How to go about designing and building a secure and robust home network for all the times you work from home.July 17, 2015
There's a good chance you'll be doing email and video conferencing from home today. Friday seems to be the common default day to work from home (although a Fast Company story recommends Wednesday). But in today's hyper connected, flexible work schedule world, we often work from home any day – and evening – so the home network is a key part of any home.
"With all this Internet traffic, the network demands of a home are greater than those of a small business." – Eric Thies, founding partner of VIA
Eric Thies in Los Angeles runs a company called VIA that designs and builds home networks for high-end homes. He says business is really good, and explains why: "What's happening in the consumer space is that every electronic device is becoming a connected device. If you can imagine six to eight years ago, a lot of things in the house had no need to connect to the network. Now all of those things get info from the web, or report back to it, or involve some kind of cloud service. With all this Internet traffic, the network demands of a home are greater than those of a small business."
He says a custom home network from VIA can cost from $6,000 for an average sized home all the way up to $100,000 for larger homes of 10,0000 square feet or more. Of course, there's a huge spectrum of home network needs. For networks like VIA builds, it includes connecting front door entry, lights, heating, humidifiers, windows opening and closing, kitchen appliances, the garage, sprinklers, and of course, electronics like phones, computers, and surveillance cameras.
Laughs Thies, "People joke about a Jetson's home but we're getting very close to seeing it."
3 Ways To Build Your Home Network
Here are three options to consider when building, or upgrading, a home network that grows with your needs:
- Go high end: This includes the design and building of the network, and maintaining it. Good when you want to connect multiple homes or have high security needs.
- Using WiFi and buying a smart home connecting device: We're talking a modem, router, and perhaps switches to connect all the smart things in your home. SmartThings is a company that sells a ‘hub' that lets you access all your home devices from a mobile app.
- Do it yourself: Depending on your needs, this may involve a lot of wiring and trips to an electronics store.
Option #1: Going High End
Tim Imel is an LA entrepreneur and client of VIA's who often works from home, has a 10,000 square foot home and seven kids.
We probably have 15 mobile devices on the home network at the same time, at any time, running Netflix, Hulu, YouTube - Tim Imel
His network also 14 zones of lighting, and the pool. He said he needed the most bandwidth he could get, and that he needed it reliable and secure.
Mike Rock puts in home networks farther north in the Bay Area, and is CEO of Electronic Home Concepts. He lives near Netflix headquarters.
Says Rock, "Gamers and Netflix employees were way ahead of the current trend and building robust sophisticated home networks 15 years ago."
That means the rest of us are playing catch up.
Rock adds, "There a lot of new technologies that transmit 4K media content over network wires rather than traditional audio/video cables in a house. Managed switches can handle that kind of media traffic, with faster speeds, with fewer errors."
There's not a lot of 4K content available now, but it's coming very soon.
He adds that here again, you have your options. "You can buy switches from $40 all the way up to $1,000. It all depends on the number of inputs and outputs you have, are you powering your devices over the Ethernet or want a whole house switch to handle additional network traffic like audio/video and surveillance cameras?"
Rock says he tends to go for wired home networks, especially for computers, printers, network backup storage – the important stuff. "We tend to pull a Cat6 wire to all TV locations and leave wireless for things like iPads." The tough thing about wired of course is hiding the wires.
Option #2: WiFi and a Smart Home Connecting Device
Then there's wireless or WiFi and connecting all your home devices. But if you're doing gaming or a lot of video, latency and bandwidth can become a problem. Rock says companies (like Cisco) build a ‘client controller' that tells the phone or other client devices to switch over to the stronger access point for smoother and faster transition between access points. Another option is running Gigabit Ethernet from access points to a closet where the cable modem, home audio and additional equipment all sit.
The ‘Hub' by SmartThings lets you access all your home devices from a mobile app.
The SmartThings Hub
Option #3: Do it Yourself
Don Jackson is definitely a "Do it Yourselfer". He told me, "I love the stuff. Always got to have the latest." But it's easy for him as he's a software engineer in Silicon Valley and is surrounded by tech. Even so, this is how his home network cabling used to look in his garage.
Jackson built what he calls "one giant network" with multiple Internet switches (fibre optic cables, a server rack in the garage) and two WiFi networks – one for guests. But if you go it alone, he cautions, "All of this is a ton of work to set up and maintain. You need to decide if you want to do the work. I probably did more than most anyone else would do." And the most time consuming part of it? Jackson says, "It's the physical aspect in doing the wiring. And everything needs to be maintained: the security, the monitoring, all those things are a separate project."
But look at it this way Don Jackson—putting in a great home network will always make your home more valuable if you decide to move. This Wall Street Journal piece on "Fast Internet Access Drives Up Homes Values" says reliable Internet can be everything in a home sale—so think of what a great home network could do.
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