I recently had CAT6 network cabling run under my house and thus, the intent of this new article series is to share the experience and provide tips to others who are considering the effort.
An initial write up of the first article led me to realise that the amount of material here deserves multiple articles, and thus the birth of this new Writing Serial has eventuated:
The decision to have an existing home wired up for computer networking is a medium-sized activity when it comes to home improvement and DIY. It is a more labour intensive activity, particularly with venturing into the crawl space under a home, or in the ceiling if the home construction was on a concrete slab. The long-term physical impact also makes this a serious consideration; you do not want to just jump right in and start making holes in your (plaster board) walls without thinking ahead!
Motivation & Purpose
The number one consideration and decision point is “Why do you want a wired home network?”. Coupled within this is to articulate the benefits that you intend to realise as a result of pursuing a wired solution. Particularly in this day and age, the easy alternative is wireless networking!
To summarise my thoughts and personal motivation, a wired solution is an inevitable outcome given my level of technology-savviness. Whilst a wireless solution will do the job, nothing ultimately beats the data transmission reliability and speed of a wired/cabled networking solution.
As will be discussed in a future section/article of this writing serial, the path towards a wired networking solution has been present from the start of having a home internet connection. When internet access was primarily dial-up modem based, we had the home “networked” with multiple telephone sockets. In its infancy and crudest form, we even ran a telephone extension cord between the windows of two bedrooms! With the advent of cable internet, in the form of the hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) network that Optus rolled out across metropolitan Melbourne, we again took a “network” approach to getting multiple cable points installed throughout the house. In this way, pursuing a wired solution is arguably consistent with these historical approaches.
Having operated a wireless network for the last four/five years, particularly since my conversion to Apple and my first laptop/Macbook, the network and number of devices connected to it has slowly grown over the years. The following list is ordered in terms of the devices that have been added to this growing home residential network:
- PC (initially with wireless network adaptor, later replaced by iMac)
- iPhone (x 2)
- iPad (x 2)
- Time Capsule (wired to cable modem and became the primary Wireless access point)
- HP Printer (initially wired to iMac, later replaced with wireless model)
- Airport Express (2 units for a period, currently back to one)
- Apple TV (x 2)
The acquisition of a second time capsule enabled me to relocate the older unit to the home entertainment unit in the lounge area. This opened up new opportunities for the various devices located here:
- Yamaha RX-V473 connectivity to home network
- Sony PS3 wired instead of via wireless (greatly improves download times)
- Sony Bravia TV
- Pioneer DVD Recorder
Extending and pursuing other future benefits of a wired network solution shall be documented in the planned final fourth article of this series. Having a wired network in a home does not mean disbanding the wireless network. In one sense, the two are complementary. Freeing up devices that can utilise a wired solution instead of wireless option means fewer devices competing for space on the wireless network spectrum. Generally, the benefits of a wired network over wireless one are the general reliability and consistency. Whilst a Wi-Fi network is more sensitive to the signal strength, a cabled solution distributes the generally superior speed performance throughout an entire residential dwelling with great consistency.
Choices: DIY or Professional Installation
Up-front, this is one of the first decision points that you may consider. I ended up going down a hybrid combination of both. The reasons for this outcome were:
- My background in IT made me comfortable to deal with both the technology and general home DIY initiatives.
- I have access to people who are suitably knowledgeable – my neighbour who is a very competent hobby handyman – and also friends who have to perform network cabling as part of their profession
Another reason for going down the hybrid best-of-both-worlds model was that I got an initial obligation-free quote from an electrician who was quite comfortable with my helping him out. His hourly rate of $85 was expected to be the main cost whilst had I procured all parts through him the estimate was $200 for parts alone. The estimated quote for the whole job, assuming a full 8-hour day was thought to be in the range of $1000.
As I will describe later, the effort I undertook with a large helping hand from my neighbour greatly reduced the time required of the electrician when he came to complete the job. The motivation for enlisting my neighbour’s help was also predicated on the fact that this is a two-person job; attempting to do home network cabling on your own is possible but it will take a lot longer. Arguably working with another person halves the amount of time required.
Plan the Job: Tools & Materials
Like anything, the more time spent planning the better off you will be. Make sure you have all the tools and materials required. In my case, I had temporary materials (cable) available for initial wiring, which I later replaced with proper CAT6 cables.
