Network Retrofitting Options in Existing Homes - You Can't Always Get What You Want
January 1, 2008
Road trips can be dangerous, as I learned during a recent trip to Boston where I provided network training for American Alarm. While relaxing in my hotel room, I was informed by my wife, Joan Engebretson (who is a contributing writer to SDM) that she had located a new house she wanted, and that we were going to move from our home of 14+ years. Although I was initially resistant, a combination of Joan’s determination and my prevalent marriage philosophy (“Happy wife, happy life”) caused me to go along with her plans.
During a couple of visits to the new house, it was evident that the previous owners weren’t “wired” people, and had not cabled the home for Ethernet. Because the home is completely decorated and has no basement or complete attic spaces, installing new Cat 5e UTP and coaxial cable is going to involve ripping open soffits and walls, installing the cabling, and patching and painting.
Is there a better way? Time to investigate the available alternatives for providing LAN/Ethernet connectivity over the types of existing cabling that would typically be found in an older home or business.
Two types of cabling that are normally present in a home are 110 VAC power and coaxial cable for cable/satellite television distribution. Leading vendors are delivering devices that can use either type of cable to establish or extend an Ethernet network.
Whether the Ethernet communications are placed on AC cables or coax, the principle of how it works is the same. The Ethernet data is transmitted using frequencies that are not used for the cables’ primary function, so the computer network signals can ride along with the AC power or cable television feed without interference.
Netgear (www.netgear.com) has a number of products available that provide a plug-and-play method of Ethernet networking over AC power lines. Products such as the XEPSB103 Powerline Network Extender two-piece kit allow one device to be plugged into any AC power outlet, and it will send Ethernet signals to the other Netgear Powerline device plugged into another outlet.
Powerline signal transmission has been available to our industry for more that two decades. One reason that its use has been limited is a security issue. How do you keep security-related signaling from going outside a protected premises to the buildings next door if they are all fed from the same transformer?
Netgear’s Powerline products solve this problem by utilizing the 56-bit DES (data encryption standard) for their communications.
So it appears that Ethernet over power lines is a viable option if we don’t want to rewire a home. As most every room has one or several AC power outlets, getting connectivity isn’t a concern. However, please note that when plugging in one of these Netgear Ethernet devices, that particular AC plug is no longer available for powering lamps, computers, or other AC devices.
What’s available that can use coax cable to push Ethernet around a building? Coaxsys (www.coaxsys.com) has a family of products they term “IPTV.” A product that can work in a home is the “TVnet/C,” with the “C” standing for “cable.” These devices can be connected to either RG-59 or RG-6 coax, with a maximum cable distance of 300 ft. between them. Up to nine of these boxes can be installed on one network, each providing a single RJ-45 10/100 Ethernet socket.
A pass through is provided for the coax signal, so the device can be connected to the back of an existing cable/satellite television set, retaining the TV signals while instantly providing LAN connectivity. These devices would have great potential in security installations where, for example, a client wants to replace a pre-installed standard analog camera with a megapixel network one. If power is near the camera location, the security integrator could replace the camera without pulling new Cat 5e UTP by using these adapters.
So choices are available that can use existing cabling to connect network computers, extending Ethernet and LAN connectivity while potentially reducing cabling costs. What will I end up doing for Ethernet connectivity in the new house? Whatever my wife decides.