Help me spread my gigabit internet all over my home! Lots of details...
May 16, 2018 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Ok, here goes: I have Xfinity gigabit ethernet. I have pretty good coverage over all of my house, but with more smart home devices being added each year (some outside) and 4k streaming, torrenting, etc. being part of my weekly usage, I'd like to utilize my fire hose as well as I possibly can.

Some details on the devices: the core of my setup is an Xfinity provided Technicolor TC4400-CMT Rev. 3.3. Never had an issue with it. On the back it has what appear to be 2 ethernet/internet out ports. I've only ever had one thing connected to it, which is the Netgear Nighthawk X6 router that came from Xfinity free when I signed up (not rented, actually given free!). It's also generally worked really well.

Connected to the Nighthawk via it's 4 LAN ports are: my PC (gets close to a gigabit down), a Netgear Arlo hub, a Hue lights hub, and a TP-Link AV2000 Powerline Adapter Kit. The Nighthawk throws a 2.4ghz network and a 5ghz network.

These things generally have worked well. The Powerline kit has just been used to just get a more reliable connection to my smart TV downstairs and a PS4 Pro.

The smart home devices making use of my 2.4ghz wi-fi network are as follows: a Nest thermostat, several Hue lightbulbs, an Arlo indoor camera, a few TP-Link Kasa dimmer switches, 3 Sonos speakers, an LG smart TV (streaming 4K) and (most newly added) a Ring Spotlight camera that's outside. The Ring gets an ok connection but it could be better.

The other devices are an Apple TV 4K, a 2012 Macbook Air (torrenting, streaming), two iPhones and the occasional tablet, etc.

At this point, I've realized that's a lot of devices, and the bandwidth is probably getting spread thin. Additionally, having both the 2.4ghz network and 5ghz can get a little confusing and wonky at times.

Today, on a whim, I decided that a mesh network would solve all of my problems. Did some googling, decided the Netgear Orbi seemed like what I needed, went to Best Buy, did the quick setup and...was disappointed and frustrated. I quickly realized this probably was not the right solution for a gigabit connection I want to make as full use of as possible, and it wasn't even as seamless and simple as I thought it might be regarding things just working. Speeds were slower than before, devices were confused, etc.

That leads me to all you smart people on AskMefi! I think the right next step is to get an ethernet cable run from either the modem or the Nighthawk (not sure which, don't understand how to utilize that 2nd port on the back of the modem) to the downstairs, and buy some Access Point (I get the idea behind them but don't fully grasp which one to get, how to use it properly, how to set it up) and then have a few of those entertainment devices wired in off of that, and also let it spread out some stronger wi-fi downstairs and closer to the Ring cam outside. I'd also like to potentially make the use of the 2 wifi ghz bands more clear and distinct, or if it's a better option, merge them and have a single network for the whole house.

Does this seem like the right move? If not, guide me to the better option. If yes, help me with my next steps, please!

While I have the Orbi (and maybe the Powerline works as an access point?), I'd like to test what having a downstairs AP would be like. I happen to have a 100ft. CAT6 cable, so for now I can just move that around and see how to get things up and running. If I like the results, I'll have someone professionally wire things through my walls. do I connect to my modem or Nighthawk with the Orbi router (or satellite) or the Powerline adapter and make them an access point? I know I can go into the Orbi settings and just choose "AP mode," but then what? How do I know that it's working, or that it's broadcasting? Which band should I tell it to broadcast (does it do both? what specific options need to be configured?). Will my smart home devices just use the wi-fi broadcasted by the AP like it would from the router directly? What issues might I run into? Essentially, how do I deploy an access point?

Lastly, as I'll probably be returning the Orbi, what actual Access Point product should I buy? I guess ideally it'll have a few ethernet ports so I can have a strong gigabit wired connection for the TV, PS4 and Apple TV 4K.

