Install An Advanced Network at Home – Part 1 The Equipment

The future demands that a reliable high-speed network be available in your home. Video conferencing, cloud computing, work from home, and on-line entertainment have shifted from secondary services we all had, to necessities we can’t live without. The days when you could plop the Modem/Router/Wi-Fi combo unit that your ISP gave you behind the TV and call it good, are gone.

This series will guide you through deploying a small scale version of the network technology that is used in many businesses. Don’t worry, today’s software driven equipment makes the learning curve much shallower than it used to be. If you are handy with basic tools and can follow directions you should be able to achieve success. This guide is based around Ubiquiti’s Unifi platform because that is what I personally use. The design, concepts, and basic instructions should work for any brand of SDN equipment.

Software Defined Network equipment is produced by multiple manufactures; Aruba, Meraki, Fortinet, and Ubiquiti are some of the more popular brands. Regardless of whose equipment you choose to work with, the components are basically the same. There is a controller of some sort that is the brains, switches that connect the cabled pieces, access points for wireless devices, and a network edge device to control your interaction with the Internet. These devices work together to from a network that operates as a single dynamic structure that is able to change to fit your needs.

After you have chosen who’s equipment you want to work with, the next step is determining how many of each component you will need. The first piece of equipment is the controller. Most of the manufactures offer multiple ways to obtain a controller. Ubiquiti offers it’s controller as a piece of software that you can run on your computer, as a dedicated piece of hardware known as a Cloud Key, and as part of an all in one device named The Dream Machine. The software is the most economical option, but the Dream Machine is the simplest to setup. Depending on the size of your home and number of devices it may be all that you need. The other manufacturers have similar offerings.

In order to determine how many switches and access points you’ll need, you first need to plan the layout, or topology, for your home. Many people are under the impression that a cable should be run from each location to a central point where the switch is located. Running cables through finished walls is difficult, so the “Home Run” topology can be challenging.

For most residences, an easier option is to use multiple switches placed in key locations and to link them together with a cable between each. The linked switches form a contiguous network that operates in the same manner as large single switch. The cables can be run on the outside of your home, by drilling small holes though walls. Don’t worry, the holes are small. You’ll use wall plates to hide them on the interior and silicone to seal them. They can be hidden under eaves or along siding gaps. In some cases you may be able to use existing holes from your air conditioner, cable TV, or electricity services.

A good rule of thumb is to place one switch and one access point on each floor of the home. I happen to have a lot of networked devices with my line of work so I run two switches and access points on the main floor of my home and one additional pair in the downstairs office. The switches are capable of power over ethernet (PoE) which means that the access points only need a network cable, no power plugs, or cords are required.

Below is a comprehensive list of the equipment and resources that you will need to install a network in your place of residence. You can order all of it on Amazon. The links are for Ubiquiti equipment, but again any brand should work. The next article in this series will cover making and running the cables throughout your home.

  • Starting from Scratch – I recommend the Unifi Dream Machine. It has the controller, a wireless access point, a USG firewall, and a 4-port switch built-in to a single unit. It can act as the starting point for a more expansive network. For small residences, it will be the only equipment you need.
  • Controller – If the Dream Machine (or Ubiquiti products in general) isn’t your preferred option, You will need the controller that matches your equipment.
  • Firewall / Router – You will need the firewall that matches your equipment. In the case of the Unifi platform this is a USG.
  • Switches – You will need the appropriate number of PoE switches for your home. One per floor is a good place to start. In the Unifi line of products I recommend the 8 Port 60 watt PoE switch.
  • Access Points – One access point per floor. In the Unifi line of products I recommend the AC Lite version.
  • Network Cable – Cat-5e cable is recommended, purchasing it in bulk at your local hardware or electronics store can be less expensive than ordering it due to weight. Measure or estimate the distances between your switches and add 25% to the total.
  • Network Cable Crimpers / Tool Kit – Crimpers are a type of plier that squeezes the network cable ends on to the cables. If you don’t own a pair already, it is more economical to purchase them as part of a kit that include the tool, a wire stripper, and cable tester.
  • RJ-45 Cable Ends (if not included with tool kit)
  • Network Cable Tester (Optional) – you can also test cables well enough for home use by plugging one end into a switch and the other into a device. Link lights, indicate the cable is “good enough”.
  • Drill – A standard cordless or electric drill
  • Drill Bit – A 3/8-Inch by 18-Inch drill bit, preferably with an eye.
  • Pass-through wall plates – equal to the number of switches you will be installing
  • Cable Clips – to attach the outdoor cable runs to the walls of your home
  • Hammer
  • Screw Driver
  • Scissors
  • A metal coat hanger or stiff piece of wire at least two feet in length
  • A ball of twine or other sturdy string
  • Duct Tape or other strong tape

About Kevin Trent

IT professional with almost 30 years of experience in Infrastructure, Architecting, Administration, Development, and Communications.

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