal, mesh connections are slower than normal wireless connections. This is because your device first needs to communicate with the meshed access point, before it can start receiving data from the actual internet feed. Think of a meshed access point as a bridge that needs to be crossed before a device can actually start getting the data it wants. Also meshed networks can be tricky to work with. Unless there is a hardware device present actively managing each access point, these types of networks can be difficult to administer.

Another option for extending a home's network without adding additional wiring is power line communication. These devices use a home's existing electrical wiring to send data from point A to point B. Provided there are power outlets in the areas you want to extend your wired network connections to, a PLC device might be a relatively inexpensive and easy alternative. The downsides of these devices are speed loss and possible IP address conflicts. Also they won't always work depending on the age of the home, and the type of electrical wiring present. More information on power line communication adapters here.

The right hardware

Proper hardware is imperative when building a home network. It's important that wired networks are capable of transferring 1000 mbps (or 125 megabytes of data per second), and wireless networks have enough coverage and capability to deliver full bandwidth from a user's internet service provider. Some reading this might think that gigabit ethernet is overkill but, there is no reason for it not to be in place. The cost differences between 1000 mbps and 100 mbps are negligible, whereas the difference in performance is huge. Having plenty of bandwidth on a wired network also helps it be future proof. There will be less to worry about when new devices are added, or new technologies invented. Also for users planning on installing a whole home automation system like savant, gigabit ethernet is a requirement. There are numerous components that will need to talk to each other as quickly as possible.

Wireless networks need to be able to deliver full throughput from a user's internet service provider. This means that if user is paying for 80 mbps download speeds through their cable company, their wireless network will be able to support these speeds in most areas of the house. In a 500 square foot studio apartment, this is easy to achieve, but in larger homes with multiple levels and obstructions, much more planning will be needed. The only way to achieve proper coverage across multiple rooms and floors is to add more than one wireless access point. Once a wireless network consists of 2 or more access points, it becomes much more difficult to manage. Users will need to deal with issues like channelization, interference, and hand-off.

There are hardware solutions like Ruckus Wireless, and Ubiquiti Unifi that help manage multiple wireless access points and mitigate the common problems mentioned above. They also allow numerous access points to perform as a single seamless network. In homes with a lot of devices, or any mid to large sized home with a savant system, this type of wireless hardware is a necessity.

Wireless access points from Unifi and Ruckus wireless combined with management hardware and software provide users with a single unified network.