Ok, that was a lot. Describing what I should do as simply as possible would be especially appreciated. Thanks for reading that wall of text, and thanks for any and all help, advice and opinions you can provide!
posted by arm426 to Technology (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Home WiFi Networking Tips

Would this page answer any of your questions? It won’t tell you what to buy, but it might add some clarity to the issues you’re trying to solve.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:12 PM on May 16

I think you probably know this, but just to make sure, you do know that adding equipment won't increase the total amount of bandwidth available to you, right? The 1 Gigabit supplied by your modem is all you're ever getting (and I'd think that'd be enough, even with the myriad of devices you have).

WiFi mesh networking may solve issues with weak signal, but unless you're able to hard-wire them to your network via ethernet or powerline networking, they'll be using the same overall available WiFi bandwidth to provide coverage; they mitigate this by putting backchannel communications with the router/modem end on a different band than the one they show to devices, but in the end you have (at best) the same bandwidth available to your devices, and you've only added more opportunities for network contention.

As far as adding more WiFi access points, if you can have a second wireless access point connected via Ethernet configured to provide another wireless network broadcasting on a different band, that can help alleviate some congestion and should theoretically increase the amount of bandwidth available to your wireless devices, as they're not all contending for the same limited WiFi bandwidth. In the easy case, this would appear as an entirely separate WiFi network SSID, and you'd need to configure your devices to connect to one network or the other. More advanced access points may be able to hand off between WiFi networks more intelligently along the lines of the mesh networking gear, but I don't have any experience with that.

Your absolute best bet in terms of providing raw bandwidth is to run physical cables to your devices. Preferably Cat6 or Cat5e Ethernet, but you may get acceptable results with powerline networking as well. Add some Gigabit Ethernet switches to your network and it's pretty much plug-and-play.
posted by Aleyn at 12:41 AM on May 17

I'm also assuming that you know that the 2.4Ghz wifi signal has more "penetrance," but does not utilize the entire gigabit connection. 5Ghz is a lot "faster" but does not have the reach that 2.4 does.
posted by kuanes at 4:04 AM on May 17

[Comment removed; looks like there may be an accidental multiple-account situation here, please double check that you're not posting from the wrong account when following up on your own question.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:17 AM on May 17

I think the right next step is to get an ethernet cable run from either the modem or the Nighthawk (not sure which, don't understand how to utilize that 2nd port on the back of the modem) to the downstairs, and buy some Access Point (I get the idea behind them but don't fully grasp which one to get, how to use it properly, how to set it up) and then have a few of those entertainment devices wired in off of that, and also let it spread out some stronger wi-fi downstairs and closer to the Ring cam outside. I'd also like to potentially make the use of the 2 wifi ghz bands more clear and distinct, or if it's a better option, merge them and have a single network for the whole house.

OK, let's take a step back here and think some things through.

First thing you need to understand is the Universal Truth of Networking: Wires Rule, Wireless Drools. There are no exceptions (optical fibre, for the purposes of interpreting the Sacred Scroll of Universal Truth, is just the really good wire).

Tolstoy observed that happy families are all alike, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way; same applies to networking, where "happy" means "wired". The more devices you add to any wireless network, the unhappier you will make it. Really, you have the choice between a really annoying mostly-wireless network, or just biting the bullet and doing the ton of wiring. If you value your time and sanity, you'll do the wiring.

So if you've got networked appliances that need more bandwidth than the occasional ping from a lighting controller, and those appliances generally sit in one spot in your home, the Right Thing is to put a wall plate with four Ethernet outlets (because if you're going to pull cable, you might as well pull cables plural) within easy patch cable reach of each of those.

This takes their load off your wireless network, which is the best place for network load to be, because Wireless Drools. Wireless is what you pick when you're forced to put up with its shitty performance because somebody else has religious objections to running the Holy Cables Of Proper Connectivity.

