Networking In The Home

Smart devices are devices that connect to the great network in the sky, aka Internet. Here we discuss one model for how such devices can become connected to each other and to the world.

Our Great Wall of Stuff (GWoS), aka Home Theater wall of our Great Room, currently has four smart devices: AppleTV A/V streamer; Roku 3 A/V streamer; game console / BD player / media streamer; audio/video receiver (AVR). The  AVR uses the Internet only for firmware maintenance, not for content streaming, so is connected only as needed. Thus a three port ethernet switch is all that is required to support the GWoS.

Additionally, in other parts of the house, there is an iTunes server and additional desktop computers. And floating throughout are two iPhones, an iPad mini, a 1G iPod Touch, and two Apple G4 Powerbooks  (12″ 1.33, 15″ 1.67 GHz; 12 years old but still strong).

All of these smarties reside on our house’s local area network (LAN), anchored by our ancient Verizon Westell FIOS router, connected via Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) interface to our house’s coaxial wiring, then to the FIOS optical cable at its Optical Network Terminal (ONT), and finally to our FIOS wideband optical connection to the world.

We currently subscribe to a low-end 25Mbs downlink and 15Mbs uplink service, plenty of capacity for our current and future video streaming and other data needs. It will even support ultra HD (4K) video streaming when we get there.

Every time I test the rates, they exceed these specifications. FIOS rules; I can’t imagine, given the choice, choosing a cable or satellite service over FIOS. The Comcast salesman comes by every six months. I tell him we use FIOS. He counters that his service has greatly improved recently, and I smile and tell him too little, too late. FIOS availability has become a requirement for me, and it factored into the choice of our new home neighborhood.

Our 38 year old house came pre-wired with coaxial cable, with wall outlets in most rooms. The FIOS router, and the set top boxes (STB) for the main TV and master bedroom TV, connect to this coax wiring. Thus, cable TV signals do not appear on our LAN, going straight from FIOS cable to coax to STB to TV.

Since there is no built-in Category 5 (Cat5) ethernet wiring in the house, we implement our Internet=connected LAN via Powerline adapters, ethernet transceivers that plug into electrical outlets and send/receive ethernet transmissions over the house electrical wiring. It is a much cheaper and less intrusive solution than pulling Cat5 cable through an existing house’s walls.

We use the Netgear XAVB1004 powerline AV adapter kit, consisting of the XAV101v1 powerline transceiver and the XAV1004 powerline ethernet switch with four Cat5 jacks.

xav101v1xav1004

The XAV101 plugs into the wall by our FIOS router and connects to the router via Cat5 cable. The XAV1004 switch plugs in behind the GWoS, and the smart devices hanging out there plug into it via Cat5 cable. Is this great or what? Other XAV101 transceivers are located next to the desktop computers in garage, study, and Great Room, completing out LAN topology. All is hardwired goodness. No wireless weak links. All transceivers were bought used on eBay, so the LAN was remarkably affordable. All has been in use for seven years without a hiccup to date.

The 100+ Mbps wired LAN bandwidth available through our house wiring greatly exceeds our external and internal media content requirements, but is appreciated for computer backups, screen sharing, etc. No media or data is streamed wirelessly in our home; we do not watch or listen to media on our mobile devices in the home. Wireless is used only for supporting mobile devices as standalone smart devices, or as control sources (e.g. remote apps) for other wired devices.

Netgear’s XAV series uses the HomePlug AV powerline protocol. It is upward compatible with all later models. The ethernet switch is a real convenience for getting the GWoS smarties hooked-up; it seemed a compelling reason for choosing the Netgear powerline solution over an alternate choice (the existing coax cabling in the house together with MoCA transceivers) to implement the LAN. Also, the MoCA gear is slightly pricier for about the same bandwidth, and seemed less flexible than the Netgear kit with switch. Also, we now have redundant networks, and avoid any possible contention issues with FIOS’ use of the coax wiring for cable TV streaming. Also we have a portable solution. If we ever move to another house, our LAN moves with us, whether or not the next house has coaxial wiring throughout. Every house has electrical wiring.

One problem remained, getting uniform wireless bandwidth throughout our home to support our floating mobile devices. The Westell router is at one end of the house, and surprisingly weak wireless reception is encountered at the other end, our Great Room aka main living area. Usually, only 2.5 Mbps can be counted on, one tenth of the bandwidth available next to the router. Annoyance finally prompted seeking a Netgear solution. The kit, XWNB5201, was available for $39 at Amazon Warehouse.

xwnb5201

It consists of the Powerline 500 WiFi Access Point (XWN5001) transceiver, and an XAV5201 transceiver, both rated at 500 Mbps. The XWN5001 replaces the XAV101 transceiver at the Great Room computer, providing additionally a local Wi-Fi hotspot at that end of the house. The XAV5201 replaces the XAV101 transceiver next to our router, where extra speed will be most appreciated. Now all is truly networking nirvana, and we have two spare transceivers to expand our home into the IoT universe, along with an old Asante router that can be configured as another 4-port fast switch. New requirements. Bring them on.

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