In summary, you need the following:
- network cable
- wall plates
- wall plate mounting brackets & screws
- keystone jacks
- RJ-45 plugs (assuming you are creating custom length cables)
- crimping tool
- cable tester
- plasterboard saw (jab saw)
Category 6 Standard
I make the case that in this day and age (2015) the argument to continue persisting with Category 5 cabling is fast becoming outdated. If someone is going to make the effort to wire up a home or office, do it right and do it once! The cost differential between Category 5 and Category 6 is not, in my opinion, worth saving $s. The choice to go down a Category 6 path not only means getting the right cable, but also the wall plate keystone jacks and any cable RJ-45 plugs. To explain some of this technical jargon, RJ-45 is the name of a connection standard. All ethernet network cables today conform to this physical type of connection – the plug is technically known as 8P8C (8 position, 8 contact), which is the clear plastic bit where the ethernet cable joins. The process of joining and ensuring the individual cable wires are fused is called crimping; a special crimp tool exists solely to facilitate a hand controlled DIY crimping experience.
I purchase CAT6 Solid Core UTP network cable from Jaycar Electronics, which was priced at an additional $0.50/metre. I cut 6 lengths of CAT6 cable each to 8 metres in length; all my planned wall plate locations were approximately the same distance from the central location where all 6 cables would come together. Category 6 as a standard allows for data transmission rates of up to 10 gigabits a second, whereas Category 5 has supported up to 1 gigabit a second transmission.
One of the key design decisions that will influence the scope and complexity of the job is how you choose to approach the cable end points. The end results make it clear the magnitude of the job:
- Simple solution
- No wall plates or keystone jacks required
- No RJ-45 terminations
- Simple design – cables run from device to device, through the walls and under the floor, or over the ceiling.
- No crimping required
- Good for smaller network designs, with one or two devices only.
- Full solution with DIY cables
- Wall plates, with keystone jacks
- RJ-45 connector/termination required.
- crimping required
- most complex & effort required – three cables form the communication from device to device (one in each room to wall plate + the hidden cable run through wall/floor/ceiling)
- Full solution with purchased cables
- Wall plates, with keystone jacks
- purchase cables remove need for RJ-45 connector/terminations and crimping
- middle option – three cables form the communication from device to device (one in each room to wall plate + the hidden cable run through wall/floor/ceiling)
Whilst my recent experience is an example of the last cabling option discussed in #1 Initial Decisions, my neighbour pursued the first option some two years earlier. He did the entire job on his own since he was happy to create a finished product where the cables ran through holes that he drilled where the baseboard/skirting board met the floor. He also only had two devices/ports requiring the cabling. In contrast, the size of my network was in the next scale up – currently having three network/Internet capable devices located in the lounge home entertainment unit, a key requirement was to run 3-4 cables to that one location. Additionally, two bedrooms share a common internal wall where they have desks positioned. Combined, it allows for an easy fitting of wall plate/network ports and for the same length of cable to be run.
For both mine and my neighbour’s homes, these are existing dwellings built some 50 years ago. The style of construction from the 1960s for our brick veneer homes makes it conducive for DIY projects since we have a crawl space under the house. Over the years, the water, gas, central heating, phone lines and HFC (hybrid fibre coaxial) cable all have been accessed and installed in our crawl space. Indeed, during the 1990s, additional phone outlets were added as part of migrating to the then startup Optus. The advent of dial-up internet saw us have a second phone line installed so that Internet access would not restrict use of the home phone. For a brief period, we also played “music chairs” with the use of the three bedrooms such that each could be used as the main study with the computer and modem (dial-up or cable).
Naturally, as with any DIY home improvement project, the budget is a key decision point. The general principle also applies – you get what you pay for. To help contain the financial outlay, and to also get a better understanding, I had an initial estimate provided by a professional. At the time, the general estimate was that parts alone would be $200 and an hourly rate for labour would be charged. As a general assumption, the scale of the job was estimated to be between half a day to a full day’s worth of work. On a per network port unit charge basis, the estimate was also provided that it would cost approximately $60-80 per network port that was wired. The overall project was estimated to be $1000 given I was looking at 12 network ports (2 per cable/connection).
All the above was discussed prior to me proceeding with the project, and it gave me food for thought. To offset and reduce the cost, I took a hybrid approach to performing part of the job myself (DIY) and engage the professional to perform the finishing touches – wall plating and crimping of the keystone jacks. The labour hourly charges were also reduced by the fact that working out where holes were to be cut in the plasterboard and floorboards under the house was all aspects of the work I undertook as DIY.
These areas are all part of the initial consideration set when deciding on whether to pursue a wired network solution. As part of the Motivation & Purpose section, if it was not clear, one learning I would emphasise is that the arrival at a wired network for me was not an overnight decision, but instead is just the latest step in the nature evolution of my home networking needs. The Future Opportunities article will focus on where to from here. Stay tuned for next week’s article on the “how” and network design aspects.