Wiring For New Tech
Everything “tech” is wireless these days… right?
I mean… yes, it can be. Almost every tech device we have available to us can connect to wifi, and almost all of us have wifi available in our homes. But...
...as many of us have learned the hard way, wifi is a fickle friend. Inconsistent signals, weak signals, and areas of our homes where we can’t seem to get any signal at all (even though our Internet service provider’s modem/router is installed in the next room only twenty feet away) present frustration and inconvenience that almost everyone has experienced at one time or another. And as we continue to add more devices to our networks, the problem only gets worse- this includes things like range extenders, which are supposed to help!
It Starts with a Strong Foundation
So, what’s the solution? How are we supposed to get all our “smart things” to work the way we want them to- the way they’re supposed to- when our wifi can’t handle these amazing products that are designed to make our lives easier?
The answer is both easier and harder than you may think.
It starts, like every building project, with a solid foundation. Most of us don’t give a second thought to what that foundation is: we call our local cable and Internet providers, decide who offers the best service at the best price, and have one of their installers come and connect their equipment where they recommend it. Usually, this ends up being in an office or the corner of the basement. And usually, this equipment consists of one device: a modem/router for both wired and wifi devices. But is this an adequate solution for our needs today? What about in five years, or ten? Are our cable providers telling us we need upgraded, more capable equipment? Are they telling us that the age of the devices on our network also affect its speed?
If you answered “no” or “I don’t know” to any of these questions, you’ve probably experienced slow speeds, buffering (you know, that spinning red circle on Netflix), and dead zones where you get no wifi reception in your house at all. “But I’m paying for their best network package!” That’s great, if the equipment they installed can handle those lightning-fast speeds to and from all your devices… but it can’t, because their wireless router can only send a signal to one device at a time, and only at the speed of the device with the slowest processor.
(To learn more about the ins and outs of wifi communication, take a look at Stone Glidden’s “How wifi Works” vlog on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gID81KcfuFA ).
The cable company’s typical setup is very restrictive of how many devices can be hard-wired (usually less than 5) to the network, so most our connected devices are defaulted to wifi communication. In a larger home, range extenders may be installed in places where the wifi signal may be weak or nonexistent. While these do help with the coverage area, the speed of the network will drop by half for each extender that’s connected. So that 100mbps speed you’re paying for becomes 50 when you plug in one extender, then 25 for the next extender, and so on.
Not a very strong foundation.
Wifi’s a Highway
Here’s an interesting fact that doesn’t seem to be well-known: networks must operate at the lowest common denominator. This means that your network can only be as fast as the slowest device connected to it. Remember when you got a new phone- the one advertising the better, faster processor- and gave one that was several years old to your kid… but the new one didn’t seem to be any faster when connected to your wifi? That’s because the network couldn’t move any faster than the old phone! To make this easier to understand, think of your wifi as a highway- more specifically, a highway that runs in and out of a city like Philadelphia. With the typical cable company setup, that highway is I-76. Now, most of you reading this have probably driven on the Schuylkill Expressway a few times… and it can be fine if there are only a few cars on the road. But every device that has ever been on your network represents another vehicle on the road. Yes, your network has a memory, and it “saves room” for devices that leave the network to return.
If you leave home with your phone, tablet or laptop, they all automatically reconnect to the network when you return with them, right? That’s because your network is “saving a spot” for them to return… but the network doesn’t know the difference between your devices and those that belong to your family members who visit only a few times a year. Without being reset (which is a rare practice), your network still recognizes those devices and is waiting for them to return. So while those devices aren’t actually connected to your network, there’s a spot reserved for each one and the network is ready for it to merge back in at any time as though it never left. That’s another car in the highway for each of those devices.
Of course, just like the vehicles on the Schuylkill, not all devices are created equal. If you are trying to stream a 4K HDR show from Netflix on your new TV, now you’ve got a passenger bus in the mix (it needs more bandwidth/takes up more space on the road). Oh, and your wireless printer and that old phone you gave the kids? Those are the Yugos zipping along side-by-side at 40mph. On the Schylkill, no one can get around them!
Now, let’s take that same amount of traffic and move it from I-76 to I-95. It moves a lot more efficiently, doesn’t it? That’s because it was designed for that kind of traffic!
A Network Tailored to Your Needs
To get good connectivity from the start, it’s important to have a clear idea of what internet-connected devices you have now, what functionality you’d like to add down the road, and how you’d like to interact with everything on a day-to-day basis. Are you an app-based user: do you like the ability to control different systems in your home such as lighting, surveillance cameras, thermostats, and music through a few easy-to-use apps on your phone? Or are you an integrated user: you prefer a single app that combines functionality of all these systems and more into one interface?
Once this plan is laid out, a custom network system can be designed to optimize the connectivity of all your devices. In new home construction or an extreme renovation, this means being able to designate a home for the network “head-end”- all the equipment needed to take the signal from the cable coming into your home and turn it into an Internet connection and designate what signals get sent where. Wiring can then be run inside the walls from the head-end to carry the signal to satellite devices that will provide you with Internet connection- whether it be wired or wireless- throughout your home. For wired devices, this may include ethernet ports and switches. For increased, strong wifi connectivity, this means wireless access points (WAPs).
In the situation of a fully built home that needs a better network, solutions may include a modified network head-end and several range-enhancing solutions, depending on your household’s specific needs. A custom-tailored and professionally installed network such as this will truly help to “de-clutter” your network. When designed and installed properly, any devices that can be hard-wired to the network, will be- freeing up the wifi for our mobile devices: smart phones, tablets, and laptops that we carry from room to room.
So, What’s the Best Solution for Me?
Now the questions that remain are: what should be in my network head-end? What are the best solutions for connectivity throughout my home? Which of the devices that I have and/or want should be wireless, and which should be hard-wired?
Am I better suited for app-based solutions, or should I invest in an integrated solution? The answers to these questions will vary from individual to individual, depending on their needs and lifestyle. To get them answered for you, specifically, contact us at Stone Glidden to schedule an on-site consultation.