I was tired of slow and spotty Wi-Fi in my new place, so I decided it was time to revamp my entire home network.
Wi-fi. That awesome invisible connection that connects all our phones, computers, tablets, and other such devices to the world. Given the scale and enormity of the task at hand, to connect the world, our expectation now more than ever is to expect more stable and faster connections. And our lives demand it. It seems like streaming Netflix in 4k resolution to your internet connected TV is easy enough, but pair that with other devices simultaneously doing the same thing and now it’s taking a toll on your network. When we really take a step back and start to tally up the devices we own that require Wi-Fi, or any type of internet connection, we can easily say each person owns at least a handful of devices. That can be TV’s, phones, tablets, Amazon Echo, thermostats, etc. My reason for bringing this up is I noticed many people go out and try to get the best possible one, like the Nest Thermostat Gen 3 or the Samsung S20 Ultra with 5G, but what most fail to understand is unless and until your network is up to snuff to fulfill the demand of the latest and greatest, you will always be left in the proverbial network dust. This is the problem I ran into. I have so many internet of things (IOT) devices in my home, my current network just wasn’t going to cut it and I also didn’t want to make a short-term upgrade. I wanted this network to be a rock-solid lighting fast network built to endure. Hence, I set off on my adventure to revamp my entire network starting from my ISP and topping it off with hardware that will future proof me for years to come.
ISP and Bandwidth
First things first. If I wanted to supercharge my network, I needed to upgrade my bandwidth from my internet service provider (ISP). Normally ISP’s will advertise how much bandwidth you need based on the number of devices you have connected to your network. For example, Comcast, will say something like 150Mbps is good for 5 devices streaming simultaneously. But my situation was different. At any given time, I could have up to 12-15 devices trying to connect to the internet as I run multiple devices that require a constant cloud connection, or I’m streaming, or simply using the internet in some shape or form. What I needed was a 1Gbps or higher internet connection. That translates to 1000mbps. What I needed to do was increase the size of my internet pipe to allow more data to flow in and out more freely. This is not to be confused with speed.
While bandwidth is the size of the pipe, aka overall capacity, speed is how fast the data can move. Another way to think about this are the lanes of a highway. The more lanes there are, the more cars you can fit on that highway but the cars themselves move at a certain speed; like 65 mph. A quick call to my ISP made the job simple enough, the technician came out, laid down new cabling for my 1Gbps connection and made sure I was receiving a stable connection from the ISP to my home. One item I opted to buy was my own modem. This made sense to me from a financial and future proofing stand point as I bought the best Surfboard Modem I could get my hands on and if for any reason it became outdated with a few years, it just one component to replace versus a whole Wi-Fi unit. I didn’t want to opt for a Wi-Fi modem combo for reasons I’ll explain later, but for now, let’s just say that’s not the best method if you want a network on steroids. With my Surfboard hooked up to the incoming connection and activated with my ISP, step one was officially complete.
Most of you are now probably thinking, “wait a minute why is there a whole section about wiring?” Believe it or not, wiring is a very crucial component to a rip-roaring home network and Wi-Fi connection. And I don’t mean that single ethernet cord that goes from the modem to a wireless router. I’m talking large scale interconnected wired devices and a carefully planned out wireless mesh network with superb range and speed.
The best way to get the fastest possible wireless speeds to your devices is to have the least number of devices on your wireless network. Let me explain. The goal with my network had a simple principle, the devices that could be wired in, should be wired in and the devices that have no possible way to be wired up should be the only devices left on the wireless portion of the network. It just happened to be that the devices that tended to be bandwidth hogs also were the wired devices. These included items like my game consoles along with all the TVs, AV related gear in my house (which is the gear we use exclusively to stream TV shows, movies, and music) and my desktop computer with the office peripherals. Everything else, like Nest cams and Wi-Fi based light switches can’t be wired in and therefore would need to be allocated to the Wi-Fi. Wiring up the major AV gear and other components in the home allows the Wi-Fi to remain more open and available allowing my phone and like devices to get better wireless access.
So, the laborious task to wire up every single device began. This process is not the easiest of tasks to accomplish. It requires you to be handy with power tools and demands careful planning and execution. But I was capable and willing, so I decided to take this task on myself rather than pay others to do this.
To give you a quick idea, I had to run 3 sets of ethernet cables to every TV in the house. Each cable has a dedicated role as my house would eventually be controlled by a home automation unit. I’m going to go into too much detail here, but one cable was dedicated to audio and video signals, one for control and the last for data (AKA internet related stuff). Now I have 4 TVs in my 2-story house, so we are looking at 12 ethernet cables in total. All these cables needed to be fished through the wall, up towards the attic and then straight down to my AV closet where every cable in the house terminated. In addition to the TV’s, I wanted to wire all my gaming consoles and other AV gear, as I mentioned. This was a bit simpler to manage as all that gear would live inside the AV closet itself, so all that really needed to be done was have all the equipment connected to a managed switch. Which again, would live with all the other gear in the closet. The other 3 ethernet runs I still needed to complete were for the wireless access points (APs). Running the cables for the 3 AP’s involved some thinking about the hotspots. Essentially where I would be in my house most often while using Wi-fi. After I figured that out, I ran the 3 remaining ethernet cables to the 3 separate locations in my home. Good thing I could easily access all the areas where I wanted to mount the AP’s via the attic space and crawl spaces. So, this part was pretty simple as well.
