A decade or so ago, everyone was talking about cutting the cord and going wireless with their home networks. This approach gained traction when a slew of wireless smart home devices began to hit the market. But now the pendulum appears to be swinging back the other way and more people are asking; should I install ethernet in my house?
Should I install ethernet in my house?
If you are concerned about security, you make heavy use of streaming services, you have a hardcore gamer in your home,there are many wireless smart devices on your network, or you have regular problems with the quality of your Wi-Fi signal then yes, you should install ethernet in your house.
However, if you are a very light internet user, you have very few devices connected wirelessly, you have no specific security concerns and there is no problem with your current Wi-Fi system, then you can leave what you have in place.
What Is Ethernet?
Ethernet is simply a way of connecting computers, or other smart devices.
When you connect two or more items it is known as a Local Area Network or LAN. The majority of your home network will be either Wi-Fi or hardwired, although it is possible to have a predominately hardwired network with some wireless components.
Ethernet vs Wi-Fi
There are, basically, two options for a home network – ethernet or Wi-Fi, both of which have advantages and disadvantages.
In a perfect world the quality of your internet signal would be the same whether you had ethernet or Wi-Fi and the signal would be a steady strength in every point of your home. But the world is not perfect.
Ethernet signal quality
Ethernet will deliver the same quality signal to every connection point in your home, within reason.
The exception is when a single ethernet cable between your central distribution point and your wall jack is more than 328 feet long.
Once an ethernet cable is more than 328 feet in length, or 100 meters, the signal will take longer to reach your device and the signal quality will degrade.
An ethernet signal can also be affected if it is not shielded from electromagnetic interference. So it is important to either ensure your cable runs through areas where there is no chance of interference, or to use shielded cables. More about that later.
Wi-Fi Signal Quality
The quality of your Wi-Fi signal will depend on the equipment you have to distribute your signal, where in your home the equipment is located and what is between the signal and the lap-top or other hardware you are using to access the signal.
Whether or not you have more than one splitter between the point at which your internet cable enters your home, and your modem, router, or gateway will also affect your signal.
So if you have your Wi-Fi gateway in the same room as your laptop and there is nothing to interfere with the signal, you are likely to get a reasonable speed and quality of signal. However, once you move into another room, have any solid object between your device and the gateway, or have anything else
Installing a wireless network can be as easy as plugging a cable into your gateway and setting up the software.
Ethernet, on the other hand, requires the running of cables throughout the home and the installation of access points. You can think of it as being the same as your electrical system with wires travelling round your home and outlets giving you access to the electricity.
Ethernet systems are more secure than wireless systems. While ethernet systems can still be accessed, it is much harder for an outside computer to get into your ethernet LAN than it is for someone to hack into your wireless system.
This is especially true if you have multiple wireless devices and have not set up distinct identities and secure passwords for each.
Wi-Fi definitely has the edge over ethernet for convenience. Right now I am sitting outside on my deck, writing this post on my laptop.
If I was using an ethernet connection I would either have to sit inside, and connect my computer to the network with a standard cable or find an extra-long cable and have it running outside, much like you would with an extension cord when you want to use an electrical item and the cord is not long enough to reach the socket.
How To Plan An Ethernet System
Careful planning is the key to installing an effective ethernet system in your home.Start by locating the point at which your internet providers cable enters the building.
Next ask yourself a series of questions:
- What items do I want to link to my network? Remember these can be wired and wireless.
- In which rooms do I want to access the internet?
- Where abouts in each room do I need access?
- How many ports will I need at each access point?
- Will I be adding new items in the future?
- Do I anticipate having guests who will want to access the network?
- Where will my central distribution point be?
Once you have an idea of where you want your access ports to go, and where you’ll have your central distribution point, you can begin to work out what route the cables will take.
The biggest consideration here should be not exceeding that 300 feet cable length I mentioned earlier.
Choosing The “Right” Ethernet Cable
The ethernet cable you choose will determine how fast the signal can travel and how much information it can transport at once. This, in turn, will influence how fast your device works.
When you are looking at ethernet cable you’ll usually see three main categories of cable, namely cat 5, cat 6, and cat 7.
Category 5e = 1 Gbps & 100 Mhz.
Category 6 = 1 Gbps & >250 Mhz.
Category 6a = 10 Gbps & 500 Mhz.
Category 7 = 10 Gbps & 600 Mhz.
Category 8 = 40 Gbps & 2000 Mhz.
You will also see letters such as U/UTP or S/FTP. These refer to the type of shielding in the cable. Shielding is important for reducing electromagnetic interference affecting the quality of your signal, but, depending on what else is going on in your home, you may not need it.
- U/UTP – Unshielded cable, unshielded twisted pairs
- F/UTP – Foil shielded cable, unshielded twisted pairs
- U/FTP – Unshielded cable, foil shielded twisted pairs
- S/FTP – braided shielded cable, foil shielded twisted pairs
Which Cable Is Right For You?
Your network will only ever be as good as the component with the lowest specifications and more often than not, this weak point is the cable in an ethernet system.
Generally speaking you should avoid cat 5 cable. Although it is much cheaper than other cables it limits the quality and speed of your signal. The only time you should consider a cat 5 cable these days is if you are considering a DIY install and you do nothing more than a little lite internet surfing and checking your emails.
Unless you have high grade hardware and a lightning fast internet connection cat 7 & cat 8 are going to be overkill. They are also the most complex to work with and the most expensive.
So, unless you, or someone using your internet is a hard-core gamer, you can safely give cat 7 and cat 8 ethernet cables a miss. My preference will always be for cat 6e as it has the best combination of quality, usability, and affordability.
The only exception to this would be if you are looking at a new build, or an extensive renovation in your home. In this case it is worth considering a higher grade ethernet cable as although you do not need it now, it may be useful to have in the future.
A Hybrid System
A suitable solution for many people is to install ethernet and hardwire any components that won’t move, such as your gateway, smart TV, gaming consoles etc, to the ethernet. Then to hardwire Wi-Fi access points around your home for those items that require, or are best used via, a wireless connection.
This eliminates congestion on the Wi-Fi network which, in turn, should improve your performance.
You can also check to see if your router operates on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. If it does you can connect your newer devices to the 5 GHz band and leave the older ones on the 2.4 GHz.
Installing ethernet in your house can be a messy and disruptive task, so if there is nothing wrong with your Wi-Fi and you are happy with your system, leave it as it is.
However, if you are planning a new build or reno, have problems or concerns about your current network, or you are likely to see an uptick in your internet use then installing ethernet is an excellent way to make your family’s online experience a better one.