The Cat 6 cables you run to your wall plates should all come back to the inside of a closet somewhere, because you're going to be putting a winky blinky network switch inside that closet to hide it from household members not yet initiated into the Holy Mysteries. The network switch will also need a power outlet. There's no real need to have enough switch ports in the closet to service every single outlet you've pulled cable to; you can just keep adding cheap 8-port switches as your wired fleet grows. Managed switches that understand 802.1Q VLANs will let you do Cool Stuff later once you learn how, so get those if you feel moderately rich. I have a little collection of these D-Link DGS-1100-08 switches and they're fine.

PoE switches cost. You don't really need them; PoE-capable devices generally come with a power injector anyway, which you can just install in your central closet and insert between the switch port and the cable that runs to the device you want to power.

If you still have enough must-move-about devices left over that you need multiple access points to drag acceptable wireless performance out of them, don't faff about with a random assortment of stand-alone consumer-grade WAPs and wifi routers; get commercial-grade WAPs that are designed to work cooperatively, so that your endpoint devices won't get confused as they move from one WAP's coverage zone to another, and wire them back to your router.

These Ubiquiti UniFi WAPs are cheap, especially given their performance, and centrally managed. You can install the management software on one of your computers, or you can risk running it on somebody else's; this is allegedly secure. That software does not need to be active all the time - the WAPs will talk amongst themselves and sort each other out when they can't find the management controller - but you will need it in order to set them up, even if you've only got one of the WAPs. And you may well find that once your main bandwidth suckers have been wired back to your router like God intended, one of these UniFi WAPs will give you acceptable performance all over your house. Hell, you might even be able to leave your Nighthawk's wifi switched on instead, and avoid buying WAPs altogether.

After experimenting with mixed dual-band multi-WAP installations at both the school I used to netadmin and my own home, I've settled on a naming convention for my wireless networks that works well. If I lived at 123 Main St, I'd have at least the following SSIDs: 123-Main-St (visible on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands); 123-Main-St-2.4GHz; 123-Main-St-5GHz; 123-Main-St-Guest (visible on 2.4GHz only, and offering access only to the Internet, not to anything else on my LAN). I'm actually using a couple of D-Link DWL-8600AP WAPs at home rather than the UniFi ones, mainly because I got them used for free, but any half-decent WAP with better-than-Belkin (hoik ptui) management features makes this easy to set up.

The rationale is that some devices will only connect via 2.4GHz, while others perform rather faster over 5GHz but will occasionally decide to fall back to 2.4 for no good reason, causing brief connectivity glitches and/or getting stuck at low speed. Absence of the -5GHz SSID variant in the list of available networks on any given device is a clear indication that the device doesn't support it, meaning that you'll have no trouble with the unadorned SSID name. The -2.4GHz SSID is there for devices that do support working over both, but which you'd rather not allow to leech bandwidth from your almost-acceptable 5GHz wifi.

Ceiling mounts work well for WAPs because they typically offer unobstructed line-of-sight to any device in the room, but rooms in a typical house are generally smaller than those in a typical commercial space so there's normally no need to mount your WAPs particularly optimally, especially if you have multiple WAPs through the building.

If you absolutely must go it alone with standalone WAPs from a mixture of manufacturers, you will probably find that the unhappy family you create by giving each WAP its own collection of SSIDs, and letting your devices roam from one SSID to another, causes you less grief than the one you'll get by trying to unify them.

Finally, on wireless security: You want to use WPA2, with AES encryption on, TKIP encryption off, and a randomly generated password like mimpt.wjmkq.pdhed.oodok.wuued that won't drive you completely insane to enter on a touch screen while still being long enough to resist offline brute-force attacks. Your guest network should have a different password, but you can use the same one with your plain xxxx, xxxx-2.4GHz and xxxx-5GHz SSIDs. You don't want to bother trying to use MAC filtering, because Windows 10 has made spoofed MAC addresses the system default. You do want to broadcast all your SSIDs, because hidden SSIDs are just a boneheaded waste of time that does nothing to improve your security. And you want to turn PIN-based WPS off. You can leave button-based WPS on if you absolutely have to, but really, don't.
posted by flabdablet at 10:01 AM on May 17 [8 favorites]

I was going to write some stuff, but flabdablet covered it all admirably, so I'll just leave the anecdote..

