Home Networking for Beginners

Home Networking for Beginners

Want to setup your home network but don’t know where to start? This guide will help you setup a basic home network to get you going.

Introduction

So you have moved into your new home or apartment and you would like to set up a good solid home network. We will do a basic setup with a little future proofing just in case you decide to expand in the future. We will have a look at a few different situations that you can start off with and provide solutions for problems you may come across.

We suggest you read the whole guide first and then coming back to refer to it as you go along in case you need some specific details. Also checkout the bonus tips at the end of this guide.

Hardware

Since this is a basic home network we will go for basic consumer hardware but this does not mean it will be the cheapest and crappiest hardware you can find. We will go half and half on price vs performance.

You will need the following hardware to get started;

  • Cat6 or 6a cables (Short pre-made cables for connecting devices together)
  • Router – To replace your ISP Modem router functionality
  • Switch – To add more ports than the above router can handle.. most of the time its 4 ports.
  • Wireless Access Point(s) – To add wireless network connectivity
  • Your ISP Modem

Optional items to give your setup a cleaner look

  • Wall mount open network cabinet (or closed)
  • Patch Panel (You will need someone to help you with this.. probably same person who will run your cables)

We will be linking a few products at the end of the guide with information about each product and when it is best to use each product.

Home Networking for Beginners - Hardware

Scenario One – New house/apartment build

In this scenario we will take as an example a house or apartment still under construction or a build that you can play around with when it comes to wiring.

It is a good idea to choose a small corner in your home to have all the basic hardware in. This can be a closet or utility room, preferably with some ventilation as hardware does get hot. We will run all cables to and from this area so everything is in a central location.

Let’s take a look at all the practical spots to have wiring run to. Keep in mind we are also doing some future proofing. Networking cable installation is something you should do well and pre plan. Keep in mind, doing all now whilst you can will prevent any headaches in the future.

Living Room / Bedrooms / Large Open Spaces. You should run at least a minimum of two cables to each of these places. Ideally these will go next to your planned tv locations. Everything is moving to a digital era now and many devices do actually need a dedicated network cable. The more devices you add the more points you will need. The more you add the better, we would go for four cables just to be on the safe side.

You can also opt to pre plan for wireless access points. These can go in the ceiling or on a wall. Try and plan strategic locations such as the center of a large open space or a wall looking over a large room.

You can also opt to run a few cables in corridors near bedrooms should you wish not to have physical access points in your bedrooms.

Finally also keep in mind that some devices require a wall socket for power so network cables should have easy access to a nearby power socket (As an example to power a Wireless Access Point)

Important to remember: Label, Label, Label – Make sure to label each cable with a number or letter on each side so you know what is what and going to where.

Home Networking for Beginners Wifi Signal

Scenario two – Pre wired house/apartment

The same planning applies for this scenario but in this case it might be a bit more difficult to get the wiring done. If you have drop ceilings and/or drywall it will be easier to pass some new cables (or get someone to do it for you).

If you find some cables already installed in your walls make sure that they are at least Cat5E so you will be able to get to the standard gigabit network speed.

If you have one cable running to a few rooms you can do with the option of splitting that cable into multiple cables via a switch in each room. Lets say you have one network cable going to your tv area in your living room and you want to add more ports. You can get a tiny 5 port gigabit switch, plug in one end into the switch and you will be left with four more ports available for other devices.

Although this may be fine for most users, do keep in mind that when splitting a single cable the maximum speed of all the devices connected to that switch/one cable will be one gigabit. Again, this is not a big issue for the basic home network user; but if later you will be adding any media servers or have many data hungry devices on one split cable you might run into some speed issues.

Scenario three – No wiring in house/apartment or difficult to wire

Well this is the hardest one to get done but there is a way to do everything. Depending on the materials of your floors and ceiling you can get away with a few things but they might not look as good as you want.

If you have 360 degree access to the house, you can install outdoor grade shielded cable trough the walls and run them outside. Make a large hole in your utilities closet (or any other place all your cables will go to), pass the cables outside on your wall trying to hide them above windows or along side trims on the outside. Get to the room you wish to wire and drill a hole inwards and push the cable trough.

An apartment can be a bit more difficult but if you have high ceilings or a drop ceiling you can try and run some up to the ceiling and dropping them down in walls or using plastic conduit which can be painted over. Depending on the style of your home you can also neatly leave cables running along ceiling if you have that industrial/loft look style.

There are many ways to get things done never say its impossible to do something. If for any reason there is a very difficult spot to reach or maybe it is physically impossible to get a cable done neatly there are also a few alternative options (Home Network Ethernet Wall Plugs)

Putting everything together

Once you have all your cables in place you should have two things.

One – Rooms / walls / ceilings with network cables. These are usually terminated into wall boxes that you can plug cables directly into. Some other places you can have a direct cable coming out such as a ceiling location.

