Today almost every home and small home office has a home network, and an Internet connection.
The home network enables multiple devices e.g. PCs,tablets etc to connect to each other, and also to connect to the internet.
In this tutorial we look at how you can build and setup a home or small office network and connect it to the Internet.
Choosing a Wired or Wireless Network
Early (pre 2008) home networks were predominately wired networks.
Wired networks use Ethernet over UTP cable and tend to be faster than wireless networks, which is an important consideration if you are a gamer. The diagram below shows a simple wired home network with a switch and router.
Common Wired Networking Components
- Ethernet HUB or Switch –
- Cable cat 5, cat5e or cat 6 with RJ45 connectors
Wired Network Advantages
- Fast typically 100 Mbps to 10 Gbps
- Secure and reliable.
Wired Network Dis-Advantages
- Doesn’t work with devices that don’t have an Ethernet port e.g. tablets and smart phones.
- Not so easy and fast to setup as it requires running cables.
- Not so easy for visitors and mobile devices (laptops) to connect to.
Today however most home and small home office networks will use a wireless network or mixed network, as most people use Smart phones, and tablets which don’t have Ethernet support.
Wireless networks use Wi-Fi. and are quick and easy to install, but are generally slower than wired networks. See Wi-Fi and Wireless networks for more details.
Common Wireless Networking Components
- Wireless Access Point-
- Wireless extender -see extending a home network
Wireless Network Advantages
- Very fast and easy to setup from an end user perspective.
- Allows easy access to smart phones, Tablets and mobile devices.
- No cables to run.
Wireless Network Dis-Advantages
- Not as Secure as wired networks without proper configuration. and easy to setup insecurely.
- Not so as fast as wired networks.
- Not as reliable as wired networks.
Most home networks will use a mixture of wired and wireless.
Building a Home Network -Components and Structure
The main components of a typical home/small office network are:
- Router or Wireless router – Connects the network to the Internet.
- Wireless Access Point -Used to Connect Wi-Fi equipped devices to the network.
- Ethernet HUB or Switch -Used to Connect Ethernet equipped devices.
- Cable cat 5, cat5e or cat 6 with RJ45 connectors.
- Telephone Cable with RJ 10 connectors.
- Broadband Filters
The network diagram below shows the structure of a typical small home network.
For most home networks the Wireless Router or Hub which connects the network to the Internet will be the main component of the home network, and in many cases the only component.
The Wireless router usually incorporates a Wireless access point,Ethernet switch, DSL modem and Router in a single box.
This short video shows how to use a Wireless Home Hub ( BT) or router to create a home network that is connected to the Internet.
DSL Modem– converts digital signals into analogue signals that are suitable for sending over a telephone line. It is usually built into the Internet/broadband router and is not normally purchased as a separate component.
DSL/Broadband Filter– Used to filter out DSL signals from telephone signals so that you can access the internet and use the telephone simultaneously.
Wireless Router Location
The Wireless router will need to connect to the telephone line, cable or fibre network access point in your home.
Therefore most people locate the Wireless router near to the main telephone socket.
However you can usually change the location by using telephone extension cables or longer WAN cables.
Note: WAN cables use the same connectors (RJ45) and cables as Ethernet cables.
Because the Wireless Router provides the Wireless access point then you should place it in a central location, if possible, to get the best wireless reception.
- Hide it in a cupboard
- Install it behind the sofa
- install next to motors,microwaves,cordless telephones
Testing Your Wireless Signal
The easiest way of testing you signal strength in various locations is to use the inSSIDer Wi-Fi checker which is an App that you can install on your Android Tablet or phone.
The general idea is to place the Wireless router in its preferred location and then move around the house with the inSSIDer Wi-Fi checker, and check the signal strength, and then adjust the location if necessary.
Extending Your Home Network
In large homes/offices it may not be possible to connect all devices directly to the Wireless router and so you will need to purchase additional networking components.
You can extend your home network by
- extending your Wi-Fi coverage by installing additional Wireless Access Points
- or you can extend the Wired network by running cables into other rooms
- or using your power cables by installing home plug adapters. See How to extend a Home Network
Home Network Security
The two most important security measures you can take to secure your home network is to implement
- Wi-Fi Security and
- Router Security
To prevent unauthorized users from connecting to your home network via your Wi-Fi it is important that you implement Wi-Fi security by requiring a password/pass phrase before you can access the network. See setting up a Secure Wireless Network
Your home router prevents outside users from connecting to your internal network.
To administer the router you access it via a web browser and login using a username and password.
Routers come with default username/passwords which are well known and published on the Internet.
It is very important that as part of the router setup you change these. See How to Setup and Configure your Home Router
If you are using Homeplug adapters the data sent between devices is encrypted.
However data sent on Ethernet connections is not normally encrypted.
Home Network IP Addresses
All of you devices will need an IP address.
This is provided automatically by a service called DHCP which, by default, is provided by the home router.
IP address provided by the DHCP server are known as dynamic address as they can change. You can also assign addresses manually, and these are known as static addresses.
Static Addresses are not normally assigned but are often required when using Port forwarding.
Additionally the addresses used on your home network are known as internal addresses.
When you connect to the Internet your device will use an external IP address. This address is the IP address of the router/hub. See Internal vs external IP addresses for a more detailed explanation.
Finding DNS, IP and MAC Addresses
You may need to find out what DNS servers you are using or the IP or MAC address of:
- Your Home Router.
- Your own computer/tablet/phone
The main tool you use is the ipconfig (windows) or ifconfig (linux) tool.
The screen shot below shows the ipconfig command use with the /all switch. i.e. ipconfig/all
Firewall Configuration on Home Networks
A Firewall functions like a router, and generally what you use on small networks is firewall/NAT router combination in which a single device acts as a NAT router and firewall.
A firewall protects your home or small business network computers and devices from intruders on the Internet.
It effectively acts like a one way digital gate blocking access to your network from devices on the Internet, but at the same time allowing devices on your network to connect to devices on the Internet. (schematic diagram below)
For small home/office networks the firewall is built into, and is part of, the router that connects to the Internet.
Generally there is no configuration required as the default behaviour is only to allow connections from the local network to the Internet, and not from the Internet to the home network.
However if you do require devices on the Internet to connect into your network (often required by gamers) then you can configure port forwarding.
You may also want or need to use dynamic DNS- see What is Dynamic DNS ? – Why Use Dynamic DNS Services?
Checking Network and Internet Speeds
On any network the speed is restricted by the slowest component.
A computer with a Gigabit network card talking to a computer with a 100Mbit/s network card is restricted to 100Mbit/s.
Shared devices like switches and Wireless access points are network choke points just like traffic lights and roundabouts on a road.
LAN Speed test is a very useful tool for testing your local network speeds.
For Internet speeds you can use online speed test sites. See Understanding Internet speeds and speed tests.
Network and Internet Connection Problems
You will invariably have connection problems from time to time.
In my experience most problems are easily diagnosed and fixed with a little patience and perseverance.
Related Tutorials and Resources:
- Internet Privacy Using VPNs and Proxy Servers
- Streaming and Downloading – Beginners Guide
- How to Setup A Home Router
- How to wire your own home network PCworld tutorial