SETTING UP A HOME NETWORK

D Vautier
12/2001


One personís experience

 

This page was done many years ago and I have tried to keep it up to date.  Many things have changed since that time, especially wireless technology.  Some of the things I talk about here may not be relevant to today's, but some of it still is.

Dominic Vautier
1/1999


 

Where do we get started?

 

If you are looking to upgrade your home to a network, or you don't even have a home network yet, and you are clueless where to begin, I can certainly assure you that you are not alone.  When the prospect of going to cable or DSL comes along the tendency is to hang more than one computer on it and that means network.

When I first began to design a system I had to do a lot of research, ask a bunch of questions (whatís a router?) and receive many strange looks, confusing and sometimes contrary answers.  Lots of people are well informed but nobody seems to know all the answers.  Besides there are so many ways to set up a home network that it appears too daunting a task so they just go wireless.  When I installed my network there was no wireless.

I realize that each installation is different but some of the tips that I offer here may help if you are thinking about setting up a wired home network, or expanding your existing network.

Here are some serious questions you need to consider before doing anything:

  1. What high-speed service is available in the area?
  2. How much will it cost?
  3. How many computers will be on your network?
  4. What hardware needs to be purchased?
  5. What kind of wiring is required?

 

Anyway This is what I  wanted to do

 


I needed to install high-speed access for a minimum of five computers, two in each of the boysí rooms, one for my computer, one for my old server, and one for my wifeís laptop that had to include all the security features that her company required, which included wired networks.  I also included two additional sites, one in my daughtersí room, and another site in the dining room for a future laptop.  Since these were my original requirements things have changed dramatically.

This is the list of specifications that I came up with for my original home internet installation.

  1. High speed service
  2. Reasonable cost
  3. 5 computers, one a laptop with all required security
  4. Expandable to more computers
  5. Hard wiring for reliability and security
  6. 24 hour internet
  7. e-mail service
  8. Simultaneous web and e-mail for all sites
  9. Ability to switch vendors easily (e.g. DSL to cable)

 

CAT-5

 

Our two cats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crimping an RJ-45

 

typical data outlet with coax,
internet and two phone lines. 

 


Iím not talking about five little furry household pets.  Category 5 is the code name of the industry standard network wire used to connect computers, hubs, routers, and modems together.  You can even use it for phone lines but I prefer to keep my phone lines separate.  Some new houses built today are wired with CAT-5 or fiber optics in all rooms and that's a great idea.

CAT-5 consists of 4 color-coded twisted pairs of wire.  CAT-5 doesn't cost much so you may as well get a bunch to start out with if you want to wire your place (100-200 ft).  I needed 150 feet and Iím still wiring, so don't stint yourself.

If wiring your house is difficult, that is, and you donít have an open basement or attic, you may very well want to go wireless.  But the present wireless technology might not be too good or secure and some companies insist that their employees use only wired connections in their homes.  I use hard wire because it has proven very reliable and wireless was not good when I started out.  Besides, I have easy access to each room from my basement level and I recommend hard wire if possible.

When using CAT5 the plug or RJ-45 connector is the male part.  The jack or port or receptacle is the female part.  Wiring the receptacle is easy. Just follow the directions and consistently use ďPlan AĒ or "Plan B".  Drive the wires in with the back of an exacto blade or other suitable tool provided.  Thereís a clip that holds the wire in place, then wrap it with masking tape or black tape.  This works like a charm.  When you have wired your line, test it out, but we will talk about line testing later.  ďPush downĒ all 8 wires.  Only 4 are used, but you need to plan for future computers that may use all 8 wires.

As for wiring the CAT-5 plug (male connector), you will need a good crimper.  The plugs are cheep but you need to practice a bit to get it right.  You will just about have to crimp your CAT-5 or hire someone to do it.  I have a page on learning to crimp CAT-5 plugs.  It's very hard to do a good clean installation without this ability.  I originally set up pushdown sockets near my hub and used short jumpers, but it is just way too clumsy and not very  flexible.

 

 

While I was pulling CAT-5 wire I was also pulling coax cable and phone wire (CAT-3).  Every data outlet in my house has coax for TV, two land line phone jacks, and one network jack.  It's just as easy to do all three wires at the same time as it is to do just the CAT-5.  I label each data outlet A,B,C and label the coax and cat-5 wire the same at the hub and splitter.  The phone doesn't mater.

Use a double wall box because it has lots of room.  You can buy all the necessary fittings at home improvement centers.

Phone lines can go tandem, but coax and network wires are like hub-and-spoke.  Each network line (in use) has to go to a hub jack.  Each coax (in use) has to go to a booster splitter.

You can set up little junction boxes in many places in the house and tie your phone lines into any of these.  Try to stay away from power lines.