Two – On the other end, your utilities closet should have all the wiring from all rooms. These would either be put into a patch panel (If done by an installer) or left as terminated long cables that you can plug in directly to your network switch.

Home Networking for Beginners - Network Cables

First things first, start with your ISP modem. If not already installed this should preferably go next to all of the network wiring in the same room. If its in another room, already wired to another room or pre installed in a separate location you can do two things. Either ask your ISP to rewire it to the new location or make sure you have a cable that can run from the modem to the utilities closet. (Having all in one location is the ideal scenario if this is possible do it, you wont regret it)

Plan out a spot for all your hardware to sit on such as a shelf or open cupboard or a dedicated network rack. You can also wall mount everything but it would be better to use some plywood on the wall and mount all to that. Install the plywood to the wall and then use screws to hang the equipment using the mounting holes found on the bottom of most devices.

Wiring and Initial Setup

Connect all wires from all the rooms to your network switch. Try and install them in  sequence to keep everything tidy and easy to find for any troubleshooting. Leave the first port or last port on your switch empty so you can connect your router here.

Home Networking for Beginners - Switch

The modem is the first place to start. Most modems from your ISP will also be a router and a wireless access point. To make your network more efficient we will opt for a separate router and a separate wireless access point.

To setup your modem, connect a pc or laptop directly to the modem using a network cable to one of the LAN ports. Most modems will have a sticker on the side or bottom indicating what IP address you need to enter in your browser for the administration console. If not, its best to contact your ISP for this information as it would be difficult for us to give you your exact information. Also its a good idea that you have internet connectivity at this stage to troubleshoot any problems before we connect other devices which will make it hard to check which device is not working. If you have internet at this stage you can proceed.

Most of the time the management ip will look something like https://192.168.0.1 and a username and password such as admin/admin. Once you are logged into the management page of your modem you are looking for a few things.

First of all if your modem has Wifi you should disable this option to stop any interference from other devices we will be installing later on. The other thing you need to change is the option to make your modem into modem only mode; This is called bridging. The modem manual should give you a good idea on how to do this or you can Google the model of your modem and “how to set into bridge mode”.

Bridge mode will make your modem “dumb” meaning it will need a router to function and connect your other devices to the network and give them internet. Save setting ad your modem should not reboot into this mode.

Router Setup

Once you modem is in bridge mode you can disconnect the cable from it and connect the same cable to one of the LAN ports on your router. To get to the setup of the router its similar to the modem. Find a sticker on the device or check the user manual for the management page IP address.

At this stage you should also run one cable from your modems LAN port to the WAN port on your router. If your device is brand new you should be greeted with a setup wizard. (If not you can factory reset your device using the reset button found on most devices, just hold it for about 10 seconds whilst powered on)

Follow the wizard to setup your internet which should be automatically detected, choose a Wifi Name & Password (Use a strong password and WPA2 Encryption). Make sure that the DHCP option is on and you should be good to do. As a small recommendation you should change the username and password from the default ones.

Home Networking for Beginners - Router Management Page

At this stage once again you should test you have internet connectivity whilst you are connected directly to your router.

This basic setup should be enough to get you started for now. Last thing to do for now is to run one cable from the one LAN port of your Router to a port on your switch (We mentioned leaving an empty one at the start or end of your switch to keep all in order)

Testing

To test your network you can hook up some devices or a laptop to a network port in another room. If you are using your a laptop, go to another room and plug in a cable from the wall outlet here to your laptop and check for connectivity, if you have an internet connection… congratulations your network is now fully up and running.

You can also hook up any other devices such as TV boxes and check they work also. Go back to the utilities room and check for activity lights on your modem, router and switch. It is also a good idea to run a speed test to make sure that you are getting a solid internet connection as advertised by your ISP. You can use SpeedTest.net or Fast.com for this.

Wifi

Your router most probably has Wifi built in to it and probably this has been setup in the initial setup we did before. You might realise that this is not strong enough to get to each corner of your home and you will need to add more access points.

An access point will take a wired network point in your home and convert it into a wireless access point (hence the name). Most probably adding one or two more of these should have you covered unless you have a very big home or very thick brick, stone or concrete walls.

Let’s start with a little tip. To have better seamless coverage without interference, Go back to your main router and back into the management page. Find settings for wifi, specifically for the 2.4Ghz Spectrum. Find the wifi Channel and set this to 6 instead of Auto (Which is what it will most probably be at)

Home Networking for Beginners - AP Management Page

Now lest configure your access point. Most modern access points can simply be hooked up to the network and you will be good to go but may still need some configuration. Best is to do a bit of configuration to get the best settings for better performance.

Have a look on the user manual of your particular access point and find how to get into the management page. Sometimes instead of an IP address you will also get a domain name which will automatically find your access point.

