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Home  /  geekspeak  /  Networking At Home

Networking At Home

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I recently attended a preview of Telstra’s latest addition to the Foxtel galaxy of services, adding pay TV channels to its T-Box Digital Video Recorder. That service is initially going to be available only to Telstra Cable customers, rolling out later to its ADSL customers. Access to the network externally is one limiting factor, but there’s another challenge for most homes looking to networked devices, whether they’re digital recorders, Net-connected gaming consoles or just a plethora of plain old humble PCs. There are far more “Internet-Ready” devices around than there used to be, but all of them presume that you’ll have a connection for them to connect to, no matter where in your home you choose to place them.

How do you connect them all up within your home? There’s a couple of choices, but they’re not always all that well understood. Here’s a basic primer to your connection choices once you’ve got an Internet connection (of any type) into your home:

Cabled Ethernet:
Pros: Speed. With up to 1GBps (potential), there’s nothing to match having an actual cabled connection to each room that you need access from. In terms of sustained speed, nothing even comes close.
Cons: Physical cables are a pain, and the cost of retro-fitting and cabling your home can be quite high. Anyone building should consider basic Ethernet cabling as a must-have, however.

HomePlug/Powerline:
Pros: Easy installation. Powerline sits in the mid-ground between Cabled and Wireless Internet, using your existing power infrastructure to deliver a cabled connection to your devices. Plug one end in near your router or modem, and the other near your device, and you’re usually good to go. At around $200 for a pair of plugs, it’s much less expensive than Ethernet cabling
Cons: Not all plugs are cross compatible, and some don’t work well (if at all) on powerboards and across power phases in your home or office. Many of the plugs are large and unwieldy, which makes them take over many points all by themselves. Often the only way to work out if Powerline products will work for you is to plug them in and see.

WiFi:
Pros: Ubiquity. WiFi is all over most notebooks, many games consoles and is often available as an add-on for “Internet-Ready” televisions. There’s no unsightly wires to trip over, installation costs are typically very low, and most wireless routers (you probably got one from your ISP) can accommodate more wireless gadgets than you’ll ever own.
Cons: Access can be highly variable depending on a number of environmental factors that can leave some houses with WiFi “black spots”. Despite the highly promoted speed numbers on the boxes of most WiFi routers, real world speeds are typically a lot slower than their wired siblings. This is less of an issue for Web surfers and emailers, but for watching online video or playing games it can quickly hobble even the fastest connection.

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