Personally, since I have all of one device I actually care about being able to get more than 100Mbps, I only have the one router/AP (A Mikrotik hAP ac) plugged in on the other side of the wall from the STB that needs the performance. It works well enough, though I am absolutely wasting some downstream performance. I pay for the gigabit package for the upload anyway, so it doesn't matter to me. At some point when I get around to dealing with the hassle of getting Gigabit Pro installed, I'll do more since I won't be limited to 35-40Mbps upstream.

Part of the reason I'm fine with a single AP is that the MT gear has some of the best radios available. It will hold higher order modulations at far lower absolute signal strength than a Nighthawk, to pick one example. Raw transmit power is much less important than quality and smart algorithms, which is why going from consumer gear to semi-pro stuff makes such a big difference in performance, though in either case more low power APs is better than fewer high power ones.
posted by wierdo at 11:55 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the help, to everyone. To flabdablet specifically, that was quite a lot of info, so thank you for that. I understood about 50% of it, lol. I've actually gotten in touch with someone who does home networking professionally and he gave me about 20 minutes of his time over the phone to talk about options and what his recommendation was. To have him come out and actually assess how much the labor would be to run cable from my modem/internet access point to my media center downstairs, along with what other equipment would be integrated is a flat $130.

If the cost of the install is $500 or more, that $130 gets subtracted from it.

His recommendation, after me talking him through my wants/needs (offload the streaming 4K devices in my media area, so an LG TV, an Apple TV 4K, a PS4 Pro, likely a receiver in the future to a wired connection, freeing up bandwidth for the wifi networks) was to have probably two CAT6 cables coming out behind my media console- one for a gigabit switch thats enterprise level, which he provides for $90 and he said is as small as a deck of cards and handles the wired connections well, and the second cable just because he said at that point running additional cables is like $10 each, to have for a future AP, switch, whatever. He said the total cost would depend on the difficulty of running the wire, of course. The room I need the wires to run to is directly below the room with the modem and router, so I've crossed my fingers that it is not too painful. He said depending on the wall between the attic and basement, he may not have to do all that much but if not, it could be a decent amount of work. His rough estimate was $250-300 for labor if it's not some real bad scenario, but could be closer to $500 if we want need the holes and for them to be painted and spackled and look really good.

Does that sound reasonable? I figure for that price, rather than driving myself crazy buying various products like eeros, Orbis, access points I don't know how to setup and optimize on my own, it's probably reasonable? That solution is simple and makes sense to me but tel lme if I'm leaving something out of the puzzle, please!

FWIW, I'm in Atlanta if anyone reading this knows someone else I could get a second quote from.
posted by arm426 at 3:05 PM on May 17

Ya'll, the game has changed.

There's always been a little end of a coax cable poking up through the floor in the corner of my living room, a few feet from the media stuff (tv, apple tv, etc.) where I wanted this CAT6 cable run. I just brought my modem and router downstairs, connected them with that unused coax line, ran my 100ft. CAT6 to my PC upstaairs, and...gigabit. I have a second coax in the exact place I was gonna hire someone to run ethernet cable!

Ok, so, what do I do now? How do I make use of both coax cables to solve this whole thing? I guess I need to turn one of those coax cables into a CAT6 cable via some device? Will this require special configuring with devices getting confused?
posted by arm426 at 5:14 PM on May 17

You want a pair of MoCA adapters, though I'm not sure even the ones that do bonding will really push 1Gbps. They should be good for well over 500Mbps, though. The single channel 2.0 models top out around 500Mbps.
posted by wierdo at 5:52 PM on May 17

And then the downstairs MoCA gets connected to a gigabit switch, and the devices plug into it, including perhaps a TP-Link Access Point, yeah?

