The Data Network in the home is the back bone of a truly great Home Automation System, or any stand alone home entertainment system for that matter.
Lots of guys approach this element differently and have varying opinions on what the minimum should be, however, the better the minimum standard (within reason) then the better the user experience as a whole.
Lets tease this out a little more….
The Home Data Network is where most of the communication between devices flows. There is some data that is transmitted wirelessly but as I have stated before in an earlier post, the wireless network should be complimentary to the wired network and so should not be relied upon for most of the heavy lifting.
“Your Network Is Only As Strong As It’s Weakest Link”
Static equipment such as printers, NAS Drives, media players, home automation equipment etc operate on the wired network and so need dependable infrastructure to operate efficiently. Yes, some entertainment devices and computers can operate wirelessly but be careful here…Too much wireless traffic via a single Wireless Access Point or router can bring it down and hey presto, no movies for junior.
So with that in mind lets have a look at some of the key elements to a dependable Home Network;
1. Cable Type
Choose Cat6 UTP or higher. Cat5e is dead so don’t bother with this cable or you’ll be receiving call backs about movie streaming issues especially with bandwidth hungry 1080p movies. Category 5 is yesterdays technology and will continue to be utilised in an office environment as that cable standard is sufficient to carry the data in that environment but don’t use it in the home.
It goes without saying that if you don’t install the network yourself make sure you hire a guy who is capable. Experience and understanding of the how’s and why’s of data network installation is critical to getting it right. There is no substitute for experience in this, or any area for that matter.
3. Cable Installation
If you are going to install the cable yourself then take note of the following guide points;
- Do not bend cable to a radius less than 4 x outer diameter.
- Do not twist or kink the cable
- On main runs, do not over bunch the cable. Use several home runs of smaller bunches.
- Do not pull cable ties tightly around the cable, this effects the data transmission.
- Do not run with mains cables. Install in separate compartments or channels.
- When crossing mains cables do so at 90 degrees.
- Avoid heating pipes, ducts etc.
- Run different colours for different purposes. ie Video = Red, Audio = Blue, Phone = Green, IT = Gray.
- Use a sequential numbered cable ID system and do not use a pen or marker to write directly on the cable.
- Leave 10 meters minimum slack from the floor at the central point. (Why do guys leave cables too short!? Please leave loads for termination, we need more than you think.
- Where you need only one cable, run two. You never know, you may be glad you did.
“To Help Identify Cables, Use Different Colours”
4. Patch Panels & Outlets
Select good or best quality patch panels for terminations. Every break in the cable run is a potential pit fall and good reliable connection is critical. Krone is one of the best but there are others such as Connectix and Excel are also very good. Similarly, outlets need to be of high quality. Local distributors may stock equally good products but remember if you go for the cheap then woe be with you. Cheap is expensive.
There is no industry standard applied to the domestic market that requires installers to Fluke Test their installed network but if you want a top drawer job done and have some paper work to fall back on if a fault arises, then test your network. Testing can be expensive so maybe offer it as an added extra for your client as some may not want the added expense. With a large installation it is probably best to build it into your price as having a network that has passed Fluke Test parameters has the benefit of making fault finding easier. You’ll also be able to differentiate yourself from others who don’t test.
6. Network Switch (Managed Vs Unmanaged)
If you have a small domestic system then an unmanaged switch will suffice. If you have a large system then a managed switch is the one to choose. The basic difference is that data traffic can be managed and monitored securely with a managed switch and cannot with an unmanaged switch. With a managed switch you can decide what devices have priority over the available bandwidth on the network, for example;
“A Managed Switch Is A Safer Switch”
Lets say you have an installation with a lot of equipment and at busy times there is a lot of traffic from PCs to printers, music streaming and video streaming. You can decide to give priority to the media server or media player so it’s bandwidth requirement is taken care of by the switch over and above other devices, this is definitely a benefit when you are watching a movie. Or you can give priority to Home Automation equipment especially advantageous when you need to do a system upgrade.
Managed equipment is also very secure and can add another layer of security to keep the bad guys out.
7. Wireless Access Points (WAP)
A Wireless Access Point is a device added to the network with the specific task of handling wireless traffic. The better the WAP and it’s capacity, the greater it’s ability to handle a lot of traffic. You will need to factor in that there will be a lot of wireless traffic, a lot more that you may find in a commercial application. Entertainment devices, especially mobile ones are reliant on the wireless network and if you have a lot of these devices in one area then they can clog up the WAP. Design and configuration is very important to ensure a solid wireless network.
8. Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS)
Much like the Network Switch, there are managed and unmanaged options for the UPS. The UPS’s sole job is to protect the
critical equipment on the network such as Network switch, router and other devices. With a managed UPS you can receive information about the internal battery level, data stream, load levels other important data to allow you provide pro-active maintenance on your system. You UPS software will email you if and when there are certain predetermined criteria reached, once you have it set up from commissioning.
A quality data network built with 25% to 50% capacity for expansion is going to meet the needs of home owners well into the future. I understand that not all clients will want to spend the little bit extra to achieve this but once you can explain the reasons why it’s not only a good idea but critical to them being able to take advantage of future technologies, then many will choose to do it than will not. Once you explain the advantages then you’ve met your responsibilities as the designer/installer, it’s up to the client after that.