Ultra Fast Home Network for Dummies

About: Self taught DIYer, interested by anything electronic but without trying to launch a rocket to the moon :-)

If you read this, chances are that you already have a few network aware devices around the home. Another option is that you're unhappy with the Internet Service Provider provided regular hardware.

In this instructable, I'll try to show and teach you how to become a wannabe networking guru.

I'll introduce basic concepts to have the main building blocks available. Next we'll look at your home put and that together to achieve the ultime network of your dreams!

If you'd like to support me in writing other instructables, please buy hardware from the Amazon sponsored links.

Supplies:

Step 1: Networking 101

Networking can seem pretty complex (and it can be). However the major equipment haven't changed much from their base roles and functionalities.


WAN, Wide Area Network : The Internet

Usually this is where all starts. You have a subscription at some random Internet Service Provider (ISP).

That ISP sells/rents you a modem (modulator-demodulator). What the modem does is translating the internet data between your ISP and your LAN over the cables found in the city and above (landline or cable TV usually).


LAN, Local Area Network : Your home network

Whatever networking is within your home is called LAN. We'll focus on providing robust local connectivity to your devices.


Router : Routing between Internet and the home

The router is the magic translating the WAN traffic into LAN traffic. See it as a big bridge between your ISP and your LAN.


Switch : Managing traffic within same LAN

This one is quite simple, this is a multiple ports device where your network equipment is plugged. See it as a power strip for data cable.

WAP, Wireless Access Point : Providing wireless access

All traffic by defaults flows over cables, the access point is the wireless bridge. That's like an invisible cable.


PLC, Power-Line Communication: Runs LAN traffic over power lines

When your home is big or running cables is not easily feasible, you can send the data traffic over the power lines of your home. That way you basically have one injection point (from router or switch) and other PLC consume it by serving other devices (computers, printers...).

Sample schema from the TP-Link AV600 2-port PLC with Wi-Fi.


Special note about ISP modems/routers.

Often we say that, for a simple home network, we have a router from ISP. This is not true because the "router" is actually composed of :

  • Modem : To connect to the outside world
  • Router : To bridge external (WAN) and internal (LAN) networks
  • Switch : To propose multiple ports to the user (usually 4)
  • Wireless Access point : To provide wireless access straight from the modem

Some equipment now comes with USB ports (printer, hard disk...) or telephone ports (Phone/Voice Over IP, VOIP).

Step 2: Some Planning

Home diagram

When planning, you must know your place inside out. It is the good moment to draw your full place. The most important parts are walls (particularly concrete walls) but also stairs if you want to place a WiFi access point there or run cables.

That'll be useful at other times too, like buying new furniture or searching for that damn socket that was somewhere or modifying piping, heating, wiring and so on.

I love drawings :-)

The obvious tool on Windows is Microsoft Visio but is paid software and pretty expensive. Good when you have it on your office computer.

For home computing, see this website for alternatives.

Another free option is pen and white drawing paper. That works pretty well too! Just make sure you have a ruler :-)

Don't forget to measure your rooms by using a tape ruler or a laser one for very big rooms and/or high precision.

I also love taking a lot of pictures of all details and put that into a general Google Photos album.

I've also discussed home modeling in my other instructable "PLANNING A DIY HOME AUTOMATION SYSTEM". Please give it a shot.


Constraints

When designing your network, you'll have constraints. Maybe you can't run a cable between basement and bedrooms or the modem must be in the living room.

Make sure to list these to NOT buy the wrong hardware. Nothing's more pissing than having the wrong part and needing to exchange it for another one. Especially since you'll probably do this during evenings or week-ends :-)


Preferences

If you have an office at home, probably you want to place the main network devices there. Another common option is in the garage of below your TV. Whatever are your preferences, consider:

  • Distance with ISP connection point
  • Power sockets
  • Cables to be run in the home
  • Physical access and security to the devices
  • Relative humidity, probably not outside (except if you waterproof in some box)
  • Distance with other equipment (home server, NAS...)