A few things to change are the Wifi Name (SSID), Encryption type and password. Make these exactly like the ones you setup on your main router. You should also change the Wifi channel to 1,6 or 11. Now before we have changed the main router to channel 6 so we can set this to channel 1 or 11 so there is no overlap and less cause for interference.

If you ever add a third access point you can set it to the other unused channel. If you have more than 3 access points you can set the same channel number for the ones that are furthest apart. For example if you have one access point at the very front of the house on channel 1 and you want to add one more to a bedroom with no coverage at the very end of your house you can use channel 1 also.

Having the same Wifi Name & Password and on different channels means you can roam around your house and stay on the same network without getting disconnected… this is called Wifi roaming and work in a similar way to know cell phone network towers work.

Conclusion

Congratulations, your basic home network is now setup and fully functional and optimised. You should have full wireless coverage around your home and wired coverage with future expansion possibilty and future proofed wiring all around your house. You can always add more Wifi access points to add more coverage and also upgrade hardware if you need more features.

Bonus Tips

  • WARNING – Do Not Laugh – You should run a network cable to your bathroom. Yes that’s right, they might come in handy in a few years. Smart mirrors are becoming a thing. You may want to run a cable and leave it there just in case. Even possibly for a small smart tv or a smart speaker… choose spots wisely. If you have a garage, Basement, Attic, even an outdoor Shed… wire them up also.. you never know.
  • Choose your hardware wisely. Don’t go buying the cheapest stuff you find as you will regret it. Yes you can  find all you need for very cheap but we are looking for main stream quality, with good performance and lifespan. Cheaper hardware tends to be slow and may fail after a few years or so.
  • DO run cables to your ceiling in larger areas. The middle or strategic facing wall of a room is the most ideal spot for a Wifi access point. You can find some of these  access points that run on Power Over Ethernet which draws power and data from the single cable. This eliminates the need to have a seperate long power cable going to the device. We will be covering this in a more advanced home networking guide.
  • Do NOT cheap out on cables. If someone is installing these for you especially in a new build, its best to use the best cables available at the time. Remember these will be in your walls for a very long time and it would be ideal that they are the done right the first time round. There is only a tiny price difference between Cat5e, Cat6, Cat6a and Cat7 so if you can afford the extra cost go for the best at the time and you will be sure to have the cables working for many years and throw at them any upgraded hardware with ease
  • Remember to run specialised cables for specific situations. For normal in wall runs you can use normal grade cable, nothing fancy needed here. If you are running cables around the outside of your home make sure they are rated for UV and Weather protection. You can also buy cable that can be buried directly into the ground for outdoor runs that need to cross a patch of land instead of a wall or roof. Whenever you can always try and keep them shielded just the same by using some form of conduit.
  • If you plan on expanding in the future in terms of hardware and servers and so on; try and plan the space in which all cables are going to by having space for expansion. Make sure you have enough space to fit a PC and maybe a few more bits of hardware. You don’t want to put everything in a spot in which you can’t add more stuff later.

Hardware Guide

Here are a few of our recommendations for hardware. Please keep in mind you are not limited to just these but what we may suggest is to try and stick to a particular brand so you can build an ecosystem of your network based in the same hardware makes it easier for integration and for the hardware to work together. It will also be easier to manage as you will only need to get used to one management console style that will be similar for all devices.

Router – You will only need one of these. Basic differences would be wifi coverage and the internal processing power. If you are going to have multiple concurrent users doing different things on the network doing streaming and gaming we recommend going for a higher end model that can handle multiple users and offer features to balance speed and performance across all users as needed.




Switch – Here are some to choose from. Basically the main difference is the number of ports they have. Remember you need one port for every cable in every room plus one for your router. Also you should have a few extras just in case for future expansion. There are also some called Managed Switches which would also have a management interface. Although this might be a more advanced feature you may use later on, it is not going to effect the way things work if you use it with the out of the box settings. We have also included one with Power over Ethernet should you want to go for a once cable access point (Listed hereunder also)






Access Points – Here are some that we recommend. They have different form factors and some can go on walls, ceilings and even standard standalone ones. No matter which ones you choose make sure you can power it either via a power outlet or via Power over Ethernet (You will need the specific switch for this to work). In theory we can also use a normal router and configure it as an access point so this is up to you.




Others – Here are a few extra bits and bobs you might want to have a look at to make your home network better









Conclusion

Weather you want something basic or something more future proof is up to you. Hardware is easy to swap out just keep in mind the type of wiring and number of cables you will have going to each room and to plan these out well.

We will also have a guide for more advanced hardware and pro-sumer brands offering business like hardware suitable for home use if you want to go to the next level of networking, but starting of with this would be a good idea especially if you are a beginner.

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