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What continues to be one of the fastest growing segments of the computer industry this year will be home networking. With broadband access now a reality to nearly everyone including us inner city folks, we find that more and more of us are now getting on the internet at high speed and we also want to get everyone else in the house connected as well. And as it seems, we are just at the right time and place as there are a ton of alternatives out there to help us all get connected. For many of you corporate types, the Ethernet network has always been the way to go but in a home, it is not often that easy to string Cat5 cabling around. If you have not done it before, let me tell you, stringing cable is not easy and so I spent some time recently looking for alternatives and I was quite surprised to see what is available.
But why network a home? Lots of reasons. Did you just get a cable modem or DSL connection in your house and do you have others that want to use that blazing fast connection at the same time you do on their own computer? Do you have more computers than you do printers and want to save the effort of having to copy a file to CD or DVD and taking it to someone else’s computer to print? What about backup? Have you read the stories about crashing hard drives or worse, stolen computers, and want to back up your files? For those of you with multiple computers in the home, the pressure will get to you one of these days and then you will be with the rest of us, wondering how to do it.
I will get to the alternatives shortly, but I think that when you have looked over all the choices, you will still find that Ethernet is still the network and cable of choice for speed, reliability, and stability and support no matter if you use Cat5, Cat5e or Cat6 cabling. So the first thing to do when deciding that you want a network in your home is to first determine, how many connections you will need to have and where they are in the home. If all you have is just two computers in the same room and can easily run a cable between them, then the simplest approach is to put network cards in each computer, get a “Crossover” cable, and connect the two computers together. An even simpler approach is to look at a package like Laplink, which come with software and a cable, and you don’t even have to get inside the computer. But for our purposes here, I am going to assume that you have more than two computers located in different rooms in the house.
Now, as we talk about networking, whether it is phone line, Ethernet, power line or the like, remember that there will always be networking software that needs to be installed and set up. It will always be provided to you, or in the case of Ethernet, built into Windows, and can be a real pain to setup, but for this article, this is as far as I will go in discussing the software. Why? Because there are books, courses, and all sorts of literature and web sites devoted to setting up a network and we can take all day discussing it.
A short paragraph on Ethernet Networking is needed here for those of you that don’t know what it is. In short, an Ethernet network requires Ethernet networking interface cards (NIC) installed in each computer that is on the network. To connect the networks, you need to run ethernet cabling from each computer to a central location that has a networking hub or router installed. As I mentioned above, Ethernet networking software is already built into Windows so all you need to do is to acquire the hardware and cabling and possibly the help to get it setup. And that is essentially it. I have ignored many of the Ethernet options like Token Ring and Coax for the reason that for a home network, you really shouldn’t be considering them, they are older technologies with limited support going forward. Ethernet networks also come in several flavors for Linux, Unix, and their derivatives and I won’t go into them as well. Finally, Ethernet for large companies usually comes with servers and the like and for a home network, we will just stick with peer to peer. Again, no additional hardware is needed. I also mentioned that Ethernet is fast with typical networks usually running at 100mbps. The future of Ethernet continues to grow and gigabit Ethernet runs at 1000mbps and we haven’t even talked about fiber optic networks.
So, if you are not building a new home, or like Rollie, gutting your existing home, and running new cabling for Ethernet is out of the question, then you still have some pretty good alternatives.
The first is Home Telephone Wiring networking. There is an industry association at www.homepna.org. But I don't recommend it at all because the technology has just passed them by.
A second alternative comes from the Electrical Wiring inside your home. Again, an advantage is no new wiring and usually you have an electrical outlet in every room. There is no need for a separate hub or controller and the speeds are much faster at up to 200mbps. Take a look at the Netgear products. Their industry group is at www.homeplug.org. I know of a couple people using this network but there have also been connection problems. Cost at this point is around $210 for three computers.
A third alternative, though not costing much more at all, is Wireless Networking. A problem here is that there are multiple standards clogging the works if you just focus on the new "N" standard, you will be just fine. Wireless networking is based on the IEEE standard, 802.11 and I would stick with it. Advantages of wireless are that there are no wires to worry about and it is easy to add computers to the network. There are even printers that have wireless capability to them. Disadvantages to wireless in general is the fact it is fairly easy for hackers to tap into the network because most people are not taking the time to setup security on the network, and it can suffer interference problems.
A word about the standards. There is A, B, G, and N. where G is the old current choice for wireless and "N" is the new one. It is much faster than other wireless alternatives at up to 100mbps. There are many companies supporting this standard like Linksys, Dlink, Netgear, and others. The cost of this kind of network is not so expensive with three computers costing you just under $200 for the hardware. You are also limited in range but for most homeowner's or even small businesses, I don’t think that will ever be an issue unless your garage is more than 300 feet from the house.
You will also hear about Bluetooth, www.bluetooth.com and it has a very vocal and large following but unfortunately doesn’t have much in the way of products. Bluetooth is a very short range point to point way of connecting devices to your computer and I really don’t think they are even looking at the networking business from the traditional standpoint of file sharing, internet access, and the like. It is an interesting technology with a lot of products promised.
So, What To Do. The major question is can you run cable to each of your computers in the house. If you can, stick with Ethernet. Other things to consider with Ethernet is because there are so many products on the market, it has been flooded with cheap components and cabling. It is however, as fast as you need it to be, quite reliable, and very well supported. If you can’t run cables, then let your budget determine what you look at next but for now, the best alternative is the 802.11N wireless.
However you decide to go, you must also be sure you have a good antivirus program on each of your computers and if you are going to connect your network to a broadband internet connection like cable or DSL, you must have a firewall as well. For home networking, my recommendations are the Symantec Norton Internet Security Package.
Another good source of networking products
D-Link Home Networking
A home power wiring networking organization
A great discussion on home power wiring technology
A source of products for Home Power networks
A great source of networking information
Bluetooth Has it's own Association
From How Stuff Works.com
Another good source on networking
IEEE 802.11b Wireless Lan 11 mbps
IEEE 802.11g Wireless Lan 54 mbps
HomePNA 2.0 Network 10 mbps
Powerline Network 85mbps
Fast Ethernet 100mbps
Gigabit Ethernet 1000 mbps
Cable TV 1000+mbps
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