File/Printer Sharing and High-Speed Internet Access.
Do you want to be able to share a printer or files with all of the other computers in your home? Do you want high speed Internet connectivity? How about sharing streaming Audio or Video files among computers? If so, then Computer Networking is for you.
At ADI we take the time to explain the different options for cabling and Internet connectivity to help you make the right choice for your home. Call or email today for a free quote or read on for more information.
DATA NETWORK CABLING
With more and more people working at home or starting home-based businesses, cabling your home for a computer network makes sense. With a computer network, you can share data and printers, digital photos, video, and music with other computers in your home. Also, with high-speed Internet access becoming commonplace, a computer network makes a lot of sense. By adding a device called a router/firewall, all of the computers in your home can securely get high-speed access to the Internet at speeds up to 20 Mbits/sec. The most common options for home Internet connections are DSL and Cable Modems. The most common networking technology for moving data around your house are Fast Ethernet (100 Mbit per second), or Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Mbit or 1 Gigabit per second). These technologies run over 4 pair cabling as follows:
Category 5 cabling - Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, or Gig Ethernet (with some limitations)
Category 5E cabling - Ethernet, Fast Ethernet or Gig Ethernet
Category 6 cabling - Same as Category 5e but made to a higher standard
Category 7 cabling - Same as Category 6 but made to a higher standard. This cable is shielded and will have a different connector (not a standard yet). Supports up to 10 Gigabit/second
ETHERNET, FAST ETHERNET AND GIGABIT ETHERNET
No matter what technology you choose for connecting to the Internet, or what operating system you choose for your network, you will want to run Ethernet between your computers. Ethernet has been around since the mid-eighties, and chances are that your network at work runs on Ethernet. Ethernet runs at 10 Mbits/second, and will run over Cat 3 or above cabling. Ethernet's big brother, Fast Ethernet, runs at 100 Mbits/second, and will run over Cat 5 or above cabling. Cat 5E fixes a near end cross-talk problem that is in some Cat 5 cables, and is preferred for Gigabit Ethernet. In reality, Fast Ethernet is more than enough for most home networks but since most products today support Gig Ethernet, you might as well use it. Most newer computers you will have a Network Interface Card (NIC) built in, but if not you can buy one at any computer store. It installs into your computer, and has an RJ-45 connector on it that allows you to connect it to the Ethernet network. You will need a device called a switch to connect multiple devices together. Ethernet is an IEEE standard (802.3), and the standard calls out a 4 pair (8-wire) cable. In reality, Ethernet only uses 2 pairs of wires, one for transmit and one for receive (Gig Ethernet uses all 4 pairs). At ADI, we recommend running a Category 6, 4-pair cable, home run to your mechanical room. We usually run a Cat 6 cable for network to all locations that have a phone.
Rather than run Cat 6 cabling all over your home, you could choose to just go wireless. There are wireless options that run at 11 Mbit/sec (802.11b) and 108 Mbit/second (802.11g) that are cheap and easy to install, or you could choose some of the newer 600 Mbit/sec (802.11n) wireless technologies. Either way, you will buy an Access Point that will connect into your network, and a wireless Network Interface Card (NIC) for each PC that will be connected to the network. Many laptops are being sold with a wireless NIC built-in as a standard option. When using a wireless network, security is an important consideration. There are easily available tools on the Internet that allow you to snoop the airwaves and look for wireless access points. If you just buy a wireless access point and install it in a default configuration, ANYONE will be able to connect to your network and possibly hack into your computer systems. Here are some of the terms you will see in your access point:
Service Set identifier (SSID): This is the name of your network and should be changed. With easily available tools found on the Internet, you can sniff this name and if it is the only security you are using, it is not effective at all. Let’s say you buy a Linksys access point and leave the SSID at the default, and your neighbor buys a Linksys wireless NIC card. Since they have the same defaults, he will be able to connect to your network. If you change the SSID, it at least makes it slightly harder. Keep in mind you have to change it on both the access point and all wireless network cards in the house.
Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP): WEP is an encryption algorithm whereby you setup an encryption key on both the access point and the wireless network cards. As data is transmitted it is encrypted (scrambled) and then decrypted (unscrambled) as it is received at the other end. WEP does have a flaw, and there is a tool available on the Internet that can be used to crack the WEP key. But the hacker has to capture around 1 million packets to determine the WEP key, so it takes some time. It is not nearly as easy as finding the SSID, but it is doable.
Wireless Protected Access (WPA) v2: WPA v2 is newer standard that still uses WEP, but it dynamically changes the key every so often. The idea is that by the time a hacker has hacked the WEP key, it is no longer valid. You should always use WPA v2 if it is available on your access point and NICs. Some older network cards and Access Points do not support WPA. Check the manufacturers web site and there may be a firmware update you can download to enable WPA v2.
Network Attached Storage (NAS)
Instead of using a server, a NAS is a great choice. In a home network, the server is usually only used as a print server and as centralized storage. Today's NAS products from Netgear, Western Digital, Lacie and others can act as a print server, have lots of storage and are much cheaper and easier to maintain than a server.
If you have a connection to the Internet, you MUST use a firewall. A Firewall is a device that allows connections out to the Internet, but does not allow people to connect in to your network from the Internet. There are many options here, but Linksys, D-Link and Netgear have products that are the most popular for home use. You can buy models that have a 4 or 8 port switch, a wireless access point, and a firewall all in the same product. Or you can buy just a firewall and 4, 8, 16 or more port switch. The ports allow you to connect the different data jacks around your house to allow Internet connectivity.
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) is a technology that can piggy back high speed data services on to your existing phone line. There are many types of DSL, all with different speed capabilities, and all incompatible with each other. The speed that you get depends on how far away you are from the Telephone Company, and how much money you want to spend. Speeds can be up to 20 Mbits/second and may be asymmetrical (different speed in-bound than out-bound). Ask your Telephone Company if DSL is available in your area, and what speeds are available. You get a DSL modem, which has an incoming phone line connection, a phone output, and an Ethernet connection. You will still need a firewall with DSL!
Cable modems connect to the cable TV system, and give you a high-speed connection to the Internet. If it is available in your area, you will get a cable modem that connects to your cable TV system, and has an Ethernet connection for connecting to the computers in your house. The speed can vary, but is usually in the 5 to 20 Mbits/second range. Typically the speed you get from your cable modem will be asymmetrical. It will be faster for downloads than for uploads. Also, Cable TV providers are now offering telephone services bundled together with high speed Internet access. Ask your Cable TV provider for details.
DirecTV has an Internet service called HughesNet (formerly DirecPC or Direcway). You install a new satellite dish on your roof, and you get a satellite modem box that goes in your house. The modem will have two coax connections that go to the dish (one for transmit and one for receive) and an Ethernet connection for your computer network. The speed is asymmetrical at around 768K for downloads and only 80K for uploads. We install these systems and trust me when I say use this service only as a last resort as it is quite slow. If Cable, DSL, or Wireless is available in your area, use them.
Cellular companies like Verizon, AT&T (Cingular) and Sprint have a service that allows you to connect to the Internet by putting a card in to your laptop. But companies like Kyocera, Craddlepoint and D-Link make routers that will allow you to plug that card in to them. So as long as you are in Cellular range, you can use one of these routers and service to get Internet connectivity. Speeds are usually less than 1 Mbit/sec, but now 4G is available up to 20 Mbps.