The Hybrid Home Network: Avoiding the ‘Spinning Beachball of Death’

Filed in Business Management, Technology by on October 2, 2018 0 Comments

beach ballAs “smart” devices are increasingly brought into American residences, a growing number of home owners are discovering that some of those gadgets are becoming less reliable. The problem is often not with the devices themselves, but rather, the network those devices rely on.

“There are several different statistics floating around out there,” says Erik Anderson, national sales manager with Lutron, “but the average age of the gear in a home network is somewhere between eight and 10 years.”

It’s something that Ric Johnson, president and CEO of Right At Home Technologies in Ada, Ohio, sees in his business: “I keep running into old Netgear or Cisco types of systems that aren’t set up for devices today, very slow. A lot of the time, there’s not even enough infrastructure in place to fix it. I constantly see homes with outdated ethernet cabling — Cat 5, not even 5e — and the bandwidth is terrible.”

What’s more, he said, “A few years back, a couple of big production builders made the announcement: ‘We’re gonna outfit every one of our houses with Wi-Fi.’ Then they partnered with one of the cable companies or one of the satellite companies to provide X amount of equipment.”

Enter the Wi-Fi Alliance, which introduced a program — Wi-Fi CERTIFIED Home Design — bringing “enterprise design practices for planning and installing Wi-Fi networks to the new home construction industry, resulting in consistent, whole-home coverage and an exceptional Wi-Fi experience from the day the home owner moves in.”

If you have a couple of laptops and a phone or three using that bandwidth in a home that’s under, say, 2,000 square feet, everything will work fine. But add anything from a smart TV streaming a movie service to a wireless audio system to a connected fridge, and the bandwidth that particular Wi-Fi device provides can become rapidly unstable.

“Most lighting controls do not use the home network. They use Clear Connect, Z-wave, and the like so it’s not a burden on a Wi-Fi network,” Anderson said.

In those cases, the solution that many integrators will suggest is a hybrid system: Many devices are hardwired (yes, this requires running cable behind drywall), and Wi-Fi is supported — especially in larger homes — by multiple “wireless access points” beyond that single modem-and-router combo device.

As Erik Anderson noted, “In my home, all the TVs are connected via copper wires. The Wi-Fi signals are really just for portable devices: the kids’ tablets, laptops, things like that.

“But you’ve got to remember: Every family, every combination of square footage and building materials, every level of ‘tech-adoption’ is different from customer to customer. It’s really tough to take a one-size-fits-all approach when you’re installing a home network.”

This guest post is from Ed Wenck, content marketing manager for CEDIA, the industry association representing those professionals who manufacture, design and integrate goods and services for the connected home.

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