Why you should wire your house for the internet
How many times a week do you hear those dreaded words, the Internet is down, at your house? And that’s just the kids. The volume and hysteria rise and become more urgent with every repetition.
What about when they start an online game in the middle of your conference call and the call drops? Or you can’t even start your call because the little dears (all of them, but separately) are watching never-ending streams of TikToks and YouTube videos. Or you hunker down in a quiet part of the house to get some work down, and the WiFI signal is dismal. You have probably lamented the connection yourself, perhaps in more colorful terms. You are ready to quit. All you want is a couple of hours of uninterrupted high-quality WiFi signal so you can finish your calls and work before midnight.
If it is any consolation, you are not alone. Homeowners the world over struggle with this issue daily.
Who is at fault?
Your internet provider? The kids? The ever-increasing demands of social media, messaging services, video calls, and web-based applications? Something else?
In the early 1980s, there was only one way to get your office or home online and networked. You contracted with your friendly neighborhood phone company, AT&T, or one of its regional operators. All network installations were for the phone system, POTS. The Plain Old Telephone Service uses twisted copper wire and is designed for voice communications. To give an idea of how dated this technology is, POTS was originally the Post Office Telephone Service back in the days when customers relied on human operators to connect them to their intended voice destination.
The equivalent of the computer in years past was the hard-wired phone. The equivalent of the network router was the complex cabling done at the entry point to your building or home. If you had a phone issue, all you did was call the phone company and a telephone service person showed up in a van to service the phones, cabling, or the connection to the phone system. The phone company owned, installed, maintained, and controlled the customer premise equipment (CPE) in every house or business. AT&T owned and operated the largest network before the Internet and therefore AT&T controlled all parts of it. The responsibility for building the telecommunications or network home infrastructure was rarely the homeowner or the renter. Early Internet connections employed a modem, a device designed to take advantage of the digital nature of the public switched network without overhauling your entire phone system.
The demarc and start of customer control
A series of legal decisions made in the 1980s put homeowners in control of their own home network infrastructure. The so-called demarc (point of demarcation) in 1984 shifted the responsibility of the CPE from the phone company to the business or the homeowner.
From that moment, the business owner and the homeowner became the manager of their CPE. For many years, this change would be almost imperceptible to any home or business owner. Why? When the split occurred in 1984, phone systems were already present in old construction, there were no real changes in technology. However, for new builds, the CPE became the builder’s responsibility.
Forty years on, the contemporary equivalent is the Internet router. With bandwidth improvements scheduled nationwide to the Internet, the weakest point now and in the future is likely to be bandwidth distribution within your own house. We can no longer blame the telephone networks for poor WiFi.
In other words, if your WiFI doesn’t handle the demands of you, your kids, their friends, and maybe even the dog (it’s only a matter of time … ), it is YOUR fault. More precisely, it is your responsibility. You have the freedom to set up a home network that serves the demands of the whole household or not.
So why do home network connection issues still exist?
In a perfect world, infrastructure and technology would change overnight with a single wave of a magic wand. Unfortunately, the Internet, technology, hardware, and web applications evolve constantly and bandwidth demands rise in parallel. In the beginning, providers sold Internet access via modems using POTS lines. Your home “network” infrastructure of phone connections was already in place. As available Internet bandwidth increased, the challenge was to manage and upgrade the home network infrastructure or CPE to match.
The problem became more complex as businesses and homes went from one or two computers to multiple bandwidth-sucking devices in each room. This significantly increased usage could not be solved simply by attaching a faster or more powerful modem. There was a need to distribute more bandwidth to potentially every room of the house. Routers provided by phone companies or internet service providers (ISPs) became the new Internet point of access in homes and businesses. The first solutions to improving home network infrastructures were cheap and easy. Technicians ran cables between rooms hanging them on walls and ceilings.
And then there was WiFi
WiFi was introduced for consumer use in 1999 when Apple offered that feature in its line of laptops. Shortly after this, many broadband router companies began offering wireless routers as a hardware enhancement to their line of broadband routers that required network cabling to get the service.
For very short distances from the wireless router, one could get a decent signal to access the Internet. For the Internet of the early-to-mid 2000s, this “good enough” solved the access problem by removing the restrictions inherent with cabling. By the mid-2000s wireless solutions became the norm for homes and small businesses. This did create a problem of where in the house one could access the Internet and what could be done all dependent upon what type of WiFi technology was available.
The big phone company ISPs sold wireless routers and small repeaters. As technology advanced, so did the prevalence of WiFi in homes and businesses. By the late-2000s WiFi was established as the de facto home network despite its shortcomings.
Does this mean that WiFi solves everything?
You would think so. However, there is often an imbalance of internet bandwidth cabled to a property and the WiFi signal within the building. There are several shortcomings when installing a home WiFi system and these become more noticeable the larger the bandwidth the home can get:
- WiFi Routers and wireless access points (WAPs) should be replaced every two years inline with the lifecycle of WiFi technology.
- WAPs require cabling to work correctly. WAPs without cables can function as expensive repeaters. But each “repeat” of a WiFi signal is weaker than before.
- Physical walls present a barrier for wireless signal transmission. Wall penetration varies by technology, brand, antennas, power, and other competing signals.
- Poorly placed WAPs and repeaters can create WiFi hot and cold spots. Household members will plan their online activities in locations with better WiFi reception and greater bandwidth. This often leads to family members competing, perhaps unknowingly, for bandwidth.
