Home network design

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Recently we bought our first house. It is a new build so for weeks while the financing was being sorted and before the design was finalised I was thinking of the homes’ network. The first thought I had was the same that is recomended by most tech websites and YouTube channels, wire the entire house with Cat6 Ethernet.

The fastest and most reliable network is to run hard wired network cable to as many devices as possible. The neatest cable setup is to have the cables run trough-out the walls of the house with outlets in each room. Running cat6 cable to each room would be best done during the construction of the house during the initial electrical cable install called the rough-in stage. But how many network connections do I need?

The ideal scenario is to have one port in each of the 4 bedrooms. Except the 4th bedroom which doubles as a media room so I might need 2 there and 2 in the living room behind the TVs. I would also like one under the breakfast bar side of the kitchen bench so the kids or myself can plug in laptops and do work there. I would also like to have a cable available in the center of the house to connect a WiFi access point that can service to whole house.

But do I really need to plug a laptop into the kitchen bench? Are my wife and kids going to hunt around for a network cable every time they pull their laptops out in the kitchen? Are they even going to hunt around for a cable when they are in their bedrooms? Even if I left cables in the bedrooms would they use them? Only one of my kids even has a laptop. Everyone in the the family spends most of their time on their phones or tablets which are only on WiFi. Even the TVs and Xbox are only on WiFi at the moment. I can imagine most of the network ports in the house only being used to collect dust.

The reasoning behind using ethernet cable over WiFi is the ide that WiFi has limited bandwidth, has higher latency and limited range. Cat6 ethernet cable is capable of running up to 1Gbs while WiFi has been traditionally thought to be around 200-400Mbs, however newer 802.11ac is capable of up to 1300Mbs. Most of the devices on my network only connect to access the internet and my NBN connection is limited to 50Mbs I don’t think bandwidth is an issue. Latency might be a problem with my kids demanding no lag for their gaming. The biggest cause of latency with WiFi is interference and high user count, both if these can be mitigated with a nice quality access point. I am not sure about the comments about the range of WiFi when if using Cat6 you are limited to where the ethernet port are situated around the house. All up I don’t think the limitations of WiFi outweigh its benefits.

So what about taking the money that I would have spent on cabling and spend it on a kick-ass WiFi system? The Wifi router that my ISP provided is really basic and isn’t handling more than 20 simultaneously connected devices very well so I want to replace it anyway. There seems to be 3 ways to go for WiFi upgrades: Replace the ISPs router with a beefy new WiFi router, install a mesh WiFi system or use an enterprise grade WiFi system.

The first option of upgrading the router can be the cheapest option as well as improving network speed and allowing more devices in the network. The issue is that I want the router to connect to devices that can be 15m away with several walls in the way. So one central access point that is really fast in the living room may not work so well with my 3d printer in the back of the garage or IoT devices at the front of the house.

A mesh WiFi system would definitely improve the range that devices can be connected if the access points are spread around the house. But I am a little worried about network speed if there is a lot of radio noise in the neighborhood. Remember that the kids like their gaming so latency needs to be kept low and mesh systems seem to not do well in this area. Also the price of a good mesh WiFi system is fairly steep and I need to get my wife to approve this.

The enterprise level access points seems like a bit of a crazy idea at first until I started researching what is needed. I very quickly settled on the Ubiquiti Unifi range of gear as there is a lot available and it seems very popular around the internet. The Ubiquiti Unifi system would use multiple WiFi access points that are connected to a central controller. The controller is a free software package called Ubiquiti Unifi Controller obviously enough and can be downloaded from Ubiquiti to run on any Windows or Linux PC. The system is fully modular so I can start small with one access point and the controller running on a Raspberry Pi and then add more pieces later so the cost can be spread out.

So I have decided to ditch the popular idea of cabling the whole house with network ports in all rooms and run everything of a modular WiFi system that I will upgrade over time. I will keep a pair of ethernet ports on the living room behind the TV as the builder has included them in the base inclusions of the house. The cables run back to the garage where the NBN connection is so I will mount the router, switch and gear there. I will run 2 more cables through the ceiling later to mount two Ubiquiti Unifi AP AC Lites, one at the front of the house and the other in the garage which will cover the whole house in glorious 802.11ac Wifi.

Well, that’s the beginning anyway.

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