Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Adventures in home networking

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Networking cables

We’ve been living in our house for approaching two years, and in all of that time we’ve been reliant on Wifi for our home networking. Our phone line enters the house in a spare bedroom so that’s where our ADSL modem is (a BT Home Hub 4, although we’re no longer with BT). This isn’t too bad from a Wifi signal perspective, as it’s located close to the middle of the house, but we still have some signal issues in the kitchen which is the furthest room.

For this reason, we have a Netgear Wifi range extender which ensures an adequate signal in those parts of the house. Combined, the whole of the house is covered.

Limitations of Wifi

The problem is that we have quite a lot of devices all using the Wifi connection. There’s my Mac, Chirstine’s laptop, two smartphones, two tablets, a Roku, a Chromecast, a Blu-Ray player, our Nest thermostat and a Kindle, plus any devices that visitors bring. The Roku and Chromecast in particular are used for streaming video which requires a good connection, and I upload photos from my Mac every now and again.

Most of the equipment we have supports the IEEE 802.11n standard and so it’s reasonably quick, but some devices use the older 802.11g standard and not all are compatible with both 2.4 and 5 GHz wireless bands. Wifi also has higher latency than wired solutions. And I have a Raspberry Pi and a Freesat receiver that do not support Wifi at all. The Raspberry Pi currently gets a connection from an ethernet cable linked to the Netgear extender, but the Freesat box has been isolated from the internet.

It would be great if everything supported the new 802.11ac standard. But this would require us to replace all of our devices and so isn’t likely to happen soon.

Laying Ethernet cable

The optimum home networking solution would be to lay Ethernet cable across the house, with ports in each room. That would ensure at least Gigabit connection speeds everywhere, with almost no latency.

We had most of the downstairs rewired before we moved in a couple of years ago and, with hindsight, this would have been an ideal time to install network sockets. Sadly, we didn’t, and trying to install sockets now would be very disruptive. I’d rather not have cables trailing around, or even fixed to walls, seeing as Lizzie will inevitably want to play with them. Whilst I could probably do this myself, I’d rather not have to cut and crimp network cables.

Power line networking

Which leaves power line networking, also known as Homeplug. This uses your household electric circuits to carry a network connection, with adaptors that plug into your existing electrical sockets.

I was a little hesitant to try this, as our wiring is of variable quality. Obviously the downstairs wiring is good, having only been installed two years ago. But upstairs, some of the wiring is much, much older; in some cases, dating back to the 1950s. I was also worried about whether the signal would pass through our fusebox (which is thankfully quite new), as the upstairs and downstairs are on separate electrical rings.

I decided to take a punt, and ordered some well-reviewed Homeplug networking adaptors from Amazon – I’ll review them later on. At £80 for four, I felt this would be cheaper and less disruptive than installing ethernet cable. And, so far, so good. I’m using three of the four adaptors; one of them connects in turn to an old ethernet switch that I had, to provide connection to our Blu-Ray player, Roku and Freesat box.

My worries about the wiring seemed to be unfounded – we’re getting good speeds and much lower latency than on Wifi. In particular, I can upload photos from my Mac much more quickly now than I ever could on just a wireless connection. I’m glad to have a better connection without having to tear the house apart, or replace all of my devices.

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