Most home networks leave something to be desired or are incomplete because not all connectable devices are connected. In this article we are going to connect everything together and connect it to the internet. You read what is best for your situation.
Tip 1: Network setup
In this article we assume a basic network setup that can be found in almost everyone's home. Internet is provided by a broadband modem via cable, ADSL or otherwise. There is a router available (whether or not integrated into the broadband modem) to which you can connect equipment wired (via LAN ports) and wirelessly (via WiFi). We assume that your WiFi network is a secure WiFi network. Security is controlled by a special WPS button on your router (or modem) or by a strong WiFi password. It is useful if you know your WiFi password, for example if you want to extend the coverage with a WiFi repeater (tip 8). You can easily find out the WiFi password and the security technology with WirelessKeyView. Run this program on a computer that is successfully connected to your Wi-Fi network.
Tip 2: Wired & Wireless
We regularly get the question: "Which is better, wired or wireless?" . The answer is unequivocal: wired. Everything that you connect wired to your home network works more stable than via a wireless network. You will not suffer from problems with range, forgetting your WiFi password or interference from other WiFi networks. Home appliances can also mess up your Wi-Fi network. The microwave is often mentioned, but in practice there is more to it. Really problematic are physical obstacles, building and construction materials in your home, and cheap wireless security cameras (or other devices that permanently transmit on the same frequency). Another argument for a wired connection is speed. This is usually much higher if you connect your equipment with a network cable, especially with a very fast internet connection.
Tip 3: When is WiFi available?
Wired is preferred, but this is sometimes not really convenient. An Ethernet cable is even impossible for tablets and smartphones and particularly impractical for living room laptops. Always opt for a network wire if it is also practically feasible, for example for the desktop PC in the study, network printer or network disk (NAS). A network cable is also preferable to fiddling with WiFi dongles for your TV, game console or media streamer. You can read more about this in tip 13. Use your Wi-Fi network for all equipment for which a network cable is not an option: smartphone, tablet, Chromecast 1 (although there is even a cable for that recently), and so on. Or if it's just super inconvenient, for example your laptop that you use in several places.
Tip 4: Too few ports
The ability to wired equipment to your modem/router is usually limited to a maximum of four LAN ports. If this is not enough for you, you can easily expand the number of ports with a switch. Choose a fast one that complies with the gigabit standard (1000 Mbit/s). You can purchase a switch for a few tens and it has, for example, 5 or 8 extra LAN ports. Connecting is easy, because there are no settings. Connect a LAN port on the switch to a LAN port on your modem/router with a standard network cable and you have extra ports to expand your home network wired.
Tip 5: Speed mutually
Gigabit is the current standard speed for wired home networks. It is possible that your modem/router supports a lower speed, for example 10/100 Mbit. This can prevent certain network equipment from functioning optimally. Good examples are the NAS (network storage) and the media streamer on your TV: it is nice to work at the highest possible speed. Purchasing a switch as discussed in the previous tip can offer a solution, for example to allow your desktop PC and NAS to communicate with each other faster. Wire both devices to the gigabit switch and connect it wired to your modem/router. This way you have the highest attainable speed. Do you access the NAS via WiFi? Then the speed gain is lost. The maximum speed always depends on the slowest intermediate link.
Tip 6: Downshift
If your computer is wired to a switch or modem/router, you may be curious about the maximum speed. This is the speed that the devices connected to each other 'agree' to use.
AdapterWatch shows this data in the column Interface speed. There is a long number. If you remove the last six zeros, you have the speed in Mbit (megabit). With a wireless adapter, the speed can always jump because the connection depends on all kinds of external factors.
If you see a lower speed than expected with a wired network connection, for example 100 Mbit instead of 1000 Mbit, this can have several causes. If your computer or switch can only handle 100 Mbit and the other device 1000 Mbit, it will automatically switch back to a lower speed. If 1000 Mbit is possible on both sides, the speed can still be adjusted downwards in the event of bad cabling or faulty connection plugs to maintain stability. You can figure this out by trying a shorter network cable.
Tip 7: Move Wi-Fi
The best solution to solve your Wi-Fi network range issues is to physically relocate the Wi-Fi access point. Usually the best place is a central place in your home. This is easiest if your modem and WiFi router are separate boxes, because moving a modem is difficult in practice (it should be as close as possible to the place where your internet connection enters your house.
