Home Networks: More Important than Ever!
Networks allow us to communicate efficiently in an increasingly connected world.
They move digital data from one device to another—throughout the home or around the world—while preserving the integrity of the data, even when multiple, competing demands are placed upon them. And each year, we rely on them to carry increasingly more and more data—orders of magnitude more when video streaming is involved.
Ethernet. Home networks can be wired (Ethernet) or wireless (Wi-Fi), generic or proprietary, dedicated to a single purpose or shared for internet access, lighting control, streaming video, multi-room music, surveillance cameras, etc. Wired networks are built on an infrastructure of CAT-5 (Category 5) telecommunications wiring, which is now being replaced by the higher bandwidth CAT-6. If the home is already wired with sufficient wiring of either type in the right places, or if pathways for adding new wiring are easily available, then wired networks should be easy to install or upgrade, and will typically provide higher reliability than wireless networks.
Wi-Fi. The dramatic success of wireless devices over the past few years—especially smartphones, tablets, even laptops—has contributed to a huge increase in the use of wireless home networks. And they’re indispensable for homes that are difficult to re-wire. But the performance of wireless networks can be compromised by physical structures, and by shared-uses (especially video streaming) that tax the throughput capacity of the wireless network devices. If demands on a wireless network are great—due to long distances, metal obstacles, or high throughput (video streaming), using enterprise-grade routers and WAPSs (rather than consumer-grade) can sometimes do wonders.
Particularly challenging are situations where multiple systems share a single network. Problems can also arise when metallic structural elements within or around the home create barriers to wireless transmission (such as stucco wire, metal lath under plaster, metal fireplaces, plumbing, and heating manifolds, etc). In these cases, wireless access points (WAPs) can be added to allow flawless connectivity throughout the home, if wiring pathways can be established from the WAPs back to the router.
Other Network Types. For dedicated home automation systems, the type of network needed is defined by the make and model of the central processor. See System Processors. Older smart home systems require proprietary network systems. But most of the newer smart home systems operate on standard Ethernet or Wi-Fi networks. MESH networks are special wireless networks, where each switch, keypad, and other device relays digital data to nearby units and thus back to the processor. This strategy makes them more robust than most other wireless network types, and less subject to the problems described above.
The power line carrier, an older network type, communicates digital information along existing power wiring. Because the devices in this network are exposed to 110 volt house current, they are often not as reliable as the other network types. This technology is now being phased out.
Ahead. Video streaming is becoming so popular that it is now drawing large numbers of customers away from both cable TV and satellite providers—and in the process potentially taxing many points along the stream. The current High Definition video standard already consumes greater bandwidth and signal throughput than most existing wireless systems can easily manage. And with the rapid adoption of Ultra High Definition (or 4K) TV, this demand will likely increase greatly.
So when you install or upgrade wireless network components in your home, keep future needs in mind. If you install cheap consumer grade components now, you may have to replace them in a year or two. See Video Sources.