Home Networking Setup

Being at home with a full family means lots of people video conferencing all at once. This is putting a strain on our home networking setup. I have tried a few methods. Here are some of my learnings.

2.4 and 5 GHz WiFi

The tried and true Netgear router. It works for a room, maybe even 2 or 3 rooms. It provides simple internet access for most of your needs like browsing and email. However, when I purchased a 500 mbps cable modem package from Wave Communications, I realized there is a hidden limitation.

Range comparison

StandardFreqReal World Distance
802.11a5195 ft
802.11b2.4230 ft
802.11g2.4
62 ft
802.11n2.4
410 ft
802.11n5230 ft
802.11ac5up to 410 ft (amplified)

Speed comparison

StandardFreqReal-World Speed
802.11a53 – 32 Mbps
802.11b2.43 Mbps
802.11g2.410 -29 Mbps
802.11n2.4150 Mbps
802.11n5450Mbps
802.11ac5210 Mbps – 1 G

As you can see the speeds generally do not get up to 500mps at all. Even with 5Ghz the best you can get is 450mbps. This means for most people that you should not get a 500mbps cable package unless you can ensure 5ghtz access throughout. Otherwise it’s wasted money.

Note: My cable package upload speeds are pretty slow; 20mbps. It sometimes becomes bad when we are all video conferencing at the same time. This isn’t a WiFi problem, but an access problem.

Ethernet

Ethernet is a different story. A basic Cat6 cable will get you gigabit speeds or more. See table below

CategoryShieldingMax Transmission Speed
Cat 3Unshielded10 Mbps
Cat 5Unshielded10/100 Mbps
Cat 5eUnshielded1,000 Mbps / 1 Gbps
Cat 6Unshielded1,000 Mbps / 1 Gbps
Cat 6aShielded10,000 Mbps / 10 Gbps
Cat 7Shielded10,000 Mbps / 10 Gbps
Cat 7aShielded10,000 Mbps/10 Gbps
Ethernet Cable speeds

With Ethernet, you can more than max out your gigabit provider. The only problem with Ethernet is that you have to be physically connected to a wire. Not very portable, but many office setups are perfectly fine being connected. I am sitting at one right now.

Power over Ethernet (Powerline Adapters)

These little devices are pretty cool. They plug into a regular electrical outlet and create a pseudo-ethernet connection. The only problem is that they are temperamental and don’t scale well. By scaling I mean that if you add more than 2 in the home, they can conflict with each other and degrade speed. By temperamental, I mean that they can sometimes just disconnect and stop working.

There are circumstances where they make sense, but overall I have become disillusioned with them and just want to reduce down to 2 or even zero.

Right now, I am paying a contractor a few hundred bucks to wire the house for regular ethernet so I can get rid of the PoE adapters.

Mesh Networks

My house has alot of interior walls and a single WiFi router just does not reach the whole house. Therefore, I tried to fix that problem. First I tried WiFi extenders but they were hard to configure and I couldn’t get it to work.

Then I discovered mesh network devices. I bought the Eero system. On the one hand, they work pretty well. They are super easy to setup and work on their own. On the other hand, they are VERY expensive. I spent WAY more on them than I should have. In hindsight, I would have gone with the Google system instead.

There is a new standard called WiFi 6 and it works especially well with many connected devices. Everything about it expensive, so I wouldn’t suggest buying them unless you don’t care about money. If I could start over from scratch today, I would wire ethernet and get Orbi WiFi 6 devices, just 2 of them.

Fiber or Cable

Cable is pretty fast to download, but isn’t very good uploading. This used to be a perfectly fine model. I usually stream DOWN movies from Netflix and Hulu, not upload them. However, with the quarantine, my upload demands have changed dramatically. Video conferencing is upload intensive. Also, my son plays music with his friends and a better upload speed would help to sync the music up.

I am torn on this issue. I am going to run the ethernet first and then see if we want to get faster uploads after that.

Summary

There are many moving parts in home networking. Each one has different pros and cons, plus the gear is evolving and changing over time. If I could give one piece of advice it would be to run Cat 7 Ethernet cables throughout your home. Even if you just plug in a mesh device into it, it will keep your home networking speeds top notch.

Whatya think?