As it turns out, WiFi is an imperfect solution for distributed Internet. Most businesses continue to build cable infrastructure because it is more reliable and secure, offers faster speeds, and allows for more distribution control. All users have to be physically connected so it is impossible to piggyback on the connection on unprotected WiFi, or a WiFi with an easy-to-guess password. But cabling remains far more expensive than a wireless router and several repeaters. Therefore, homeowners opt for WiFi as an inexpensive solution that is good enough even if it means there are Internet haves and have-nots within the same house. In homes where these disparities exist you may hear a popular refrain, “Well, it’s working for me.”
Small homes, condos, or apartments can benefit from improved Internet bandwidth by changing their WAPs to faster and more robust units. Larger homes or apartment blocks with one source of WiFi are more challenging given the speed, range, wall penetration, and cabling limits.
Of course, WiFi is not completely wireless. WAPs require cabling to connect to a controller or switch. Even the components that do not require cabling, wireless routers, and repeaters may fail to deliver adequate bandwidth to all parts of a large house or apartment building. Repeaters cause a slight drop in signal quality every time they re-transmit a signal. Thus, a wireless router and a chain of repeaters may not deliver the Internet to the point furthest away because of the signal lost at each repeater.
Homeowners who want to benefit from the new Internet bandwidth available have to consider a cable infrastructure, at least in part. As more individuals and businesses embrace the work-from-home trend, a good home Internet infrastructure is essential.
How to overcome the shortcomings of WiFi and plan for the future
The most efficient WiFi network requires a combination of cabling and WiFi routers.
- Choose location: Pick a spot with sufficient power and space for your Internet router, power strips, switches and other components necessary for a home network. Ideally, the space should be well ventilated, not subject to temperature fluctuations and protected from human interference.
- Plan for WiFi: Decide on where to install each WAP, preferably near the ceiling or at least high on the wall. The way to choose locations is to imagine installing spotlights. Wherever the light will fall is where the WiFi will travel. WiFi signals do not transmit well through brick or block walls; although, 2.4ghz wireless signals transmit somewhat through drywall with insulation. They only way to know if a wall allows WiFi penetration is to test. Bear in ming that WAPs are inexpensive compared to cabling. Generally, the more WAPS installed, the better the Internet coverage in all parts of a structure. It is possible to manage without an electrical supply if access points are powered using PoE (power over ethernet) from your switch.
- Plan for wall connections: Decide on where to place ethernet wall sockets or wall network connections. Ideally, low on the wall near power electrical outlets. Make sure there is an electrical outlet near your network connection. There is nothing more frustrating than planning locations and then discovering there is no electric power nearby.
- Decide if you want security cameras: One of the reasons for a good home network is to enable the installation of security cameras. Ensure a strong enough WiFi signal for the cameras to attach to the network.
- Double run each location: Run two network cables to each location to avoid a single point of failure. Two cables provide a quick backup should one cable fail.
- Choose your cabinet: Count the number of cables or “home runs” to your termination location. Preferably, install a wall cabinet with room for the cable punch-down block, a switch, a firewall/access point controller, and the ISP router.
- Choose your punch-down block: Cable runs go from your termination locations to a punch-down block, a type of electrical connection. The punch-down block secures the cable and allows a user to plug and unplug cables for short connects to network devices.
- Plan cable runs: Often the most difficult part of designing a home network is getting the cables from the punch-down block to the termination points. Running through the attic or crawl space is usually a good decision. When pulling the cable, remember that the cables you are pulling may only be good for 5 years before a more improved version may be needed. This is especially important with a new build. The temptation is to bury cables, which become inaccessible when the build is complete.
- Choose solid or stranded cable: A standard solid cable is usually sufficient for a home network. A stranded cable is better for very large homes, hotels or businesses with large numbers of users.
- Choose standard or fire-retardant cables: Cables jacketed with fire-retardant plastic (plenum cables) are preferred if the route runs through or next to HVAC, hot pipes, or heating systems. Otherwise, standard cabling is adequate.
- Choose the ethernet wall socket: Depending on the speed of your Internet, ethernet sockets can impede speed.
- Decide on cable category: Ethernet cabling used in business and home networks is referred to by its category. Generally, the high the category number, the higher the performance. Most current installations use Cat6a, Cat7, or Cat8 cabling. Cat8 is the preferred choice now.
- Consider a professional installation: Experienced cablers and network installers understand how to optimize Internet coverage with the minimum of cabling. Search under telecom cabling and ask for quotes. If you want to do it yourself, practice terminating and punching down network cables before making the leap to networking your entire house. An experienced do-it-yourselfer can learn quickly. There are many helpful videos on YouTube.
Installing the right home network infrastructure first time ensures the system is good for many years of Internet upgrades. Even more satisfying, you know that when you hear the words, the Internet is down, it means the issue is outside your house and not be because of your network infrastructure.
- IEEE 802.11 Wireless Local Area Networks, The Working Group for WLAn Standards
- HUSH-A-PHONE CORPORATION and Harry C. Tuttle, Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES of America and Federal Communications Commission, Respondents, American Telephone and Telegraph Company et al., and United States Independent Telephone Association, Intervenors, United States Court of Appeals of Columbia Circuit
- Public notices, Administrative Council for Terminal Attachments
- It’s 20 years since Apple’s first consumer laptop, and the launch of Wi-Fi , 9To5Mac
- Customer Premise Equipment Part 68 :: CPE, Cyebertelecom Federal Internet Law & Policy An Educational Project
This article written by Mike Syiek, CEO of Network Tigers, was first published with permission on Newstrail.com.