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newNew 12/13/02

Links and Resources: Home Networking Choices

Sorting Through The Choices - The User's Perspective

This page examines the pros and cons of the many home networking choices facing the end user: pulling new structured cabling, using existing power-line wiring, using wireless technologies - or waiting for the dust to settle.

Until recently, pulling wires through walls was the only feasible approach to home networking. The standard approach was based on the "structured cabling" methodologies developed for and now widely deployed in offices. While this approach makes use of widely available and inexpensive components, pulling cables through the walls of an existing house is difficult and expensive. Although some technology is now available at Home Depot, little information is available to the "do it yourselfer" and few companies offer it as a service to the existing homeowner.

"No new wires" technologies promise to do away with the need to pull cables. Many companies are rolling out a wide variety of technologies based on existing in-home telephone or power wiring, or operating wirelessly throughout the house. Standards are evolving rapidly and several consortiums have been formed to promote them to end users.

One or more of these "no new wires" technologies may at some time be preferable to structured cabling in home applications. The question is "Which technologies and when?". There are many different approaches (wired/wireless, phone line/power line) and competing standards and technologies within each approach. The easiest decision for the home user is to wait and see how it all sorts out - but that deprives the user of the many benefits from home networking.

Here's how we see the choices today:

  • Deploy structured cabling now if: (1) you're building a new home or doing extensive remodeling and repainting; (2) you plan substantial computer-to-computer communications (such as file sharing and centralized backup); (3) you want to provide a backbone for Wi-Fi; and (4) you want the most flexibility for future applications.
  • Deploy today's HomePlug (power-line) solution (advertised at 14 Mbps but running at about 5 Mbps) if: (1) your main use of the home network is expected to be shared access to a broadband (cable or DSL) modem; (2) you don't want the cost and inconvenience of pulling wires through walls; (3) several of your PCs are in fixed locations; and (4) you're comfortable with needing to replace the equipment in a few years.
  • Deploy today's Wi-Fi (wireless) solution (advertised at 11 Mbps but running at about 5 Mbps) if: (1) your main use of the home network is expected to be shared access to a broadband modem; (2) you don't want the cost and inconvenience of pulling wires through walls; (3) you have one or more wireless mobile devices: laptops or PDAs; and (4) you're comfortable with needing to replace the equipment in a few years.
  • Wait for the next generation of Wi-Fi (advertised at 54 Mbps but running at about 30 Mbps) if: (1) you expect to share files between computers; and (2) you're willing to wait until early 2003 for equipment based on the new 802.11g standard.
  • Deploy Wi-Fi and either HomePlug or structured cabling if: (1) Your house is fairly large and a single Wi-Fi access point won't reach all the places you'd like to use mobile devices.
  • Wait for the dust to settle a little if: (1) You want to distribute media (TV and sound) throughout the house; and especially if (2) you already have high-definition television (HDTV) or think you'll want it sooner rather than later; (3) you aren't willing to pull wires; (4) you're not comfortable having to replace equipment soon; and (5) you're willing to wait a few years.

We'll revisit this from time to time to decide when it's time to change our recommendations. We'd welcome comments from the home networking community.