by Matthew T. Mitchell, Ph.D.
Published on winasm.net - December 7th-11th, 2008
So... you want to wire your own LAN? Now why do you want to do that? For the everyday computer user in a small shop, office, or at home, it certainly is worth giving some serious thought about...
Is it because WiFi at your home or office is unreliable due to EMF? Maybe your wireless network has interference from another WiFi network used by a nearby business or neighbor? Something that occurs more often than not when WiFi is not configured correctly.
Perhaps WiFi is not currently living up to the promised bandwidth? Maybe for the reason that WiFi is less secure and posses some serious security issues?
In fact, quite possibly you have real concerns about being war strolled by your neighbors kid, the computer genius, or some other rogue element?
Then again maybe you just want to bring your place into the 21st century? Have the ability to take advantage of all the wonderful new electronics and the new ways in which media is being delivered today and planned for tomorrow.
Even if you cannot afford new stuff, Cable, Satellite, Fiber Optic Services, or streaming TV, right now like myself, at least you will finally be ready, right?
Well... for all these reasons I decided to finally wire up my own LAN, and doing so was not as expensive, hard as you may think, or as costly as some of the WiFi systems that are currently available.
I did it for around $150.00 (US) in materials, not including a future 8-port high-speed switch for the 6-port LAN patch panel, or the other upgrades mentioned in this article.
Like many other people in today's economic climate I work from home, and until very recently, had been using a 56kbps dial-up connection for internet access and an 802.11b based encrypted WiFi access point with 3 computers including a laptop. Why I even upgraded to one of the new Wireless N WiFi systems and still was not very impressed with the current status of wireless LAN technology.
Don't get me wrong, WiFi has served its purpose as a quick solution for local area networking, mainly for diskless file transfers of huge amounts of data, like backups or music and video. Yet over time my dissatisfaction grew with intermittent or non-existent signal strength and really slowwwwww bandwidth.
Over an hour for 10GB of MP3 files to be transferred between PC's? Come on! Not to mention encryption does not preclude one from being war strolled or cabbed. Something I just cannot emphasize enough.
Plus when you start talking multiple computers sharing data and Internet access coupled with a minimal 64-bit encryption scheme, I have one word for you, slow! If you use higher levels of encryption, then expect even slower data transfer rates. However there is light at the end of the tunnel so to speak.
WiFi did accomplish one nice thing over time. Which is that it has driven down the costs of wired networks considerably. Especially your Standard TIA-568B CAT5e based networking infrastructure. On the other hand, CAT6 is a whole different animal, while CAT7 is still in the draft stage. Both of which are sure to be more expensive to install.
Not so much the cabling, but incidentals like jacks and peripherals, as is the case with newer standards and technologies. More on this topic further along in the article.
Here and now...
Finally being in a position to make the switch from wireless to wired. I started the process by updating our Internet access from dial-up to DSL. Something long overdue, but whose costs have finally fallen due to competition from Cable, Satellite, Cellular, and now Fiber Optic Internet Service Providers here in the US.
In this locale, DSL is actually now about $10.00 cheaper than dial-up per month, and way cheaper than the other four access methods. The real benefit though of having upgraded to DSL, which, aside from speed and instant internet access, is the ability to implement a VPN later on. Plus utilize video conferencing down the road as well.
Now after spending a fair amount of time doing research for additional answers, I elected to run CAT6 cabling. The cost of standard Riser Grade CAT6 UTP cabling in a 500' foot package was only $29.00 higher than CAT5e. Which is currently $57.00 at the local home center and building supply. Roughly about one third more in terms of cost.
Why CAT6 versus CAT5e?
Good question! Well… CAT5e only guarantees up to a 1-gigabit data transmission rate at a maximum of 100mhz, while CAT6 guarantees up to a 10-gigabit DTR at as high as 300mhz. More importantly CAT6 is being heralded as the next generation of networking infrastructure that fully supports all the fluff of HDTV & DVD video streaming and such. It also happens to be a noticeably thicker and more rugged cable.
Also note worthy is that our local Telephone Company has finally implemented a fiber optic network within the last two years about 50 feet from the building. Their technicians are already running CAT6 from the fiber optic distribution panel on the side of your home or business to the router inside. From there it is up to you on where you want to go next.
Since I knew was going to burn a lot of calories and experience a lot of aches, pains, and a shin bruise or two running the new cabling for a wired LAN. I figured CAT6 was the way to go in order to stay ahead of the game and get prepared for possible fiber optic services in the distant future.
Besides, who wants to do the same job twice and wind up running better cable when CAT6 becomes the standard for computer networking, perhaps within as little as the next 5 years? Plus as you can plainly see, yes, it's all about the bandwidth!
What was done in support of this article?
During the planning phase I decided to create a custom built-in 6-port LAN with a 6-port patch panel and a 4-port ISP patch panel. The cost of cabling, wall plates, and jacks is comparable to any state of the art WiFi kit that includes at least three adapters.
Add three more adapters, for six nodes total, and that will make WiFi more expensive than a wired CAT5e or CAT6 LAN. Especially if you keep your costs down by running wires through existing walls versus other methods like wire-mold, or use some of the other tips I mention.
Best of all… this scheme does not become outdated anytime soon. More importantly it does not start as or become a problem like a WiFi based wireless LAN; and believe it or not, it's also not all that hard to install by yourself. Not to mention you can still use your existing WiFi wireless access point to create a bridge with your neighbor's network.
Now the new ISP patch panel here consists of one jack for Telephony, one for DSL, one for Cable, and one more for future fiber optic service. (FIOS)
Whereas the new 6-port LAN patch panel consists of 1 port for each bedroom, 1 for the shop/garage, 1 for the den/lab, and 1 for the living/family room. It works out to be 3 ports on each floor of this 2-story structure. They are arranged so that the first floor is on the left side of the panel, while the second floor is on the right side.
The actual inputs/outputs for each room consist of 3 or 4 port wall plates that deliver Phone, CAT5e/CAT6 Data, CATV, and DSL depending on what room you are in. Photo illustrations of the project can be seen further along in this article.
Click here to continue reading Part II of Wiring your own LAN