Setting up a home network can be a complex task if you lack the necessary knowledge. There are numerous things to consider when building a home network for the first time or when upgrading an existing network. For example:
- What type of router do I need?
- Do I need some network switches or hubs?
- Should I connect my devices using wired or wireless connections?
- If I decide to use cable connections which cable do I need?
- How do you improve the Wi-Fi signal around the house?
If you are unsure how to answer these and other home network related problems, then you may benefit from this home networking guide.
The foundation of a good home network is the infrastructure.
The network infrastructure includes the physical hardware, such as, the router, ethernet cables, network switches, powerline extenders and WiFi extenders along with the necessary software.
One of the most critical pieces of network infrastructure is the router. These days the router is often provided as part of the Internet Service Providers (ISP) package. If you subscribe to one of the leading broadband providers such as BT, Sky, Virgin or TalkTalk they will send you a pre-configured router which enables you, the user, the simple task of plugging the router into the phone line and away you go.
This is a simple way of ensuring your router is matched to the level of broadband service that you have purchased. For example, if you require a very fast internet connection with a download speed above 40Mbps then you will need a fibre optic service and the appropriate router. If, on the other hand you do not require such a fast download service, you can purchase a broadband service that is delivered over the copper telephone wires with a download speed of typically 8Mbps.
If you are unsure which broadband service you need, my rough guide would be:
- If you only wish to surf the internet, use social media, send emails and listen to music streaming services then the copper wire service will be fine.
- If you wish to download ultra-high definition films, play games over the internet and have numerous devices connected to the internet at the same time then you are more likely to benefit from a fibre optic connection.
Configuring the router is critical for securing the network.
Once you receive the router from you ISP supplier or if you already have a router the next task is to set it up and configure it. The majority of people just plug the router into the phone line and use the default setting provided by the supplier. This may be helpful for the non-technically aware customers to be able to join the internet and start creating a digitally connected home, but by excepting the default setting you will have a less secure network.
The subject of network security will be covered in another blog as it will be too detailed to cover here. However, that being said, I would recommend taking the following steps when installing a new router or if you have an existing router operating with the default settings.
- Become familiar with the router’s software.
- The router’s software is accessed via a web browser using the router’s IP address. The most common router IP address is 192.168.1.1 – type these number in the address bar of your browser.
- A page will appear in your browser showing your router hubs name and a summary of information about your network status.
- Log in to the router, usually started by click one of the tabs on the summary page.
- You will be prompted for the username and password – this will either be printed on the bottom of your router or contained in the information supplied with your router – in some cases the default username will be admin and the password will be admin. This will be one of the first thing to change in order to improve security.
- Change the username and password for your router.
- Go to the wireless settings and change the name of the SSID from the default name.
- Check the box so the SSID is not broadcast – you will need to remember the new name
- Under both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless setting select the highest level of Security Options such as WPA2 + AES make a note of the ‘network key’
- Turn off WPS
- Under the security tab ensure the firewall is turned on.
There is more that could be done but if your able to complete the above steps you network will be more secure than most.
Building the network infrastructure.
The things to plan and consider when developing your home network are whether to connect the devices wirelessly or using a wired connection. My rule of thumb for connecting devices, if it is possible, is to:
- Connect the static devices (those devices that are connected to the mains electrical supply – Smart TV, Game consoles, Smart Speakers, Sound bars, Sky or Virgin Media boxes etc.) using ethernet cables.
- Connect the devices that are more mobile (smartphones, tablets, laptop computers, rechargeable speakers, etc.) via the Wi-Fi signal broadcast from your router.
The ethernet cable option will involve laying CAT5e (the best cable option for a home environment) cable around your home from “node zero’ (node zero is usually an 8 to 16 port hub located next to your router) to each room that contains a static network device.
If you are only able to lay one cable to a room that has a number of static network devices for example your living room that may contain the following network devices – Smart TV, Games Console, Sky Q or Virgin Media box, Sound bar or AV Receiver then you will need to install a device known as a network switch.
A network switch can come in many sizes from 4 ports to 32 ports. A port is a socket where you attach a CAT5e ethernet cable. In the living room example, you may require an 8 port network switch, from which you would place the ethernet cable running from your router in port 1 and use the other available ports to connect each of your devices with CAT5e patch leads.
Once you have cabled all of your static devices to the router your wired network will be completed. All the wired devices will be accessible to one another over the wired network. For example, if you have a network storage device somewhere on your network containing photographs you will be able to access the device using your Smart TV and display the pictures on the largest screen in your house.
What about the mobile devices?
Your mobile devices such as, smartphones, tablets and laptops will join your home network via the Wi-Fi signal. On each device you will need to search for your Wi-Fi’s SSID (Service Set Identifier). If you switched off broadcasting your SSID on your router (recommended) you will need to type in the SSID name on your device to locate it. You will be prompted to enter the network security key (which again you entered when setting up the router). With the correct SSID and Network Key the device will join your network securely through an encrypted connection.
You will need to do this on each ‘mobile’ device. Once the mobile devices have joined your network, they will also be able to access shared devices such as printers, network storage (for data) and network speakers etc.
Improving network performance
The devices which are connected via ethernet cables should perform at a consistent and reliable level at a speed governed by the cable rating. For example, CAT5e cables are rated to provide data transfer at 1GB/s speeds, whereas CAT5 cable is rate at speeds up to 100MB/s (a much slower data transfer speed).
Wi-Fi performance on the other hand can be variable and can be affected by numerous physical objects. Large steel objects like filing cabinets or radiators can affect Wi-Fi signals. Also, Wi-Fi has a limited range say 30m in a straight line from the router, therefore a laptop in your garden shed may not be able to connect to your network.
The strongest Wi-Fi signals are located in a horizontal plane with your router, so if your router is located on the ground floor of your house the strongest signals will be on the ground floor (be mindful of obstacles like radiators). You will find weaker Wi-Fi signals the further up the house you travel. If you have a bedroom in the roof space, you may struggle with Wi-Fi performance.
A simple fix which can often improve Wi-Fi performance at the top of the house is to install a device known as a Wi-Fi extender. A Wi-Fi extender has two devices one is typically plugged into a mains electrical socket near the router and an ethernet patch cable connects the extender to the router (or nearby network switch). The other Wi-Fi extender is plugged in to a socket in the room with the poor Wi-Fi signal. The extender in the bedroom will boast the signal and the performance should improve.
A good network provides the foundation on which to build.
A reliable secure home network provides the foundation on which you can build a digital connected home. This means you can add more devices to your network and maintain security and performance. With a secure reliable network, you could turn your home into a smart home by adding the digital devices that will allow you to control your lighting, heating, security and much more. How this is done will be the subject of future posts.
I hope you found the information in this post helpful for planning and considering how to install and configure a home network. I will be creating other posts to provide a greater level of detail on the various networking tasks. However, in the meantime if you have a comment about this post or a question about home networking please use the form below.