You might have noticed by now how I’m a big fan of using cables as opposed to Wi-Fi as a way to extend a home network. Getting your home wired is the only way to get the best-performing system, including one with lots of Wi-Fi clients. Running cables sure is a pain, and, sometimes, can be so for a rather unusual reason. A reader, named Martin, wrote to me just the other day, saying in part:
I had to drill a bunch of little holes to push the wire through. Not a huge deal. The thing is, by the time I got it to where I wanted, the connector’s head was damaged. Now I have a non-working cable.
Well, Martin, I feel you. But using ready-made network cables is not ideal in your case. Most importantly, that cable still works fine, and you’re very close. That’s right, the actual physical work of running the cables from one place to another (and installing the mounting boxes) is the hardest part of getting a home wired. If you’re willing to do or have done that, this post will help you deal with the rest. It’s easier than you think.
Getting your home wired: What you need
First and foremost, you need to figure out the places you need to run the cables to and from. A network cable has two ends. Generally, they are both the same. But for the sake of this post, let call them A and B.
A is where the cable starts, and B is where it ends. More specifically, the A end goes into a switch (or router), and the B end goes into a wired device (like a computer, or a Wi-Fi broadcaster, or another switch).
Figuring out the locations: In many homes, you just need one or two cables so that you can have a mesh system with a wired back haul. In this case, you run the cable(s) from where the router is to where you want to put the satellite unit(s), which should be the other end of the home or at least the middle of it. It’s all about proper hardware placement so that you get the best coverage.
On the other hand, if you want to go all out and get the entire home wired, you’ll need to have a place where all the cables’ A ends converge. It’s best to have them all in a small room or closet, where your Internet service line comes into the house.
What network cable to get
If you just need to run a cable in an open space, it’s OK to use a long ready-made cable. Chances are, though, you will have to run the cables behind a wall, on the attic, outside the house, etc. In this case, it’s best to buy them in bulk. Now you can cut any length you want, and bulk cables are a lot more affordable than ready-made alternatives.
For virtually any home, CAT5e cables will suffice, but it doesn’t hurt to go with CAT6 (or higher grades). Get the bulk long enough for the entire home. (Note that each cable needs some slack.) Generally, a spindle of 1000 feet (330 m) is enough for a large house with some to spare.
The basic rule of network wiring: Running network cables is different from wiring a home for electricity. You need one cable for each connection. That’s because you can’t split a network cable the way you do an electrical wire or service line (phone or coaxial) and expect it to work.
The only way to make one network connection available to multiple wired devices is via a switch. And that involves multiple cables.
That said, let’s take a specific example. If your service line comes in your basement, that’s where your router is going to be. Now if you want to use a wired device in your living room (like your Xbox) and another in your office (a desktop computer), here are the two ways to wire:
Getting a home wired the standard way (recommended)
- One cable that runs from the basement to the living room.
- Another cable from the basement to the office.
- Connect the cables’ A ends to the router, and B ends to the wired devices.
Getting a home wired the daisy-chain way (not ideal)
- One cable from the basement to the living room.
- A switch in the living room.
- Another cable from the living room to the office.
- Connect the first cable’s A end to the router.
- Now connect the first cable’s B end and the second cable’s A end to the switch
- Then connect the second cable’s B end to the desktop computer.
- Use a third short (ready-made) cable to connect the Xbox to the switch.
Either wiring method will work equally well in terms of speed — they’re just different in the amount of wiring, parts, and labor. And in reality, you probably use both. That’s because even when you use the standard way, there’s always a chance you need to connect more wired devices than the number of network ports available at a location.
And that brings us to the next important part: The things you attach to the ends of the cables.