 

Hubs and Things

 

 

Hi Hubbie

 


A hub is just a brainless box that connects several computers together with CAT-5 wire to form a local network.  It does need a power supply but it doesnít really do much more than blink at you.  Each port on the hub has a light that tells you that connectivity has been established with the computer at the other end.  Another light blinks where there is traffic on the line.  If the hub is any good you will find an uplink port that can connect the hub to a larger world like a router or modem.  Sometimes one of the regular ports is used as the uplink port.  So when you buy a 4-port hub, it could be a 3-port hub with an uplink.  I think the uplink ports are wired differently.

If you are planning to connect many computers together get a 6 or 8-port hub because sometimes all the ports donít work.  4-port hubs are hardly worth the trouble.  I started with a 4-port, but very soon grew out of it.

Hubs have different speeds.  You can get a 10/base-t hub or a 100/base-t, which can really push some data, but remember that with the higher speeds, all your network cards and your hub have to be 100/base-t also for it to work at that speed.  Otherwise you get the 10/base-t speed.

Hubs are cheep.  There are tons listed on ebay. 

 

ISP


This stands for your friendly Internet service provider, the company that provides and supports your connection to the web.  These guys are like the telephone company.  They usually offer a variety of services, such as Internet access, modem, line filters, e-mail support, web space, and consultation.  Most ISPs that offer DSL or cable charge about $40 a month.

I have used DSL and cable.  Cable is faster but they both work well.  It depends on what is available in your area.  Try to get free space on your contract so you can get a web site going.  20 MB is plenty of space for a web site and these ISP guys usually provide it. 

 

Modem

 


The DSL or cable modem is usually offered as part of a package by the ISP.  This means that the ISP has the responsibility for delivering and perhaps installing a working modem.  You donít have to be worrying about one part of the equation.  It's a good idea to stick with the modem that the ISP provides, although you donít have to.  If you want to do your own thing and get a super-duper bells-and-whistles modem, then good luck, but I wouldn't advise it.

I have noticed that once in a whale the modem goes down.  The modem has a bunch of lights that tell you if it is working properly.  There is a reset button that may bring the modem back up.  If that doesn't work you can cold start it by unplugging the modem for 10 seconds or so and then plug it back in.  If this does not work you may have to just wait for the service to come back.  If you cal the ISP, make sure you are prepared to wait.

When there are power failures it is likely that a modem shuts down because it is often the most sensitive item.  After you reset it and get the lights going again, always remember to reset your router because the router talks to the modem and to your LAN and may think the modem is down and stop looking for it.  But routers are smart and can figure it out.

Sometimes the ISP will download new firmware to your modem. This is cool and relieves you of that burden.  But since you own the router then you are responsible to keep it's software up to date.

Networks and network cards

 


Each one of your computers need a network card.  A lot of the newer motherboards have built-in network connections.

If you select a 100/base-t network card remember that all your computers on the network plus the hub have to be operating at that speed.  Otherwise it only pushes 10 megabyte a second (which I think is plenty fast anyway).

I bench tested each one of my computers by moving the boxes into my office (next to the washing machine) and testing each network individually.  This whole testing strategy is simply one of divide and conquer, so make sure each box works or you could have problems later on when you add more complexity to the system.  Once the computer has been tested, you can then return it to itís location and then proceed to test your CAT5 connection.

Anything can go wrong.  Once I had a bad plug.  Once I had a bad cable.  Once a loose network card, and every time I move the box it would quit. Keep substituting parts until you can identify a problem.

 

Routing around

 

 

 

 


Think of a router as a small computer that directs outside traffic.  Routers don't have to worry about traffic within the local network. Routers can identify each computer that is hooked up.  They can be programmed to do lots of things and support different kinds of protocols, that is of course, all depending on how much money you want to spend and how fancy you want to get.  Routers can also act as firewalls, which do not permit people from the outside world to see inside your local network and fool around with your files.  A firewall hides each local computer's IP address from the outside world, but it does not protect against spyware and adware.  that's something else.

If you want access to the Internet from your local network, you must have a router because the router is the only way that the incoming and outgoing information knows where to go.

The router fits between the hub and the modem.  The uplink of the hub goes to the LAN port of the router.  The WAN port of the router hooks to the LAN port of the modem.

Some routers have built-in hubs but usually not enough ports.  My advice is to get a hub with lots of ports.

 

So what does all this cost?


DSL or cable monthly service costs around $39 a month but I get a bunch of web space with this deal.  The modem is included in the package.  There are lots of great incentive offerings out there too.

A good ebay router goes for $50 to $100 but the firmware may need to be updated.

All wire and connectors should cost no more than $150.

There's a lot of labor involved but you can take your time and do it yourself.

 

 

DSL 


DSL uses an existing phone line.  It sends a high-speed sub-carrier over your existing line that you canít hear (actually you can hear a faint hiss).  You still get charged for the line as well as the DSL service.  You get filters that go on each telephone and it eliminates the hiss.

