By Nathan Holmes, Senior Manager, Training, for Access Networks

We’ve all encountered some hiccups, glitches and aggravation while downloading files, streaming video and conducting a videoconference. What’s causing the issue? Is it the ISP service? Is there a line down in the neighborhood? Maybe your computer needs a tune-up? Most likely, your Wi-Fi woes stem from the way the home network was designed and installed. Maybe the techs from an ISP put in the equipment or perhaps the router came from an online outfit. That’s mistake #1. It takes a much higher grade of equipment installed by a knowledgeable professional to have a home network that’s fast, reliable, consistent and maintains peace within a household where everyone can work, study and play online at the same time. Mediocre equipment installed poorly is only the tip of the aliment iceberg. Here are five other home networking snafus and how to avoid them: 

1. Improper Planning (Or No Plan at All)

You wouldn’t dream of renovating a kitchen without first making sure there’s enough room for the new appliances. The same goes for a home network. You need to make sure the home environment is accommodating, and if not, fix it or work around it. The construction, layout and furnishings of a home can reduce signal strength and range; certain electronic devices can generate RF interference; and neighboring networks can steal bandwidth. These roadblocks are invisible to the naked eye, so it’s imperative that proper testing and planning take place before the installation of the equipment commences. A professional will conduct a “site survey” to analyze the current Wi-Fi conditions of a home environment. Using a variety of testing equipment and software, he can identify weak spots, measure data throughput, and identify sources of interference. No home or networking environment is perfect, so don’t be alarmed by the findings. A properly designed network comprised of carefully selected, correctly installed products can mitigate problems. But be aware: it will likely take more than one attempt to get the network right. The composition of a home, as well as the Wi-Fi conditions, can change drastically as it’s being built, as furnishings are added, and as the family moves in.  Consequently, a professional Wi-Fi design will include three phases: a predictive design prior to construction, site survey testing during construction, and validation testing after everything is installed in the home. 

2. Incomplete Lifestyle Audit of Networking Needs

Only when you know exactly which devices in a home will be connected to the Internet, how they will be used, how often they will be used, and who will be using them can a home networking system be appropriately designed. How many TVs, computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices are connected? Will kids be gaming, where, and how often? Are big parties and overnight guests on the agenda? Does anyone work from home and if so, what types of devices do they rely on? Answers to these questions impact product selection, design, configuration and support. Unfortunately, this all-important step is often ignored. 

3. The Wrong Hardware

Don’t let the housing of a router or access point fool you. Product A and Product B may look alike on the outside, but inside they are very different. Some have technology built-in that enables them to intelligently manage Wi-Fi traffic; others don’t. Advanced firewall protection is built into some brands of components, others don’t have it. This isn’t a bad thing—having options is always good. But all too often it’s assumed that what works well in one house will work equally as well in another house. Wrong! A basic wireless access point might suffice for a small house of minimal Internet usage, but struggle to handle the needs of a larger residence with heavy Wi-Fi traffic. The objective is to match the products to the application–with some cushion built in. Household dynamics change—toddlers grow into teenagers, rooms are renovated, new mobile devices and AV equipment are added—so having a system that can scale easily to new demands is imperative. Two practices to ensure ample overhead: design the network to support 20 percent growth in the number of devices and install wireless access points that adhere to the newest Wi-Fi 6 standard. 

4. Overly Complicated Configuration

Just because a system supports certain features doesn’t always mean you should use them. The ability to divide a home network into individual VLANs, for example, might seem like a very organized networking approach—creating a VLAN for the kids, another for the AV equipment, and a third for guests. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Let’s say a device on VLAN A occasionally needs to communicate with a device on VLAN B— sometimes that is simply just not possible due to the way certain devices and applications communicate with each other. Over-engineering a home networking system can backfire, creating major problems that are difficult to diagnose and fix. 

5. Lack of Organization, Documentation & Protection

It’s easy to plug in a router, switches and access points and call a project complete. But are those components doing their job? An installer should go the extra mile by verifying and documenting their performance. For example, if a home network needs to support 10 gigabits, any wiring that’s installed should be labeled for easy identification, tested and certified for adherence, and all test results should be documented and saved for future reference. 

All areas which house network equipment should have adequate air flow and cooling to prevent devices from overheating. Additionally, a double-online conversion online battery backup unit should be added to safeguard a home network and connected equipment against damaged caused by power surges, spikes, and other fluctuations in the electrical voltage. A double-online conversion battery backup feeds a consistent 120 volts to the network, enabling it to perform optimally and preserving the life of the equipment. 

To users of a home network, a little information goes a long way to preclude future problems. Maintain a log of the devices on the network, anything added to it, or noticeable changes in performance. By staying organized, your network will, too. Should the network ever require maintenance or an update, you’ll have all the necessary documentation on hand to help streamline the process.

The addition of a high-quality network is a wise investment. It’s the foundation on which devices connect and communicate, enabling families to fully utilize the features of a wide variety of home technologies–laptops, smartphones, tablets, security cameras, AV equipment, and host of other products. By watching for and avoiding common mistakes in the design, configuration and installation of a home network, you can ensure optimal performance and enjoyment for your client, making the investment of an advanced network worth every penny.