Why Buy: The 3-Scenario Guide to Home Networks

Yes it can get confusing, but you know you want one.

Illustration by Christoph Niemann

Installing a home network is like going to the dentist: You know you´ll like the results, but the process is too onerous even to contemplate. Even so, says Parks Associates, 7.5 million data networks are currently in homes, with that number expected to triple by 2006. And the number of network-enabled entertainment devices is expected to jump from 18 to 125 million. So if you´re on the brink of getting connected, you´re in good company-and it´s really not that bad if you pick the right type of network. A quick fix can probably be done wirelessly, for example, and your home´s power or phone lines can typically be co-opted for more ambitious endeavors. Rarely is rewiring necessary, but sometimes it´s the best option. Here´s a look at the three scenarios you´re likely to face.

SCENARIO 1

I want to access my high-speed Internet connection with my work laptop each evening.

Setup: You need a wireless connection so you don´t have to constantly swap cables. Many new laptops have Bluetooth and 802.11b built in, the latter offering 11Mbps transfer speeds at a range of 300 feet. If you need more zip, invest in 802.11a or 802.11g (which also works with 802.11b products) for speeds of up to 54Mbps.

SCENARIO 2

I work at home every Friday and want the convenience of an office network.

Setup: A quasi-permanent connection is best here, something that doesn´t require batteries, but it´s not worth a whole-house rewiring job. The options: phone (HomePNA) or power line (HomePlug) networking, which recognize any hardware plugged into the same wiring through their respective adapters. Speeds: 10Mbps to 14Mbps.

SCENARIO 3

I´m building a home-based business and need a fast, reliable network that I never have to think about.

Setup: You´ll want Ethernet because it offers the cleanest, fastest and most reliable connection around. That means rewiring the house, but your efforts will be rewarded with connection speeds of up to 1 gigabyte per second. (If you´re building a new home, see below.)

BUILDING A HOME? HAVE THE WILL TO WIRE

It´s tempting to trim the nonessentials from your new-home wish list, but fight the urge to skimp on wiring–rewiring a home is
not as simple as, say, replacing a GE with a Sub-Zero. At the very least, and for just pennies per foot, â€prewire†with PVC conduits that connect to a central spot. For about $0.75 per foot more, run two RG-6 audio-video cables (for centralized music and video distribution) and two Category 5 (phone and Ethernet combo) data cables. This covers most long-term needs–audio, video,
security, lighting, data. For the very best, buy ultra-high-speed fiber-optic data and audio cabling for another $0.25 per foot.