Tip 8: More WiFi range
If physically moving your Wi-Fi network isn't possible or you don't want to run unsightly cables through your house, you can consider a Wi-Fi repeater. A WiFi repeater costs no more than a few bucks and only needs a socket. Setting it up is easy if you follow the manufacturer's manual as obediently as possible. In short, a WiFi repeater picks up your existing WiFi network and rebroadcasts it. For the configuration you may need the security code of your Wi-Fi network and you need to know which security technique (WPA, WPA2 or other) is used (see tip 1). The only drawback of a repeater is that your 'extended' WiFi network is only half the speed of your regular WiFi network.
Tip 9: Bridge builder
There are WiFi repeaters for sale with an extra Ethernet connection. By choosing a so-called 'bridge mode' you can 'convert' the wireless network to an Ethernet connection.
In summary, your WiFi network is picked up by the WiFi repeater in 'bridge mode' and is available from here as a wired network connection. This arrangement has no advantages for higher speed, but does offer other possibilities. For example, if a 'smart device' (control center of solar panels, weather station, DVD player, etc.) does not support Wi-Fi or is poorly accessible for a regular network cable, you can still integrate the device into your home network with this trick.
Tip 10: USB dongle
If the WiFi range is just not optimal from, for example, the kitchen and moving your WiFi router or wiki access point is not an option, PC or laptop users can play a trick. Buy a USB WiFi dongle for a tenner. Connect the dongle via a USB extension cable and you have a kind of 'movable WiFi antenna'. This way you still work via WiFi and you can better pick up a wireless access point that is difficult to reach. This trick also works well in a hotel room, at the campsite, or to pick up a hotspot from a vacation apartment.
Tip 11: Homeplug
For every situation where Wi-Fi is not possible or where it interferes too much, and pulling (extra) cables is not an option, there is a third option: HomePlug (also called powerlan). A wired network is transported via the socket and the electricity cables. It works like this: a HomePlug has at least two adapters (plugs). You connect one HomePlug adapter to your modem/router via a network cable. Connect the other HomePlug adapter with a network cable to the device that needs the network connection. By plugging both adapters into the socket and following a one-time pairing procedure (pairing), the connection is established and your network signal is transported semi-wirelessly through your house via the electricity network. A HomePlug set costs about seventy euros.
Tip 12: HomePlug Options
The speed of HomePlug depends on many factors and so does its stability. Avoid double plugs and power strips. A HomePlug does not have to be connected directly near your modem/router, it can be connected to any network cable. The HomePlug technology is an excellent addition for hard-to-reach places where you want to connect equipment. Thanks to HomePlug, for example, you can place a network printer out of sight (in the garage, shed or attic) without having to pull cables. HomePlug sets come in all kinds of variations, for example with an integrated switch so you can connect more than one device or with a built-in WiFi access point.
Tip 13: Connect creatively
The best solution for connecting your home network as effectively as possible starts with devising a plan. Many scenarios have more than one solution, but which one do you choose? Be creative and always put stability first. An example: you once pulled one network cable to the TV. Now you run into this limitation, because all devices around your TV have a network connection. In this case, you can buy an expensive HomePlug set with a built-in switch or try to make your equipment work via WiFi dongles or repeaters. Unnecessarily unstable and error prone! The best solution for this scenario is a cheap switch (tip 4). Connect this to the network cable at your TV and connect all equipment wired to the switch. This way you can still connect your smart TV, game console, Raspberry Pi, DVR, Blu-ray player, Chromecast 2 and other devices via one network cable.
Tip 14: Old router
To conclude this article, a tip that is only suitable for experts who still have an old router somewhere. Don't let it get dusty, you can do fun things with it for your home network. By disabling the DHCP server and Wi-Fi, you have a free switch. If you leave your WiFi on (disable DHCP!) and connect the old router via a LAN port, you have an extra WiFi access point. If necessary, change the channel settings of the additional Wi-Fi network to prevent interference.
Finally, there is the 'super firmware' of DD-WRT. If you're lucky, you can install this on your router. DD-WRT is available for many popular routers from different manufacturers. With DD-WRT you can turn a 50 euro router into one with the capabilities of a 500 euro router. Your network gets all kinds of extra features, such as a repeater, bridge, VLANs and other things that experts love. As you can read from the terminology, DD-WRT is definitely not suitable for beginners. Updating your router firmware is always a risk. In the most positive case, it gives you a super router with many extra features. Unfortunately, there is also the chance that you will make a brick out of your router due to a malfunction or wrong firmware flash.