DSL may be cheaper but you do need a real clean line.  I have known cases where the line was dirty and the DSL was unreliable.

In another case there was a lightening strike that fried the modem.

 

 

 

SOME TIPS ON INSTALLATION  

 

Just one computer


If you plan on just one computer using something like DSL, installation can be pretty easy.  Make sure your network card and software works properly, read the literature that came with your DSL modem and just plug everything together.  The modem needs to be programmed and your friendly ISP will be able to walk you through the installation procedure.  Modems are little computers and you have to get into them and set up some configuration parameters.  Usually your service provider will assign  an external IP address and your modem will link to your router with has an internal IP address that you can set up.  Each router manufacturer will have a default local IP address such as 192.168.1.1 or something.  It is always a good idea to change your internal IP address to something totally different.  The modem will sometimes require a User ID and password.  Don't try to introduce the router or hub until the modem is set up.

More than one computer


If you intend to install more than one computer in your home, I recommend that before you attempt to uplink your system to the internet through a router and modem, you should get your LAN (local area network) operational.  You need network cards and software installed in each computer, CAT5 wire, a simple hub, and lots of patience.  Follow the on-line documentation for networking in your  XP help system.  Remember to set up a workgroup, and to share hard drives (if you want to).  You can also share printers.

Get all the LAN stuff working before uplinking.

Program the Modem

 


A more challenging part of DSL or cable installation is getting the modem programmed.  Some companies will send a guy out to do it, but this can be expensive.  You can sometimes do it yourself. 

Follow the directions included with the modem.  Hook the phone line to the DSL modem (or coax to cable modem) and the Ethernet side into one of your computers.  Donít worry about hubs or routers until you have successfully programmed the modem and connected to the web.

The modem then tries to connect when the router is set up and your LAN is working.  It will take a few minutes and will get an IP address assigned for itself.  You will have to reboot a few times.  Once you have programmed the modem and can get into the internet, your job is half done.  

Routing the router

 

 

 


Routers are real smart.  They shake hands with modems, hubs and other routers.  They are friendly guys.  Routers direct traffic between the service providerís WAN (wide area network) and your LAN (local area network).  With your properly configured modem on the WAN side, which you should have already done, and a bunch of computers on an operational LAN connected through a hub and correctly uplinked to the router, you can usually rest assured that the router will figure everything out all by its lonesome self.  This includes IP addresses, subnet masks and the esoteric stuff that other people are paid a lot more than you to know about.

If you purchased an older router you probably will have to upgrade the firmware on your router, and this can be a bit tricky.  If you work for a company out of your home it probably wants current router firmware.    If you got your router from ebay or somewhere second hand, rest assured that the firmware is probably old.  Go into the router and find out what level of firmware it is on.  There has been feverish activity in router firmware upgrades as of late because of the rash of viruses that have invaded the Internet.  Everybody's upgrading firmware these days.

Upgrading router firmware is standard stuff.  You locate the vendor site and download a wizard file that that walks you through the installation.  You may have to isolate your router by unplugging everything except one computer.  You can then access the router directly from that computer. 

Before you upgrade be sure to follow the vendor instructions carefully.  It's a good idea to copy down all your router settings.  After modifying the router, reconnect the modem, reboot the router and hope.  Usually the router can figure out all the new stuff, but when you load new firmware to your router, it seams you have to reboot it several times (donít ask me why).  The router is probably going through a learning curve or something.

Your System

 

 

 


Now that you have a phone line carrying DSL, connected to the phone port of your modem (sometimes called the DSL port), which has itís Ethernet port connected to the WAN port of your router, which has itís LAN port connected to the uplink port of your hub, which has all itís ports connected to the Ethernet port on bunch of computers throughout the house, you do not want ever to disturb this setup again. (The leg bone connected to the hip bone.  The hip bone connected to the back bone).

As mentioned above, it will be necessary to reboot the modem from time to time because communication software can and does crash mostly because of power fluctuations.  Also I think the phone company may want to see who is using their system by forcing you to re-boot.  There seems to be many and various reasons to reset the modem.

My Web System


I mounted my system in the downstairs bathroom, which had an open ceiling and I was able to use the side of one of the overhead floor joists not too far from where I keep my TV cable splitter.  The picture here is a bit old and shows when I was still using DSL.  I arranged all the components so I could see the indicator lights.  Be sure to keep your equipment far enough apart and not in a closed confined space, or it can get too hot and fail.  I also kept the transformers away from the components to avoid interference and additional heat buildup.  I have noticed over the past all of the components remain only slightly warm to the touch.  Each component was mounted with screws for easy removal and access.  I drilled two tiny holes in the router for vertical mounting.  The hub already had mounts, but I needed to build a bracket to hold the modem since it's a rented piece.

Good luck on your home office.  My hope is that your installation turns out to be a happy and pleasant experience.