Step 3: Requirements

What are YOUR requirements?

  1. Start by listing all your devices : Smartphones, computers, IoT stuff, existing networking equipment...
  2. Continue the list by adding what you'd like to integrate later on : Smart TV, NAS, Chromecast, gaming consoles...
  3. Define what are the most demanding devices, usually 4K streaming from internet/a NAS is the killer.

Having that list, check the requirements for each : Wi-Fi only, RJ45 only, both wired and wireless, network speed capability and requirements.

Most actual wired devices are gigabit capable, the ones still being 100Mbps are not needing gigabit or not able to handle such a fast data rate (like printers or IoT).

Anything video related will need the best available speed, Wi-Fi is probably not the best choice, except if WAP (Wireless Access Point) is close.

Based on your planning, you should have a pretty clear view on what you will need.

Sample requirements

For the exercise, I'll take my own setup as your requirements, adapt as required. I'll assume cabled/RJ45 means gigabit ethernet over CAT 5e cables:

  1. ISP Wi-Fi Modem-Router is in the garage, Wi-Fi reception is poor (concrete floor)
  2. NVR system is near to modem in garage
  3. Synology NAS can be anywhere as long as gigabit is available (1 socket, I don't have ports aggregate)
  4. Home office (also refereed to as SOHO for small office home office) is around 10 meters away from modem, it has multiple computers (RJ45) and network printer (RJ45)
  5. I have smartphones and laptops all around (including terrace at back of my house)
  6. Smart TV (RJ45 only) is in living room, it has a Google Chromecast plugged in (Wi-Fi only)
  7. Home cinema has dedicated laptop and A/V receiver (both having RJ45 and Wi-Fi), room is in basement

With all that in mind, the main concerns are about providing :

  1. At least 1 RJ45 connection to office, office will have dedicated switch (8 ports, minus up-link)
  2. At least 1 RJ45 connection to living room for Smart TV and extensions (1 needed)
  3. At least 1 RJ45 connection to home cinema, extension will be possible using switch if needed
  4. Wi-Fi coverage for whole house (3 levels) and terrace (garden is optional)

I'd be very happy to have plenty of ports available and maybe a dedicated hardware router/firewall.

Step 4: Active Network Equipment

Based on my requirements and my desired extensions, I need... (or I'd wish :-))

For cabling, see next chapter. Active equipment refers to whatever is powered and does something.


For active equipment :


Would I want a newer NAS, I'd go for :

I'm also planing using a dedicated Raspberry Pi kit (RPi, cables, power adapter, SD card) as a Pi-Hole device for house wide ad blocking.


Warning about PoE

The Cisco WAP can be powered either using a regular power adapter or over LAN cable as long as PoE is available.

The switches I listed are NOTPoE capable. If you want PoE, consider using either PoE injectors/splitters (a bit cheaper and more flexible) or switches with built-in PoE ports (more expensive but simpler).

Step 5: Wires First

Run the cables!

Once you have selected the location for your network core, you'll have to use as many as possible regular network cables.

Why? Because copper wires are the most reliable and fastest of whatever one could say (except optical fiber).

If you are good at it, you can consider buying :

If you just want a few pre-made cables, they exist in many lengths (50ft, 20ft, 15ft...).

If you end up running many many cables, maybe you'll need a patch panel like this 24 ports one.

If you have that many ports, you'll also probably need a 24 ports gigabit switch and a set of patch cables.

Run many cables!

Bulk cable is very cheap, don't cut on that cost. When running cables, you might want to run 2 cables instead of 1. Even if 1 is enough, the extra cost + effort is minimal. You don't have to connect all your cables on day 1, that is your saving.

Having two cables / ports in a room allows for extra extension ability if using the CAT 5e cable (or higher grade) for television signals and misc exotic usages.

About rack

And then you'd need a dedicated housing to protect everything like a 9U wall mount 19-inch rack. 9U means 9 units high, a patch panel is 1U as well as a switch. Dimensions for that one are 19.5"H x 24"W x 18"D.

