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Working from home: Networks for beginners – Scoop.co.nz


Working from home may mean you need a better domestic
data networks. That way you can Zoom with colleague while
others watch Netflix or give the Playstation a workout.
Here’s what you need to know before you
upgrade.

Basics

Before we get down to
details, some basics. If you have a UFB
fibre
connection, this enters your house at
something called the Optical Network
Terminal
. You may also hear people call it an
ONT.

Most of the time, the ONT connects direct to your
home Wi-fi router.

Chorus ONTA Chorus
Optical Network Terminal

If you have copper broadband,
then you need a modem and a Wi-fi
router
, although these days the two devices often
sit in the same box.

Fixed
wireless broadband
users have a box which may
be called a modem, router or something similar.

A
router is a specialised computer that
switches data to and from circuits. Some people call them
switches. Typically there will be one incoming port and four
outgoing ports.

They all use something called
Ethernet, which is a 40-year-old wire
network technology. Ethernet is reliable and can run at
speeds from a few megabits per second up to 400 gigabits per
second.

Today’s home routers also offer
Wi-fi. This is a wireless networking
technology. It’s what most people use most of the
time.

Wi-fi can be fiddly to get going at first, but once
working tends to be the easiest way to move data around the
house. As we shall see, Wi-fi is great, but has
limitations.

Wired is best

If you can use
wired network connections at home, do so. At a minimum this
means a direct cable from your home router to your TV. If
you have shared data storage connect that to your router
with a cable too.

Ideally you’d connect a shared printed
direct to your router using an Ethernet cable. That tends to
be awkward given that most people chose to have their Onts
and routers next to the TV, which is often not the best
place for a printer.

Wire is fast

Wires will
always give you better speeds and more reliable
connections.

Modern home routers often, but not always,
offer gigabit Ethernet. Some might only have a single
gigabit port with the rest running at 100Mbps. Either of
these will be more than enough to get data from your fibre
connection to your TV.

Using wire connections is even more
important if you have a gigabit fibre internet connection:
see below.

Wired networks may offer the best performance,
but there’s more to networking than raw speed. Sometimes a
slower connection is the better
option.

Ethernet

Ethernet comes with a couple
of catches. First, running Ethernet around the house isn’t
easy or cheap.

Paying someone else to do the wiring job
can be expensive, although it can be wiser in the long term
if that’s what you really need. In truth, you can almost
always get away without going that far.

The second catch
is that Ethernet may often be less help than you’d think.
That’s because a lot of modern devices don’t use it.
Your tablet and phone certainly won’t come with an
Ethernet port.

Many modern printers made for homes and
home offices don’t have Ethernet. Which is handy as it
means you can put them where they are less disruptive.

So,
like it or not, Wi-fi will have to do a lot of your home
network heavy lifting.

Gigabit broadband, slowcoach
Wi-fi

The problem with Wi-fi at the moment is that
most home wireless networks can’t run at speeds faster
than about 500Mbps.

That is if you are lucky. Typically
you’ll see slower speeds.

To make matters worse,
everything connected to Wi-fi shares the same bandwidth.
What’s more, Wi-fi doesn’t travel too well through solid
objects.

Wi-fi signals can usually get through the
plasterboard walls in New Zealand house. Yet performance can
drop off dramatically the further you are from the router or
the more solid material there is between you and the
router.

It’s not unusual for home network speeds to drop
below 100mbps. Which is disappointing if you have a gigabit
broadband plan.

Given the number of phones, tablets,
computers, games consoles and other kit in a modern house,
your devices might only get tens of megabits per second
each.

The good news is that not everything uses the
bandwidth at the same time.

Which means if you connect to,
say, Speedtest, from a home computer connected to gigabit
fibre but linked to your broadband port via Wi-fi and
nothing else is running you might see speeds of 300Mbps to
400Mbps on a good day. Some connections will be
slower.

One way to reduce congestion is to use a
mesh
network
. These spread the wireless signals
around

Wi-fi 6 will fix some of
this

There’s a new version of Wi-fi that promises
to fix some of these problems. Wi-fi 6, or
802.11ax as it is sometimes known, promises
faster speeds, less congestion and less pressure on device
batteries.

You need to be careful reading specifications
for Wi-fi router devices. Read the marketing material for a
router using the older Wi-fi 5 standard and you might see a
claim it runs at 3Gbps.

This will be a theoretical maximum
speed. You will never see anything like that. In reality
individual device speeds top out at around 500Mbps.

A
Wi-fi 6 router might say 10Gbps on the box. In practice you
may only see a small speed increase if you connect a Wi-fi 6
equipped laptop to a Wi-fi 6 router when compared to Wi-fi 5
speeds.

Although there may be a bigger speed jump.

If
you think this language sounds like hedging, it is. Like
anything to do with wireless communications, speed depends
on a number of factors. You may not be able to control all
of them.

Congestion

While you should see
minor, yet noticeable speed improvements with Wi-fi 6 on
individual devices, that isn’t the technology’s main
goal.

Wi-fi 6 is more about improving network performance
when there are lots of devices connected. It does a better
job of managing congestion.

As more and more devices
connect to the network, congestion gets worse leaving less
headroom for each individual connection. Wi-fi 6 lets a
router communicate with more devices at the same
time.

Security is the other advantage Wi-fi 6 has over
Wi-fi 5. It uses a security protocol called WPA3 that makes
it even harder for hackers to guess
passwords.

Getting to Wi-fi 6

This all sounds
great, but there is one huge drawback to Wi-fi 6. It isn’t
a simple software upgrade, it is all about hardware.

To
get its benefits you will not only need a Wi-fi 6 router,
but you will also need new Wi-fi 6 equipped devices.

A new
Wi-fi modem might be a few hundred dollars. New everything
else will run to thousands.

Wi-fi 6 equipped devices are
only now coming on to the market. Apple’s
latest iPad Pro models
have Wi-fi 6. At the time of
writing no Apple Mac models do.

In fact, you will struggle
to find Wi-fi 6 devices in general. When I checked I managed
to find one new Dell laptop and one HP laptop with Wi-fi 6
support. If there are Wi-Fi 6 TVs or smart home devices they
have yet to be announced in New Zealand.

This means unless
you have one or more Wi-Fi 6 devices, it is pointless
upgrading your router.

One last point. Wi-fi 6 delivers
screaming performance when you have a mesh router using the
technology. They are expensive at the time of writing, New
Zealand prices start at around $1000, but they can flood
your home with fast wireless.

Working from home: Networks for
beginners
was first posted at
billbennett.co.nz

© Scoop Media

 


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