Wired vs Wireless For A Home Office

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Wired vs Wireless NetworksNot long ago Colin Berkshire made an interesting observation about a trend in new home construction. He noticed that builders are no longer pulling cable for telephone and network connections, which leads to an “RJ-free” home. This makes a lot of sense for most homes, but it’s not what I would want for a home office.

Of course, Wifi is phenomenally convenient. Hereabouts we use a Ubiquiti PowerAP N device configured as a wireless bridge/access point. We’ve used various devices over the years. The Ubiquiti PowerAP has been without a doubt the best of the bunch. Sadly, the product is not available anymore, although they can occasionally be found on E-bay.

With a population of over forty devices, ours is a considerable home network. While many of the devices we use are connected via Wifi, much of the network remains connected by traditional Ethernet cables. Wired networks are more trouble to install, but the effort is rewarded with more consistent performance and reliability.

On this basis, our desktops, which have both wired and wireless network interfaces, are connected to the wired LAN. Their wireless interfaces are in fact disabled. The two laser printers, though they too are wireless capable, are also on the wired network. Basically everything that’s installed to a fixed location is on the wired network.

Mobile devices and things in otherwise isolated locations are typically on the wireless network. That means several Squeezebox music players, the Nest thermostat, our various cell phones & tablets are wireless.

There is a certain underlying reality to all of this. In the end there is no such thing as a purely wireless network*. All wireless networks eventually connect to wired backhaul.

Even in the broader mobile space, a carriers radio towers are connected to wired or fiber backhaul. WIMAX provider Clear rather famously made use of wireless backhaul, but eventually there was a wired network underpinning the wireless domain.

I certainly believe that pulling RJ-11 wiring into a house is pointless. We’ve used Gigaset SIP/DECT cordless phones for years, connecting them to our wired network. We may well be anomalous in that we maintain a home phone separate from our cell phones. In my office I use Polycom VVX Series SIP phones which are  connected to the wired network.

I studied what was once called “structured wiring” when I was initially setting up our home wiring. That term seemed to imply some unreasonably costly metalwork that was intended to centrally corral  RJ-11, RJ-45, coax and even doorbell wiring into a single location.

In those early days I bought the structured wiring cabinet because it hid the wiring away in a fashion that pleased my wife. That even though the wiring is comfortably out of view, tucked into the end of a central closet in the house. We outgrew it very quickly. I simply don’t see the value in such installations these days.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I want a solid wired network as the basis for our home and especially my home office. I want reliability and assured network performance.

For example, my office is in what was once the garage apartment. It’s physically separate from the house. I have several Cat 5 cables pulled through a conduit buried between the house and the garage/office. Anything that’s on the wired network is not in any way dependent upon the Wifi. It’s connected to an Ethernet  switch that’s connected to my router, then onward to Comcast. All the core network gear is in a small built-in rack in my office along with a UPS.

A single PowerAP N in the house provides Wifi throughout the property. It’s located in the central closet in the house. It’s connected to a Cat5 home-run back to the main Ethernet switch in the office. Another Cat5 cable takes wired network access from the office to a smaller switch in the center of the house.

My wife hates wires. Hate’em! The only place that you’ll see Ethernet cables visible is in my office. Even so, if there’s a problem with the Wifi, which has happened a lot in the past, most of our network remains online. I like that. No, I require that.

That said, if we were house hunting or building a new home I’d likely DIY the network installation rather than incur the cost of allowing the builder to do that work.

* OK, maybe at Burning Man there’s a purely wireless network, but it’s an exception to the rule. Any network that touches the internet in the end, is connected to a wired network.

  • Obsidian71

    The home building industry has really employed a backwards strategy. I live in an area stuffed to the gills with Tech Industry yet new homes are starting out at near $700k and have nothing interesting wrt technology in their designs. One told me I could have whole house audio installed for a few grand,

    Wifi frankly sucks until you spend enough money to buy decent hardware. My comcast supplied router is the crappiest piece of tech i’ve been forced to endure in years. Wireless is the technology that delivers 50% of it’s promised bandwidth if you’re lucky. It makes little sense to bombard yourself with Wifi signals if you’ve got a legit chance at getting CAT-6 in the walls.

    I’m seriously thinking about a Reno in the next home wear the walls come down and the good stuff goes in. Clearly i’m not going to find the sort of modern home i’m looking for with todays lowest bidder builders

    • mjgraves

      My brother-in-law and his wife both retired in the spring. For them, this was the trigger they had long planned for the building of a new house. While they are putting a lot of thought into the kitchen, home theater, patio kitchen, etc they are not pulling any network or phone cable into the walls.

      When you see what the builder wants to up-charge for simple things like painting a ceiling an unusual color, I think I’d DIY anything more complicated.

      • Obsidian71

        Show them the new protocol HDBaseT 2.0 coming. They’ll wet themselves http://www.cepro.com/article/why_hdbaset_2.0_is_so_awesome_usb_and_multipoint_video_distribution/

        I was telling my gf that if I was going down to studs or building a new home i’d simply wire multiple Cat 6 cables. If HDBaseT takes off we’ll soon be able to just run a Cat 6 cable to locations where we want displays and everything will be powered and signaled from this one connection. Wireless is simply not going to afford this type of flexibility