An IP network is an essential part of the infrastructure for entertainment systems in the home. From devices as diverse as desktop PCs, clothes washers and dryers, smart TVs and nanny cams to wireless laptops, smart phones and iPads, a home just isn’t functional without a healthy network.
Determine Bandwidth Needs. The best approach for connecting multiple high-bandwidth devices is to determine the bandwidth required based on devices and applications that the homeowner plans to use. If more than a few streaming media devices will be used concurrently, then a commercial router with a managed switch may be required. Plan for enough capacity to connect all devices directly to the switch, with room for anywhere from 20 to 50 percent future expansion. This exercise alone will dictate whether or not a stacked switch is required.
Configure Your Ports. A managed switch often provides the ability to configure certain ports for quality of service (QoS), such as ports used for voice over IP (VoIP) phones or video conferencing. These applications are real-time and cannot tolerate network delays without irritating the user. A managed switch often provides the ability to configure certain ports into virtual local area networks (VLANs). This is essential in providing the ability to segregate bandwidth and broadcast-intensive applications, such as streaming audio and video, from the rest of the network. A VLAN also can be set up to segregate high-security applications from lowsecurity devices like gaming consoles.
Provide VPN Access. A good commercial router will have the ability to provide virtual private network (VPN) connections for highsecurity applications such as connecting to a corporate network from home. Because VPN is implemented in firmware (software that defines the specific attributes of a device), it is important that the router and switch have the internal infrastructure (fast CPU, lots of RAM and Flash) necessary to provide good bandwidth.
Choose Wire Wisely. When setting up a wired network, remember that not all wire is created equal. Cat-5e will get you basic bandwidth. Using Cat-6 or better will get you the maximum practical bandwidth short of wiring with fiber optic cable. Whatever cable you choose to install, how the cable is installed, terminated, and tested is critical to maximizing its full potential. Remember, a cable that has not been properly tested is considered “broken.”
Wireless as Plan B. A wireless network is considered a secondary network. Plan on wired first then use wireless where there is no wired option. A separate WAP with a selection of antennas (omni-directional versus directional) is always the best option. Always do a site survey before and after implementing wireless. A good WAP will have the ability to implement both a secured network and a guest network.
Ben Komar is president of Home Control Works, a division of Komar Associates Inc., in Joliet, IL.