It's possible to use a 1U power strip with surge protection like the CyberPower CPS1215RMS.

If you are planning on hosting servers or other machines, you might consider higher racks with feet (that's getting quite heavy).

And so on. I said fast, not cheap :-)

Step 6: PLC Second

Background

The PLC (Power-Line Communication) can be used if running a cable is a big issue.

I however don't recommend much these as they are sensitive to the actual quality of your power lines. The performance can go down pretty badly. Whenever possible, run a cable, even if you need to commute through another room / switch.

I might use such PLC only for the garden shed if I put active equipment there (WAP for instance).

Types

The PLC modules come with different key features, the most common are:

  • Powerline Speed (Mbps) : 2000, 1200, 1000, 600, 500, 200 Mbps. Of course, but again they rely on quality of power lines.
  • Wi-Fi Speed (Mbps), if present : 1750, 1200, 750, 300 Mbps.
  • Physical ports : AC Passthrough to free a wall socket, 1+ ethernet ports

The modules come with a mix of these features. The Wi-Fi ones can be used as mini hot-spots for remote rooms while ethernet ports are used to have a fresh connection point to start from.

The usual options are with higher speed and AC passthrough. Bundles can be good money savers if combined properly. Fastest doesn't mean best, check your requirements! I list below best of the class options:


Note

You MUST use at least one ethernet port on a PLC to connect your core LAN to, coming from ISP router or your own router / switch. So if you need a PLC for 2 rooms, you need 3 as you'll add one at network core.

Step 7: Wireless Last

Background

Now that wires are all over the place, it's pretty easy to plug the Wireless Access Points (WAP).

If you want outdoor coverage, either place the WAP near external walls or use waterproof WAP.

The Uniquiti are great. The UAP‑AC‑PRO can even be used outdoor.

Types

Wi-Wi access points are nearly all identified mainly by their speed. This is what really matter when in your home. If you need very long ranges and the likes, just lookup Uniquiti models, especially the .

If you don't know what you need, you should be good with a good all-in-one Wi-Fi router like the Netgear Nighthawk X6 AC3200. Don't forget that is for single point Wi-Fi coverage. Based on requirements, consider using dedicated WAPs (e.g. Cisco or Uniquiti).

About range

The actual real life range that is actually working is very hard to determine. Your house materials will obviously degrade the range but also your fridge or microwave.

Never assume range will be OK and speed will be at 100% max performance if you are at 20 meters for instance.

You'd better use smaller WAP at different places than one big WAP in the middle of the concrete basement.

If you don't have budget to afford multiple WAP, you can still run cables everywhere you can and just don't connect them, giving an easy upgrade path later on.

Step 8: What's Next?

I've provided quite a lot of things about hardware. Sadly the software part is much harder to explain as many cases will occur.

Key items :

  • Make sure to keep a router at modem's end
  • Make sure to have a firewall closest to modem, possibly within router
  • Don't expose your internet services to internet except if desired (e.g. don't have baby's webcam streaming live his bedroom on easily accessible ports)
  • Prefer to close firewall as much as possible, use an internal VPN server to remotely access your network
  • Secure your Wi-Fi by using strong password or passphrase (e.g. : MySecretUltraFastNetwork is actually a good passphrase, add some digits/special chars and you're done)
  • No, don't give your Wi-Fi password to neighbour, they'd be accessing your LAN and you don't want that
  • To serve IPs to devices, you'll need a DHCP, usually the router device will handle this too
  • If you have you own router, set your modem as "bridge" so it'll just pass everything to your very own router

Step 9: Final Words

This instructable is pretty much about hardware only. Sorry for that but going through all possible software for each equipment and possible modes is basically impossible.

If you feel like you have uncommon requirements, drop a question below.

I've listed a few brands, if you have personal preferences, go for it. The well known brands are Cisco, TP-Link, Netgear...

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