On home networks

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen me talking about re-building my home network. I’ve gotten a few questions, so I thought I’d address them here.

I pay Comcast a bunch of money each month for a pretty nice Internet-only package. (As of this writing, I just clocked 56 Mbps down and 12 Mbps up.)

Instead of renting a cable modem, I use my own. Specifically, a Motorola SB6121 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem.

In addition to saving the $8/month or whatever Comcast is charging these days for a modem, this puts almost every aspect of my network in my control.

While I do worry that Comcast will make troubleshooting connectivity issues more complex because I own my equipment, getting it set up initially was as simple as calling the company with the cable modem’s MAC address.

Next in line is a brand-new (and oddly tall) Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station. My aging Time Capsule finally kicked the bucket, and I decided to go for the simpler AirPort Extreme. They run cooler — and are cheaper — than the Time Capsules, even today.

(Funny story about the Time Capsule: I didn’t buy it. The now-dead AASP I was working for got two in the mail one day, after ordering a single replacement for a customer. I attempted to ship it back to Apple, but the company couldn’t take delivery of it, as there was no record of it being shipped to me in the first place. Essentially, it didn’t exist, so I took it home.)

The AirPort is running DHCP for my entire network. I have a 5 GHz network running along side a 2.4 GHz one. I don’t have any disks or printer running off the back of it, but it does connect to a NETGEAR GS108NA ProSafe 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Desktop Switch that powers my new wired network.

I ran all the drops myself. My house’s floor plan is quite simple, and I have great attic space to the entire house.
I installed several drops, complete with wall plates. The front bedroom and pantry both have a single drop, and I installed two behind the TV — one for our Mac mini, and one for an Apple TV.

I was surprised to learn that even the current-generation Apple TV only supports 10/100BASE-T speeds. No Gigabit.

(Turns out, that this is true for most set-top boxes, but I wish I could have the time I spent troubleshooting that cable run back.)

I have one drop left to do, which will run in an underground conduit to our stand-alone workshop in the backyard. That’s going to be … unpleasant.

So, why do all of this? 802.11ac ships on almost every new Mac and is insanely fast. Coupled with the growing presence of iOS devices, Ethernet feels more and more dated for most users.

Both of those (valid) points aside, Ethernet is incredibly fast and stable. For moving lots of data around, it’s impossible to beat.

I know that for most people — even nerds — installing a CAT6 network seems overwhelming or impossible. While it can be frustrating (or even dangerous), it’s not all that difficult. If you want a professional to do it, many electricians can perform the work.

Having an Ethernet network in my house isn’t going to increase my property value or impress my wife, but it does let things run smoother, and that’s a good reason for just about anything.