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LAN & WAN Basics

MoCA

MoCA adapters use TV coaxial cable to transmit Ethernet signals.  Similar to powerline adapters, you connect one near your switch and place additional adapters where you want your Ethernet connections, assuming you have coax cabling to those locations.

We've reviewed several different models of MoCA adapters, including the Netgear MCAB1001, the D-Link DXN-221, and the Actiontec ECB2200 (reviewed with the D-Link).  All three provided reliable HD streaming throughput speeds. 

MoCA Adapters

MoCA Adapters

The downside to MoCA adapters is they only work where you have coax cables and they don't work if you use Satellite on your existing coax cables (they use the same frequency band, so the signals collide). MoCA adapters can also be hard to find, since they seem to have been adopted mostly by cable TV service providers and by hotels and large apartment complexes with existing cable TV cabling. So you may need to hit eBay to find products if you decide to go MoCA.

Finally, installing MoCA usually isn't plug and play. While MoCA signals can traverse multiple splitters, those splitters need to rated to at least 2 GHz. Older cable installations usually use 900 MHz splitters, which will severely reduce MoCA signals. Hunting down splitters in attics, basements and crawlspaces can be a daunting task, but it's necessary to get a MoCA network up and running.

Ethernet

If you want high throughput and a reliable, consistent connection, you'll get the best performance with a wired Ethernet connection.  Ethernet cabling uses Cat 5e / 6 cable and RJ45 jacks or connectors found at most hardware stores. Throughput available via Gigabit or even 100 Mbps Ethernet connection will be higher than powerline MoCA or wireless connections every time.  Ethernet networks are also full duplex, allowing for simultaneous full speed upload and download speeds.  Further, properly installed Ethernet networks don't suffer from electrical interference and signal fluctuations.  

The challenge to Ethernet networks is getting the cables where we want them. Laying an Ethernet cable across the floor through a house or apartment is unsightly and not practical.  This means you may have to fish cable through walls, floors, ceilings, attics, etc.

Fishing cable is challenging.  I've done it in many locations and it's no small task.  It takes a few special tools, such as a fish tape, lots of patience and possibly crawling around in attics and crawl spaces.  It's also risky.  You may punch a hole in the wall, realize later there is no way to get the wire up that wall and be left with a hole to patch and paint while being no closer to solving your wiring challenge.

Fishtape

Fishtape

If you're not up to doing the cabling yourself, electricians or cabling contractors may be able to provide a solution.  Look for an experienced contractor when it comes to cabling, as getting cable through walls sometimes requires creativity.   Wiring contractors often charge by the “drop” or cable run, charging anywhere from $100 to several hundred dollars per drop, depending on the job.  Further, there may be additional expense for wall patching, painting or caulking to complete the wiring job.

Regardless of the expense, effort and/or risk, I strongly recommend an Ethernet solution, especially for uncompressed HD multimedia streaming.  It is possible to get "HD" quality from internet streaming services such as Netflix, VUDU, Hulu, etc. from wireless, powerline and MoCA connections. But if you insist on streaming uncompressed Blu-ray rips across your network, Ethernet is definitely the way you'll want to go.

Closing Thoughts

As a network guy, I often get asked by family and friends to solve their home or business network problems.  They ask me what type of router they should buy to improve their network.  Frequently, the solution isn't a single device, but how their network is constructed.

In this series, I've covered the steps I use to construct a high-performance small network. The solution I typically deploy is to bridge the ISP's modem, install a quality router and switch, pull some cable (or have a contractor do it) and install one or more Wi-Fi APs in the right locations. It works every time.

Think about the cost this way. You've probably spent hundreds or more on a nice flat-screen HDTV.  Why not invest in the network that streams the image to that TV?

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