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LAN & WAN Basics

Introduction

My wife and I recently concluded a two-year home design and construction odyssey and finally moved into our new home. We found the process to be exciting, exhausting, frustrating and nerve-wracking, but the end result to be immensely satisfying. As you might guess, among my responsibilities in this project was figuring out what to do about our new home's data, phone and multimedia distribution.

You would think such a task would be simple for someone who has gotten into the guts of so many home networking products over the years, and in some respects it was. But as I planned and researched the project, I ran into a few areas where answers weren't readily available (or at least not in a form that I could quickly absorb). And sometimes knowing more about a subject and having geek personality traits complicates the decision-making process - a phenomenon that I'm sure many readers (or at least their spouses) can identify with.

But in the end, I got the job done, came up with some less expensive alternatives to some of the pre-packaged home wiring products available, and even had some fun in the process.

The key to designing a successful home network is being clear on what you want the network to do. For this series, the term "network" doesn't refer only to getting your computers hooked up to each other and the Internet, but instead to a system used for the distribution of communications and electronic entertainment services around a home. These services will most likely be some combination of web-related activities, watching video, listing to music, gaming and voice-based communications in a mix of analog and digital forms.

NOTE!Note "Home automation", i.e. lighting and HVAC control and security, were not on my "to do" list. That's not to say that the system I came up with can't handle some of these functions, but they were not considered to be primary functions that had to be supported.

That first category - web-related activities - is somewhat misleading because it can encompass any or all of the other listed activities, either in a primary or secondary role. For example, you might plan on using a combination of cellular service and VoIP for your phone needs and get your TV service from your local phone company. Or you might opt to buy a phone line from your local telco for home use, but use Skype or another VoIP service instead of buying a additional lines from the telco for your home-based business. What used to be a fairly limited set of choices for services and service providers is continuing to morph into what can be a bewildering array of options.

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