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Revised 4/18/2005

About Our Home

Five Years of Broadband Evolution

Our "broadband home" We use our home as a testbed to learn about new technologies for the broadband home.

When we started this website in the spring of 2000, broadband was in its infancy. We had installed Category 5 cabling and Ethernet in 1996 in preparation for broadband, but neither our cable operator nor our telephone company had started offering broadband service. We were "making do" with ISDN and waiting for real broadband.

At about that time, we created a slide-show describing the structured wiring and connected devices in our home. Since we couldn't get a broadband connection to our house and were using ISDN, we called the slide show "Our Quasi-Broadband Home".

In early 2001, we replaced ISDN with a T1 line. A year later, we replaced T1 with a cable modem as soon as it became available.

We've had the cable modem for nearly three years, and have kept expanding the Ethernet switches to support more connected devices. We're also using HomePlug powerline networking and Wi-Fi for our mobile devices.

Our "Home Movie"

You can view a short video showing how we use broadband, networking and digital consumer electronics technologies in our own home. The video covers our use of:

  • Multiple PCs
  • Broadband connection (a cable modem)
  • Home networking - Ethernet over structured wiring, HomePlug and Wi-Fi
  • Digital camera and camcorder
  • Networked digital audio and video
  • Digital telephone

This "home movie" is available in three formats:

Home Networking

We have and use three types of networking in our home:

  • Ethernet over structured cabling for PCs, and audio/video;
  • HomePlug powerline for fixed devices without structured cabling; and
  • Wi-Fi wireless for mobile devices.

Ethernet Over Structured Cabling

We installed structured cabling in our house in 1996, when we remodeled part of the ground floor as Dave's office suite and our server room. Some of the walls on that floor were open to the studs, so it was easy to install new cables there. At the same time, we decided to pull cables to the other floors as well; that was a little harder and we were helped by someone who was experienced at pulling cables through walls.

Main wiring panel Since we could not find any references on cabling for a home, we designed it ourselves. We ran "home run" cabling from a panel mounted on a wall in the server room (see the picture on the right). See the test locations page for a diagram of our house and the location of the server room on the ground floor -- the patch panel is at location 2.

We installed Category 5 cabling for our LAN and telephones. The telephone cables are terminated on telephone punch-down blocks in the center of this picture, and the LAN cables are terminated on on a CAT5 patch panel shown on the lower right.

We also installed RG-6U coaxial cable for video; the video cables are connected to a splitter shown on the upper right.

All the CAT5 cabling runs through cable ducts to conceal the cables. These are plastic ducts with built-in covers; they are attached to the panel with self-adhesive tape. A few of the "tee covers" are removed at the lower right to show the cables running between the ducts.

Telephone punch-down blocks We terminated the telephone cables on Type 66 telephone punch-down blocks. This picture shows the punch-down blocks with the covers open to reveal the wiring and the labels.

Main patch panel for CAT5 cabling The picture on the right shows a close-up of the CAT5 patch panel.

There are much better ways to terminate structured cabling today. Several companies now make "home wiring centers" as a way to organize the cabling. One of those is shown on the "Structured Cabling" page in our "Resources" section, which describes how to go about planning structured cabling

This D-Link 16-port switch is the master Ethernet switch for our houseShort cables from the patch panel connect to our master 16-port 10/100 Ethernet switch -- sitting on a shelf just to the right of the patch panel.

D-Link 5-port Ethernet switch on top of Dave's PC under his deskWherever we have more than one connected device, we use a 5-port 10/100 Ethernet switch. As an example, Dave usually has four Ethernet devices on his desk: his desktop PC, his notebook PC in its docking station, a SIP telephone, and a Rio Karma portable digital audio player. We also have small switches in Sandy's office, the attic and the study.


Wireless Networking

We have a Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11) network for our portable PCs and other wireless devices. Over the past five years, we've used several different access points and LAN cards. Symbol Technologies first loaned us a set of 802.11 equipment, and then replaced it with one of the earliest 802.11b systems. We later used 802.11g equipment from Linksys and SMC Networks.

Belkin Pre-N Router has three MIMO antennas We recently completed testing the latest Wi-Fi equipment based on MIMO and 802.11g chips from Airgo Wireless. Please see our Round Three test results on the Wi-Fi pages of our website. We're now using a Belkin "Wireless Pre-N" router based on the Airgo chips as our wireless access point.


Powerline Networking

We have a HomePlug network, using HomePlug 1.0 Ethernet adapters. In the second half of 2002, we conducted an extensive evalation of HomePlug powerline networking -- please see the HomePlug pages of our website for a description of our test procedure and results.

We are using several ST&T iPower Point Powerline Network adaptors. The master adapter is an ST&T M53 Ethernet Bridge shown on the HomePlug Products page.

AudioTron with ST&T M51 in our audio cabinet We use HomePlug to connect our AudioTron networked digital audio player to our Ethernet switch; this lets us play music from our PC hard drives to our main home audio system.

See BBHR 1/21/2003 for our article on this application, and view our "home movie" to see and hear it in operation.

Computers

We have many PCs in the house: servers, desktop PCs, and portables.

Our main server supports the following applications:

  • central common file storage for all applications;
  • tape backup for all PCs (this runs every night at 2 am);
  • time synchronization, so all PCs have the same time;
  • hosting for the home intranet, including HTML and CGI script processing.

We have four desktop PCs: for Sandy, Dave, our assistant Mary Ann, and a "guest" machine.

We have three portable PCs: for Sandy, Dave, and a spare (a older portable).

We also have several older PCs, including an ancient 486 PC running Windows 3.11 which supports our scanner for picture input and OCR applications.

KVM Switch

Our server room has four PCs - our main server and a backup server; our old 486 supporting the scanner; and a portable PC in its docking station.

These are connected to a common keyboard, video monitor and mouse with a 4-port Switchman "KVM switch" from Raritan Computer. By pushing a button, the KVM switch connects each computer to the common equipment. Using a KVM switch saves space, power and heat.