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LAN & WAN Basics

Introduction

Intro

With interest rates at an all-time low in the U.S., many Americans are now able to build or buy their first home or, if they are already a homeowner, to upgrade to something better. Buying or building a home offers those who are technology-minded the opportunity to consider the integration of home connectivity up-front. Many new, custom-built homes now offer some level of basic home connectivity as an option; but this is a new phenomenon. Considering that the Internet has become a mainstream feature of our collective lifestyle in just a few short years, unless the home you are buying is fairly new it is likely that you are pretty much left to your own devices when it comes to networking.

First, you have to consider the pipe into your house. Normally, your choices are either DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or Cable modem; but as many have discovered to their dismay after they have signed on the dotted line of the purchase contract, neither of these options may be available. Generally speaking, the further the home is located from a metropolitan area, the fewer options for Internet connectivity there are. While satellite and ISDN options do exist, they are probably the least desirable solutions.

While we don't suggest that Internet connectivity options should outweigh other factors in a home purchase, if high-speed Internet access is important to you, then it is wise to do some basic investigation as to what options are available at your home location. An hour spent on the telephone with local cable and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may make the difference between satisfaction and regret with a home long after the sale has concluded.

Regardless of which high-speed Internet solution you opt for, in most cases it terminates into some sort of an Ethernet connection. Once your network provider has been selected, the next step is to consider the distribution of Internet connectivity within your home. Whether you want a computer connection in an office/ extra bedroom now as well as what you may need in the future are important considerations. Do you have or are you planning to have children, or to have more children? Will each child eventually need access to a computer? Do you want to be able to access the Internet in more than one room in your home? Will you be working from home? Depending on the number of people in your household and the number of computers that you now have or may eventually have, it is prudent to plan ahead. It is far easier and less expensive in the long run to install a planned computer network before or as you are settled in your home than it is to later have to tear out and replace wiring in order to upgrade network connectivity.

Homes with multiple computer systems (laptop and/ or desktop computers) require a more complex type of connectivity than when a family shares one computer in a central location. It has become almost mandatory for school-aged children to have computer access for homework research and report and paper writing assignments. In the majority of U.S. urban families, the computer has become a required tool. Each child may have his or her own computer, the kids may share their own computer, and the adults may either work at home or need to access their work VPN from home, necessitating access to the Internet by multiple users at the same time.

These decisions can become more complicated when you factor in such elements as print and file sharing from within your home network. (Do your really want your kids to use your expensive color printer paper to print out fifty pages of PC gaming cheats? We didn't think so.) In addition to home printers, other devices used in your home may also require Internet connectivity. Devices such as the Turtle Beach Audiotron, Series 2 Tivo and Microsoft Xbox, for example, also can require Internet connectivity if you wish to get the most use out of them.

This article explores my experiences with planning and addressing my family's growing needs for connectivity with our new home purchase. Hopefully it will provide you with information and insight for planning and implementing your own home network, as well as some "dos" and "don'ts" to help you avoid some of the costly lessons I have learned as part of this process. Whether you already have a temporary or permanent network in place, wired or wireless, in-wall or surface mount, you will find very useful information here. And, many of these practices can be adapted for use outside the home, as well. While much of our design focus is for a home network environment, much of this information is applicable to the typical office environment, also. Find a comfortable chair, get your favorite beverage and read on!

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