Home Networking

What is home networking?

Home networking is a technology that lets you connect computers and other devices to each other and the Internet.

Why would I want it?

Just as the Internet gives you the resources to do more with a computer, home networking lets you do more with your home electronics components.

Some examples:

  • Allowing more than one computer to access the same Internet connection or printer.
  • Play games and share files between two computers or among many of them.
  • Play your computer’s MP3 music collection on your stereo.
  • Use Web cameras to set up a home-security system.
  • Share peripherals such as printers and scanners.

What can I connect to a home network?

Your computer and any peripherals you’d like to share, like a printer or scanner. Home networking also can be used to connect your stereo, burglar alarm, lights and other appliances. More networkable products are being introduced every month.

How does home networking work?

There are four ways to set up a home network:

  1. Ethernet uses the same cabling as an office building. It’s very fast, but usually requires additional wiring in your home.
  2. Phone lines use your home’s existing telephone lines. Plug the computer or other device into a phone jack, which acts like a modem, and you can connect with any other phone jack in the home.
  3. A power line sends information over your home’s electrical wiring. Plug an adapter into the wall, plug your device into the adapter, and you’re up and running.
  4. Wireless networks come in a couple of versions, but all use radio signals to connect your devices. Peripherals can be used by any computer on the network by connecting them directly to one computer. Then, turn on the networking software’s sharing capabilities. For example, a scanner could be connected to your home-office computer, and your daughter could access it from her upstairs bedroom.

How fast is a home network?

Ethernet can run up to 100 megabits per second (mbps). Bear in mind that that’s the internal network’s speed — not the speed of your cable modem. Phone-line, power-line and wireless solutions run between 350 kbps and 11 mbps.

Why does speed matter?

Faster connections make communication easier. Even the slowest home network is several times faster than a dial-up modem connection, and powerful enough to support all but the most-demanding applications like videoconferencing.

How should I choose networking equipment?

A good rule of thumb is to select a solution whose data rate is faster than your broadband connection’s speed. For example, if you’re a cable modem subscriber with a 1.5-mbps link, choose a networking technology with at least a 1.6-mbps data rate. That way, your speed won’t fall off when you’re surfing the Web or doing something else on all of your computers. If you plan to transmit lots of files and other data among your home’s computers — and not over the Internet — you might consider an even faster network speed, such as Ethernet cable.

How much does setting up a home network cost?

To connect two computers, home-networking solutions can run from $60 to $600, depending on the technology and your particular set-up. You’ll also need a hub or bridge to connect to your broadband modem. Wireless home networks cost significantly more than other technologies. But if you have a laptop, the freedom may be worth the extra cost.

Can I rent or lease this equipment?

No broadband service provider we know of leases home-networking solutions or related products. In the future, however, parts such as a hub or bridge may be built into a gateway device that could be leased to subscribers as cable TV set-top boxes are today.

How do I install a home network?

Some products can be easily plugged into an existing port on your computer. Other products require a network adapter in your computer. Generally, the no-new-wires-needed networking solutions — power line, phone line and wireless — are the easiest to install. If your computers are in the same room, an Ethernet solution with Category 5 wiring should be relatively easy to install, too. All no-new-wires solutions also require a software installation, which usually comes with a step-by-step “wizard.”

How complicated is it to install and maintain a home network?

The installation process can range from easy to frustrating, depending on the solution; your set-up and layout; and the conflicts or software snafus you encounter. Generally, when all goes well, it’s a snap. When things go awry, you may wish you had hired an expert. Like all new technologies, home networks are getting faster, more reliable and easier to install.

Can the network interfere with other things in my house?

No, it can’t.

Here’s why:

  • Ethernet hookups use their own shielded wiring, and so they don’t interact with anything.
  • Phone networks use channels in your wiring that aren’t used by anything else. A phone network won’t interfere with your telephone conversations or Internet hookup.
  • Power networks send their low-power signals over a special frequency on the electrical grid, so they won’t affect any other appliances.
  • The Federal Communications Commission regulates wireless networks so that they won’t interfere with TV reception or devices like cordless phones.

Are home networks secure?

They’re no more vulnerable to hacking than a single computer connected to a broadband service. And many home-networking manufacturers have embedded security features in their products. But just to stay on the safe side, you should consider downloading a simple firewall software program to keep hackers out of your broadband connection, whether or not you have a home network. See our security section for more details.