Cabling your home for computer network – still a requirement?

With proliferation of wireless networking and communication equipment it is oh-so-tempting to cut the cord and save a significant sum of money in the process. But is everything that a regular computer networking user needs can be done using just wireless network? Let’s take a look at some pros and contras:

1. One important advantage of having a cabled network is the available bandwidth or simply speed. At the present point in time the speed of connection via a simple and inexpensive CAT5E cable can be 1000Mbit/sec, whereas the best that IEEE802.11g (one of the many flavors of Wi-Fi) can offer is only 54Mbit/sec. It may not seem so significant if you think you are only browsing Internet, and the DSL speed available to you is 1.5Mbit/sec. However, if you need to print via your network connection on a remote printer, you should realize that the print jobs, depending on the amount of graphic data in them, can easily reach dozens and even hundreds megabytes. Since 1Byte=8bit one 100MByte print job will take 15 seconds (and in reality this time can be much longer) to transmit via a Wi-Fi wireless connection, and this time shrinks to mere 1 sec or less on wired 1000MBit/s Ethernet connection. Same principal applies to transferring files, backing up files on other computers in the network etc.
2. It is not possible today and with all probability will not be possible in the future to transmit power needed for your networking device via the wireless link. Unless, of course, you would be willing to be subjected to very high levels of microwave radiation. Thus a device that was marketed to you as “un-tethered” will in fact be very much tethered via the power cord or will have to be re-charged every so often. The power requirements are increasingly important for devices that are expected to be always online, such as phone sets. Therefore it is best to have it connected via a cable that can deliver both power and the communication signal at the same time.
3. Wireless communications are very much proprietary and require whole gamut of conversion equipment to transmit multi-media signals. The same CAT5E cable can without any modification support phone, computer network, balanced line level audio signal, baseband video signal as well as host of other, more specialized, control applications’ signals. With inexpensive adapters called “baluns” the same cable can carry significant number of channels of broadband television or carry a baseband video, such as security camera output, through great distances. All of those applications, except the computer network of course, will require specialized expensive conversion equipment if they needed to be transmitted via a Wi-Fi link.
4. The cost benefit of not running wires around the house is not as simple as issue as it seems. Having installed a wireless network at home you have only eliminated the need to wire for a single application – computer network. A modern home, however, requires all kinds of wiring to run even without regard to computers. The power and phones are obvious examples, as well as thermostats and security systems. Pre-wired speakers are common and most homes today have intercom systems as a desirable option, and those also require extensive wiring. It is very likely that the same contractor running the intercom or security cables is qualified to run computer cables – CAT5E or better. If you are building a home, you should definitely check if computer cabling option is available in your new home, and our advice is to go ahead and purchase it before the walls close. It is going to be a pretty involved and expensive procedure to install the cables later. As an added cost benefit of a wired computer network you will find that all modern computers ship with wired Ethernet network interface card included, and the latest models ship with 1000MBit/sec cards that are essentially free for the computer’s owner.

There are multiple sources of information available on proper planning and design of a residential cabling for voice, data, audio, video and other applications. One of the best sources is the TIA/EIA-570B standard, most resent release of which has been published in 2004. The standard outlines recommended types of the cables, principals of cable distribution in a single- and multi-dwelling units as well as recommended amount of cables to be installed based on the size of the house.

In conclusion, cutting the wire seems like a step forward, some sort of liberation of computer from the bonds of the infrastructure. I would caution the reader, however, to take a more balanced and informed approach before joining the wireless revolution. There are still (and will remain in foreseen future) sound reasons to include properly designed cabling system into the list of your dream home options.