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 model’s philosophy prefers streaming video content rather than collecting it onsite (so long as compression does not noticeably degrade the viewing experience). But we remain collectors of audio content, enabling in-home streaming of Red-Book quality audio from our lossless-compressed, 400GB (1000 album) iTunes library. We seem to enjoy repeated listening to sound albums, but watch a movie typically once in any three year period; it takes at least that long for a movie’s content to seem fresh again. Perhaps those that enjoy movies as eye candy may enjoy watching one more frequently.

Our Great Wall of Stuff (GWoS), aka Home Theater wall of our Living Room, currently hosts two smart devices: an Apple TV HD A/V streamer and an LG OLED65B7 UltraHD TV. Our audio/video receiver (AVR) now serves only as an external audio interface; the new TV has four HDMI 2 inputs and serves as our UltraHD video switch. We may upgrade to an UltraHD Apple TV if it becomes able to access 4K content not available from LG apps. And we would get an UltraHD Blu-Ray player if there were a source of UltraHD disk rentals convenient to us that would provide access to 4K-remastered versions of our favorite classic movies. We now find no reason to upgrade the AVR to a 4K-capable model, but still enjoy its Burr-Brown audio DACs.

To connect to the Internet, we have used Frontier (formerly Verizon) FIOS for many years. We currently subscribe to a 100Mbps downlink and uplink service, plenty of capacity for our current and future video streaming and other data needs, including UltraHD video streaming via Netflix and Amazon Prime apps, hosted by our smart TV.

Four ethernet ports are provided in the GWoS by our Verizon 802.11ac FIOS router, connected to the FIOS Optical Network Terminal (ONT), and finally to our FIOS wideband fiber connection to the world. The AppleTV uses one port, and the TV another, leaving two available. This router placement allows all smart devices in the GWoS to use wired connections for their video streaming.

All other smart household devices are mainly used for data retrieval and processing; these connect to the Internet via 100Mbps wireless, and include a printer and three desktop computers, one of which hosts our iTunes server. 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 keeping us in touch with the ghost of our computing past. Both the iTunes server and the other primary desktop computer connect to the 5GHz wireless band. The other devices connect on the 2.4GHz band.

We have retired our prior in-home LAN, a Powerline 100Mbps pipe using Netgear Powerline ethernet transciever/switch modules connecting to house electrical wiring as the network physical layer. Its theoretical capacity is equal to our current actual wireless throughput, but our current Powerline speed was crippled to 20Mbps by the patched-up wiring system in our 1953 house. Thankfully, wireless has come of age. Faster, simpler, cheaper, who said one can’t have all three?

Notes on FIOS vs. Comcast as Internet Access Provider

Every time I test the FIOS data rates, they maintain their contractual specifications. FIOS rules. At our prior house, the Comcast salesman came by every six months. I would tell him we use FIOS. He would counter that his service has greatly improved recently, but would neglect to mention shared usage slowdowns, buffering hiccups, or data caps. I would smile, thank him for his house call, 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 latest house had FIOS service nearby, but would require bringing fiber optic cable on poles to our property, then trenching to our house. Since the prior owner used Comcast, we decided to try it (to minimize risk of being without connectivity after the move in, and to allow myself to comment in a first-hand manner on Comcast services}. The salesman was right, their speeds have improved considerably. But we initially experienced unusable Apple TV HD Netflix streaming due to some apparent Comcast limitations. We were forced to use Netflix from within the Comcast STB to get smooth delivery. That, and the bill that seemed to increase every month, helped us decide to cut the Comcast cord.

After a year, we returned to FIOS, 25% less expensive for the same service, with no data slowdowns, no apparent preferential Internet metering, no data caps, fewer silent ‘addons’ for a small extra fee, and with considerably less sales BS embedded in their customer interface. Of course, Frontier is still a cable company, so by definition they still try to milk their customers and hang on to them at all cost. But they seem less egregious in their business practices than does Comcast. It seems Frontier is not driven to become the world’s largest company. As a local service company, reputable in my region, Frontier seems preferable to Comcast, for whom service seems a non-priority in an age where content is King, and so many chase their tails at great expense in an effort to corner the market.

Rumors of it being a hard chore to drop Comcast seem to be overblown. We simply installed FIOS service, disconnected the Comcast equipment, then talked to the Comcast “Loyalty Engineer” on the phone and asked her to close out our account. She could see our service was no longer connected, so told us the amount of our final bill with only a hint of a snarl. I returned their hardware to the local Infinity store with no hassle at all. So have no fear of leaving Comcast for a better world. Their retention mafia have no bite (unless you beg to be bitten).

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