Networking options – building new or renovating
We live in an Internet-connected world. Whether your interest in the online world lies in your social media accounts, running a small business from home or in streaming the latest binge-worthy Netflix show in 4K. The need to stay connected means you must consider how you’ll incorporate home networking technology into your build process when building or renovating your home or investment property.
This is especially true as the NBN rollout continues, with (as per current plans) only a couple of years left until the project is complete. While it’s been politically contentious, the NBN should bring networking improvements to every Australian home and with it, the expectation of Internet connectivity everywhere. That’s why choosing the right approach when renovating is vital, with this in mind, let’s take a look at all approach options available:
Wi-Fi: The low-cost approach
Chances are you already use Wi-Fi in some way, most likely through the modem-router supplied by your ISP. Wi-Fi has the distinct advantage of being the least disruptive and the cheapest way to network your home, because all you need is a wireless router, which is the brains of a wireless network. This transmits a wireless signal as far as it can throughout your house. Anywhere that the network reaches, you can access the Internet, depending on configuration. Easy, right?
Wi-Fi definitely has its place – nobody wants to kick back on the sofa with a tablet that has to be tethered to a cable – but it also has some distinct limitations. The laws of physics kick into gear in a big way when you try to push a wireless signal through walls containing studs, dense wood or brick. This means the further you get from the router, the worse the signal gets. If you’re close to the router and there’s little interference, you may be able to stream 4K video, but with a wall or two in the way, or if you’re in a townhouse or apartment block where many other routers are jostling for limited wireless frequency space, you may quickly find your wireless signal degrading fast. This can express itself as a slow loading webpage or a video streaming service that either endlessly buffers or drops down to a lower quality setting. This is especially annoying if you’ve got a 4K TV. Wi-Fi is great in a home that you’re renovating for your own use, but if you’re building or renovating to sell, it’s not that enticing for buyers if you just throw in a wireless router. Anyone can do that.
In terms of costs, a simple Wi-Fi router shouldn’t cost you much more than $50, with more advanced models hitting the $500 mark and similar pricing for Wi-Fi extenders and adaptors.
Network cabling: Higher cost, greater reward
If you’ve worked in a large office before, you’ve most likely come across a wired ethernet-based network solution. This involves the physical installation of cables (unless you like trip hazards), but it’s the gold standard when it comes to continuous network availability, which is why you should seriously consider the installation of wired connection points in any new build or refurbishment. A dedicated ethernet cable can bypass the transmission difficulties of Wi-Fi, delivering a strong and continuous signal to all kinds of devices, from consoles and laptops to desktop computers.
Even if you live entirely with Wi-Fi devices, it makes sense to include ethernet in your renovation or building plans. Having an ethernet point sitting in a room makes it simple to install a wireless repeater for your primary wireless router. You can do this without the ethernet cabling at all, but you’ll end up with a significant drop in overall network performance. A totally wireless repeater uses up to half of its signal strength effectively “listening” to your primary router and then trying to repeat whatever it can pick up. It’s the equivalent of a game of Chinese whispers. By comparison, a dedicated ethernet link won’t lose any of the network speed, meaning that you can get maximum performance even if you’re in a building that otherwise kills wireless signals.
The challenge for physical network cabling isn’t so much the cost of the cables themselves. You won’t have to pay more than a couple of dollars per metre. The challenge is the cost of installation by a qualified electrician, especially if you’re installing in an already constructed premise. It’s not impossible to run cable between wall gaps, but the more work it involves, the larger the price you’ll pay.
If you’re already pulling down wall sheeting, those spaces will be open and accessible for a registered cabler to quickly run cable through to other rooms without fuss. This will come at a much lower overall cost to you, so make sure you get the timing right.
It’s vital to point out at this stage that if you’re running permanently installed cable into your walls, it must be done by a licensed installer in all cases. That’s a cost that you can’t get around (and for electrical safety, you shouldn’t even try), but it’s a cost you can minimise if you’re smart.
Price varies widely depending on the scope of the job and the accessibility of the areas that need cabling. A simple point-to-point connection might only cost a few hundred dollars in time and work, whereas an entire house wiring job could scale up markedly, especially if access is difficult.
Powerline/homeplug networking: Simple installation for maximum speed
If you’re not pulling down wall facings or if having a permanent installation isn’t a desirable option, the use of powerline network adaptors is a great way to get a better Internet connection throughout your home. Powerline networking does what it says on the tin. It uses the existing power cabling in your home as the conduit for network signals, connecting via paired adaptors that are plugged into sockets near your existing modem/router and your secondary location. It’s cheaper to install than fixed-line networking and it’s essentially portable. If you don’t want or need the powerline network any more, simply pull the adaptor out of the wall.
So what’s the catch? Network speeds can vary based on the quality of your existing electrical cabling, although for most powerline equipment it’s very much a binary equation. It will either work or fail completely and the easiest way to test this (unless you happen to be an electrician) is to plug it in and see. As such, keep the packaging and the receipt because if it doesn’t work, under Australian consumer law you should be entitled to a refund.
A single pair of powerline adaptors should cost you between $100 and $200. Bear in mind that most adaptors are large plugs so you’ll need some space around the wall socket that you intend to use.
Alex Kidman is the tech & telco editor at finder.com.au.