If you have been following my blog you would be well aware that I am in the process of creating a home network. I decided to do this post because it is probably important to have a goal or reason to set up a home network. This goal will determine how complex your network will be and its capabilities. Different people have different needs thus you must design your network around your needs. Whether it is to share files between devices in your house, play games online, browse the internet, run a cctv system, etc. There are literally thousands of reasons around which you can tailor your needs.
I’ve had some sort of home network for the better part of a decade now. At first it was just to have a wireless connection to the internet (probably one of the most basic needs). After that I bought a sony playstation 3 which had a LAN cable connection and a browser, so suddenly I had the ability to connect my television to the internet and surf the internet through my tv. It was awkward browsing the internet with a tv style remote, but it worked. After that I realized that it might be useful to be able to have a usb hard drive shared on the network to access files. This was probably the tipping point onto this journey to see what I can do with my home network. Suddenly there was all these options available to connect device and share anything from network connections, device and information. It’s also probably a good time to mention that your needs and budget are two different things where your needs normally far exceeds your budget. Because frankly as long as you have money you can basically achieve whatever you want, but if money is not a bottomless pit for you, suddenly you need to start getting creative. This is where my needs came in. So my goals were as follows (and remember, these goals change as you progress)
- I was looking at what I can do without breaking the bank in terms of setting up a home network.
- I wanted to interconnect all the devices in my home that could possibly connect
- I did not want to get tied up to a DSL account meaning having a telephone line installed
- However because DSL is cheaper than the alternatives, in this case 3G, I needed a cost effective why to connect to the internet
- Over above getting all devices connected in my home, I wanted everything as far as possible to be wireless
Internet and Router
Ok so those were my initial goals. So I went out and found a cost effective 3G package from on of the local cellular providers giving me the best available option of bandwidth and data for the amount of money I’d like to spent. Next I needed a router. Now that I’ve decided on the type of internet I can go look for the best possible router. It had to be a 3G router, allow devices to connect wireless to it, allow decent speeds in order to stream media content over the network like movie files without problems and it should be easy to set up yet still allow a certain amount of customization for future developments.
Now it is difficult to say which router is best, you would need to do your homework carefully and stick to your goals. Everybody’s preference would be different and I guess there are a whole range of routers which would all probably be able to fulfill most of your goals, so choose the one you like best or looks the best :)… after you have determined it would suite your needs though. I chose the TPLink TL MR-3420. It is a 3G/4G Wireless router, supports speeds locally up to 300mpbs, supports LTE, supports N speed protocol (future proofing), good security features and whole host of other controls which attracted me to it plus it was the cheapest one from my shortlist at the time, so it did fit into my budget.
The initial setup is almost effortless through following the Quick Setup option. So if you are a novice or non-technical person look for a router that has a easy setup option, most devices these days luckily do have this feature. Also remember quoted speeds are rarely achievable and will vary from house to house, there are a lot of articles on this and tools to use to determine what speeds you can achieve but again you would never know until you connect it. The location and placement of your router is also very important, the more centrally you can place it in your house the better the reception would be everywhere. In my case as my requirements changed I had to move my router to one end of the house, furthest from my bedroom because I now have a server connected to it which would not have made my wife happy if it stood in the kitchen. So naturally the signal in my room is very weak. That being said depending on what you do, this doesn’t affect my needs as much. I do not sit in my bed copying files all the time, much rather my needs are browsing the internet and watching movies. With recent media players and effective buffering I have not experienced and glitches streaming a movie from an external usb to my laptop. Also my internet browsing is acceptable, however I am considering getting a signal booster and place that nearer to the areas where my signal is low. You will find the signal can drop quite fast and dramatically depending on the layout of a house. Wireless signal is generally not very happy traveling through a lot of walls and floors.
Ok thats enough on routers. Choose one that will suite your needs, do your research, talk to people, tell them what you want to do and pay and pick one, the reset you will need to live with and work around.