Wireless Access Points
This part may be confusing to some as most would assume a Wireless Access Point is the same a wireless router, but I’m going to give some context into the makeup of network systems first so its easier to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing.
In a typical networking setup, you will have a modem (either bought or was provided to you) and connected to that modem you would have a wireless router. These days ISPs, like Xfinity or Verizon FiOS, try to make the system even simpler by merging the modem and router in one unit, so they can charge you for convenience. This should come as no surprise; these units are garbage. Side note, this all-in-one type system may be sufficient for some, but if you’re a power user and demand faster speeds and broader range, you should never settle of the ISP supplied units.
To create a super charged system, you want to break down each individual component and make sure that each is individually robust and powerful. The first component to be broken off should be the modem. The modem’s job is pretty simple: convert your ISP’s incoming signal into something your components can eventually read. Like I had mentioned earlier, I got the best modem for the bandwidth I was paying for. Usually modems are pretty universal, but you always want to check if you modem will be compatible with your ISP and the type of connection they provide, whether the signal is sent via RG6, Ethernet or fiber. In my case, it was RG6 and I was aware my modem would be compatible with my ISP’s signal.
The second break down would be the parts of a typical wireless router. A typical standalone wireless router contains: a router component, a switch component and a wireless component. These, believe it or not, are more robust if broken down into separate parts. In simple terms, a router receives the signal and decides where it goes, the switch contains multiple ethernet jacks to plug in your wired devices so the signal can continue to your device over the cable; finally, the wireless component takes a signal and converts it to wireless frequency which then your wireless devices can tap into to send/receive a signal. Naturally, I wanted the best I could get so I started doing my research for the best. That is how I landed on Ubiquiti.
While this company does sell consumer level equipment, I didn’t want to settle for that. I wanted the enterprise level stuff. Ubiquiti is one of the only companies which sells a gateway router, a switch, and wireless components all separately and at reasonable prices also. This way you get enterprise levels of capability without spending enterprise level of money. I opted for the UniFi lineup of items which included the UniFi Dream Machine Pro, my router, the UniFi Switch 24 POE Gen2, my 24-port switch, and finally, 3 UniFi AP HD’s, my wireless access points (AKA wireless component). My router and switch would live in the AV closet and all I needed to do was install the UniFi AP’s on the ceiling where I had previously run my ethernet cables.
The UniFi AP’s would be spread out across my home for 2 major reasons. First, range. You want to make sure one AP can be in reasonable range with your wireless devices because the further away you are, the more lackluster your signal becomes. Now granted one AP could send a signal to my whole house, but that wasn’t the point because of my second reason: speed. I wanted consistent speeds throughout my home no matter where I was. To achieve that, multiple units would be required. Additionally, to make sure I was going to get great speeds, I mounted the AP’s on the ceiling (away from everything) in open areas of my home. I did this so there would be less interference in the signal with other electronic components and the signal wouldn’t degrade trying to penetrate walls and other structures in my home.
Super Charge Time
With the AP’s mounted and all the gear wired together in the rack all that was left was to boot the system and configure all the components.
One neat trick Ubiquiti brings to the table is the mobile app. I can configure all my components without having to wire into the system with a computer. This was a game changer, and while I would not mind wiring in, it was just super convenient to get it all set up with my phone. I enabled Bluetooth on my phone and all my components populated in on the app and started to configure. Another reason I opted for Ubiquiti was the level of customization you could do. You can literally control every single aspect of your network and while some may not need the functionality in their systems, I demanded it. I wanted to control the security and efficiency of the system myself. I do not really want my ISP trying to do that for me. While security was a large driver for me, being able to access the bandwidth I pay for was uber important. For the super nerdy folks out there, such as myself, who will inevitably tell me that the speeds the ISP supplies can be variable and I may not get the full 1Gbps, I’m here to tell you that I am aware but my goal with this whole exercise was to get to level where my equipment would be able to squeeze out ever last bit of bandwidth and have room to grow.
With the system I built, I was able to achieve that goal and then some. I immediately noticed a speed increase across the board especially on my wireless devices, but for now I want to hold off on sharing any speed data. As my entire home automation system and other larger components gets connected, I want to show what speed I can experience with all my devices hooked up and firing all at the same time, so stay tuned. The way it looks to me now though, is that it will handle the entire system without a hitch, and I will finally have the robust system I knew I wanted in my home.