Thursday, 25 July 2019

Smarthome - Pt 2 - The Network

In the second part of this smarthome series I’m looking at the network I have installed, how well it functions day-to-day and if there’s anything I’d want to change moving forward.

A solid network is the spine of the smarthome and your experience is going to be driven by it. Choosing the right hardware is therefore critical. You want something that can be easily managed while at the same time delivers speed and power throughout your home.

I’m in the fortunate position that we having network wiring throughout the house so the first step was to get a solid switch. For anyone not aware of what a Switch does it basically receives all the traffic coming from your various devices and sends it to the appropriate device. A good Switch should be one that you can setup and then never notice. I went for the TP Link TL-1024D 24-Port Gigabit. This has been running for a year with absolutely no issues so far and great speed across all devices. Selling at £63 right now through Amazon Prime this is a great Switch.

Along with the Switch I added a patch panel, power strip and fan and put it all in a great rack cabinet from 19Power UK. Here are the Amazon links to everything along with a few patch cables and the nuts/bolts to get it all added to your new cabinet.

TP Link TL-1024D 24-Port Gigabit: Amazon
Cabinet: Amazon
Patch Panel: Amazon
Fan: Amazon
Power Strip: Amazon
Patch Cables: Amazon
Rack Mount Equipment: Amazon

So that’s the wired network sorted but that’s at most half of the Smarthome spine. The
other half is the wireless network. It’s through this that your lights, cameras, iPhones, iPads, Android Phones and other devices will connect so you need something robust. Lets face it though, there aren’t many of us who actually enjoy tweaking with network settings so you probably want something that, like your new Switch, is easy to manage. I went for Google WiFi.

YouTube and the web are already full of Google Wifi reviews so I’m not going to go into too much detail here, shout out in the comments if you do want more information though and I’ll do a full review. Google WiFi is a Mesh network. Google cover mesh networks nicely in their blog post here. What I found though was that even with 5 pucks (the house is fairly spread out and contains many block walls) the mesh network wasn’t able to provide the coverage or speed that I wanted. This was especially true once you got beyond one hop from the main node One of the nice things about Google WiFi though is the ability to plug in network cables and let it use the, much faster, wired network to handle your traffic. It does turn it from a mesh network into basically an extended WiFi network but who cares, the thing is lightening fast! Setup is a little tricker, again shout out in the comments if you want a more detailed post on setting up Google WiFI using Wired Backhaul, but well worth it. The network has been generally solid with a couple of teething problems at the start caused mostly by having too many nodes on the network.

One drawback with Google WiFi is the Google WiFi application that you need to use to manage it. While Google has tried to make the WiFi simple to use, the app does rely on you being able to connect to the cloud in order to do anything with the network. This is very frustrating when you’re having broadband problems or your changing the router and suddenly you can’t manage anything on your internal network. I’d love to see them add a setup to the main node that allows for, even a reduced, management console when the Internet is not available.

Other than that I think Google Wifi is worth the investment. It reliably handles over 30 devices including Nest cameras streaming high resolution video. For UK readers, I’ve had some recent experience installing a BT mesh network in a two story house. Setup was easy and so far it’s been very quick and reliable without the wired backhaul. Certainly one worth a look if you have the BT HomeHub already.

Google WiFI: Amazon
BT Whole Home: Amazon

So that’s part 2 of the series. Next up I’m planning to look at our heating setup. Let me know if you’ve had any experience setting up a home network and what you used.