The next thing you need to consider is how many devices you want to connect. Normally the router specifies how many device it can connect simultaneously. If you are a more advanced user you would know there are ways of extending that through switches and network setup but generally you just want everything to connect to the router for your home network. Initially I wanted to connect 2 laptops and 2 smartphones. For your average run-of-the-mill home router this is no problem luckily. To share hard drives I had to setup shares on the various laptops. Thus when we wanted to share something on a usb hard drive it had to be plugged in to a laptop and shared in order for the other devices to connect to it. Another important factor if you want to share media files like music and movies is to enable Universal Plug-and-Play (UPnP) on the router, you will find this setting somewhere in your router configuration. This will also need to be enabled on the laptops in order to share media. If you use Windows media player, just follow their manuals on how to set this up for instance this article. There are a lot of resources on the internet for this, just search for network sharing or UPnP.
Depending on what you have some devices cannot connect directly to your network, for instance we have an older tv, which does not have a network interface. Most newer tv’s or home entertainment systems come with a network interface whether it is a LAN connection, built-in wireless or via a wireless usb dongle. Most brands call it “SMART” tv’s. With these newer type devices it is easy to connect to the internet by following the manufacturer’s manual. However in my case I needed an intermediary device if I want to connect it to my network. At first I used my playstation 3, but I am not using it anymore so I had to look for something else. I looked at various media players, especially the Android based devices because I am an android fan. In the end I chose the Samsung Allshare Cast Hub. Because I had a Samsung Galaxy S3 and my wife recently bought the Galaxy S4 and I did not forsee myself changing from the galaxy anytime soon as well as buying a Smart TV, this was the best option for getting my tv wirelessly on the network.
So now I have two options playing content on my tv, 1. plug in a laptop via a hdmi cable or 2. Stream content from my phone via the Allshare hub. You might now be thinking well how do I get the content from an external usb via your phone onto the television? Well I have tried many things. First I used this smartphone app, Skifta, in my opinion the best and easiest of the lot. It allowed me to wireless connect to a my UPnP enabled laptop running windows media player 11 and stream it via the Allshare Cast hub to my tv. Lately as my network changed, and I set up a server (discussed throughout my Linux posts), I know have my usb hard drive connected to the server and on my Samsung Galaxy S3 I downloaded ES File Explorer which is a file sharing app on steroids for an Android smartphone device. Now I can wirelessly search for content on my usb hard drive and stream it through the Allshare Cast hub to my tv pretty much effortlessly.
Ok so I don’t really want to get carried away on the technical stuff to much in this post, I’m just giving you an idea of what to consider and what is possible by looking at what I have. Another device I have connected is my printer. Again as with a lot of modern devices you get printers that can connect directly to your network. However as with anything, they are pricier than a normal printer. Now I already had a normal inkjet printer (Cannon Pixma IP-6220D) which does not have a network interface. So if you have a need to share a printer you need to take this into consideration, spending the extra bit and buying a network printer (look for the home network printers, they are cheaper than the expensive office network printers, or buy one of those all-in-one devices, they are normally well priced) or try and connect your current printer to the network. Another thing I did not mention about routers is that these days a lot of them come with usb ports allowing you to share a printer or usb hard drive directly. This is a fantastic option and I tried my usb port and both my printer and hard drive could be shared through this interface. But be careful here, although your router has a usb port does not mean it can share any hard drive or printer because it needs the drivers of that device in order to share it. First search the internet and the manufacturer’s site a bit to find out if your device is supported. This can save you a lot of money and headaches. On my network I share my printer through my server which is a bit more technical but that was the route I wanted to go because that was one of the requirements when I decided I want to set up a server for my home network. When you have your printer connected on the network, just follow your operating system’s instructions on connecting to a network printer, this is normally straight forward and would include a wizard approach to connect to the printer.
Ok I think that about covers most of the basic needs of a home network. First you need to decide why you want a home network, then you need to decide what you want from your home network, then you need to get the basic devices to set up your network like a router, internet connection and devices that you want to connect to the network. The best strategy is to built your network around the devices you already have or plan to obtain in the near future, this will make your life a lot easier. A home network is a great tool and really makes things so much easier at home by sharing internet connections and devices but a home network can also be a nightmare if you constantly struggle with it. Plan it carefully and take time setting it up and understanding each component so that troubleshooting becomes easier. Remember if you have a problem the chances of someone else already ran into the same problem is very good, so use the internet for solutions.
That is it for this edition of my home network blog. I hope this helped you making decisions for your home network, and remember if it’s not fun, you probably should not be doing it 🙂