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Smart home basics
October 2018, This Week's Editor's Pick, IT infrastructure

Smart homes are supposed to simplify our lives and make our homes more convenient. But without a reliable Internet connection and local area network, your smart devices can go offline and underperform, which can create more stress than convenience.

Mohammad Meraj Hoda.
Mohammad Meraj Hoda.

To make sure that your smart devices are always performing at their best and have a dependable connection to the Internet, use the tips below to create a reliable local area network in your home.

What’s a local area network?

Technically speaking, a local area network (LAN) is a collection of Internet-connected devices that share a common connection to a server. In laymen’s terms, a local area network is what allows the devices in your home to connect to the Internet.

Your smart home will need a reliable local network to efficiently run all of its Internet-connected devices. Without a reliable network, your devices will have trouble staying online, and their performance might suffer.

Creating a local area network

For the majority of homes, a local area network is created by a router. A router hosts and connects your wired devices to the Internet via Ethernet cables, and it connects your wireless devices to the Internet via Wi-Fi. Your router will have a few ports for network cables. The WAN port (often called the ‘Internet port’) is where you connect your router to the Internet. And the LAN ports are what connect your router to your smart devices.

Wi-Fi vs. Ethernet

Wi-Fi is a simple Internet solution that allows for easy wireless access to the web. Unfortunately, because of its wireless connection, Wi-Fi is also susceptible to interference, which can block or hinder your wireless signal. Wireless interference is typically caused by walls and floors, other Wi-Fi networks, and home appliances and electronics.

Because of wireless interference, a Wi-Fi connection can sometimes be unreliable, which can deplete the performance of your smart devices, lower the quality of your media and occasionally disconnect your devices from the Internet. On the other hand, Ethernet cables resemble telephone cables, and just like a Wi-Fi connection, an Ethernet cable connects your devices to a router, which then connects them to the Internet. Many home cable boxes, video game systems and desktop computers are connected to a router via an Ethernet cable.

With Ethernet cables, you’ll never have to worry about wireless interference, which makes an Ethernet connection much more reliable than Wi-Fi. However, Ethernet does have some limitations.

Because of its wires, connecting to the Internet via Ethernet isn’t as simple as Wi-Fi. Most homes only have one fibre or ADSL port on a wall that connects their router to the Internet, and most routers only have about four ports that connect to Ethernet cables, which limits the number of wired devices you can support.

If you’re remodelling or building a home, a good solution is to run Ethernet cables inside the walls of your house (or through the roof), and install multiple ports on the walls. For example, if you install ADSL ports in every room of your home, you can put a router in each room and have multiple LAN ports to connect your smart devices to the Internet via an Ethernet cable. If you aren’t remodelling or building a home, don’t worry. There are ways to work around the limitations of both wireless and wired networks.

Extending your Wi-Fi network

For most homeowners, it’s unrealistic to create a local network that consists of mostly Ethernet-connected devices. And although Wi-Fi has its limitations, there are ways that you can make your wireless connection more reliable and efficient.

Most homes only have one router, which connects all of their devices to the Internet. But interference will cause the wireless signal to become weak, so devices that are located far away from your router will receive a weak signal, which can cause the devices to go offline or perform poorly. To resolve issues caused by interference, you can extend your wireless signal with a Wi-Fi extender or repeater.

A Wi-Fi extender wirelessly connects to your router, picks up the Wi-Fi signal emitted by your router and retransmits it to other devices in your home. You can plug an extender into a standard power outlet that’s located between your router and the device that you want to connect to the Internet, and it will extend and strengthen the signal.

Expanding your Ethernet network

If you’re determined to create a reliable network consisting of mostly Ethernet-connected devices, and your home can’t support another router, there is a way to work around the limitations. Most routers limit you to four LAN ports, which means you can only connect up to four devices to your router via an Ethernet cable. But with an Ethernet hub or switch, you can add more LAN ports (and therefore more Ethernet-connected devices) to your local network.

Ethernet hubs and switches are devices that feature multiple LAN ports and connect to your router via an Ethernet cable. Hubs share one channel for all of its ports, while a switch has dedicated channels for each port. This means that the more devices you connect to a hub, the slower the connection speed becomes. But for switches, the speed remains the same, regardless of the number of connected devices. Because of this, an Ethernet switch will be more reliable and efficient than an Ethernet hub. Most Ethernet switches feature between four and 48 ports.

By following the tips above, you can create a network that efficiently supports all of your smart devices and truly get the home of the future that you hoped for. If you have already set up a good local network and are ready to get the most out of your smart home, look at securing it with a smart security system.

For more information, contact Ring, +27 11 237 7000, mea@ring.com, www.ring.com


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