So upstairs: Coax--> MoCA->modem->Router-> PC, Arlo hub, Hue hub all via LAN ports on router

Downstairs: Coax--> MoCA-> TP-Link gigabit switch-> TP-Link 245 for wifi
TP-Link gigabit switch -> TV
TP-Link gigabit switch-> PS4
TP-Link gigabit switch -> Apple TV

Anything else I should be aware of when doing this? Do I need to do any special changes in my router's web interface or the switches web interface?
posted by arm426 at 6:02 PM on May 17

That's pretty much it. If the MoCA adapters you buy don't have an internal splitter and corresponding cable out connector, you'll need a good 1.2GHz coax splitter so you can plug in both the modem and adapter. Be sure to set matching passwords/keys on the adapters otherwise you might unintentionally expose your LAN to your neighbors. Better yet, get a MoCA filter and install it at the service entrance. It will work fine either way, though.

I'd probably use Unifi APs since they can direct clients to the less congested frequency, among other benefits and will likely net you better speed at a given distance, which leaves more airtime for devices closer to the AP, making them faster also. Anything that works for whatever you want to do is OK, however.
posted by wierdo at 7:19 PM on May 17

The beauty of network cables is that they're not going to burn your house down if you get them wrong. If you're living with people who will tolerate a "temporary" hundred foot Cat 6 patch cable running up your stairwell, you might be able to install a perfectly serviceable and adequately tidy wired connection yourself without needing to work inside your walls.
posted by flabdablet at 5:26 AM on May 18

You want a pair of MoCA adapters

As a hardline fundamentalist Ethernetite, I disapprove of this advice. Cat 6 or gtfo.

Worth noting that Cat 6 is available in assorted flat styles, which can be easier to hide under the edges of a carpet than the usual round cables. Round is much better for pulling through wall cavities though.
posted by flabdablet at 6:54 AM on May 18

I usually agree with flabdablet 100%, but if the RG6 is there and you can get what you need using it without having to fish cat5e or 6a, why not? (Cables labeled as plain "Category 6" are worthless. GigE is specced to run over 5e and straight cat6 isn't enough to do 10Gb over copper reliably given the prevalence of mislabeled product, so what's the point?)

And flat Ethernet cables are the devil's spawn. The twist is there for a reason.
posted by wierdo at 12:32 PM on May 18

Here with a positive update but have a bunch of confusion regarding some of the additional info and advice posted.

Just got home, did a quick and dirty setup of Coax to MoCA In, Moca coax out to back of modem, MoCA ethernet out to the router LAN, and modem ethernet out to the router input.

Went downstairs, coax into the MoCA coax in, ethernet out of Moca into a gigabit switch. Plugged my 100ft. long CAT cable into the switch and ran it back upstairs to my PC. Speeds are as good or better than when I was wired into the router.

I've now got a bunch of my devices plugged into the gigabit switch. Tomorrow I'll have the TPLink AP and see how that does coming off the gigabit switch.

So far only issue I've run in to is the Apple TV 4K, which has a gigabit ethernet port, gets around 80mbps when wired vs. 300-something mbps on wifi. The PS4 right next to it is the exact opposite in terms of wireless vs. wired. Any idea what the issue might be?
posted by arm426 at 6:21 PM on May 18

Assuming you're plugging the Apple TV into your gigabit switch, look at the lights to make sure it's actually negotiating a 1Gbps link. Usually what's happening in a case like that is that it's only working at 100Mbps for some reason.

I don't have specific experience with either your switch or the Apple TV, so I've got no idea how to fix it if that is indeed the problem and using a different Ethernet cable or switch port doesn't make it work. (Thus ruling out any physical issue)
posted by wierdo at 9:31 PM on May 18

flat Ethernet cables are the devil's spawn. The twist is there for a reason.

Flat Cat 6 is not just some cheesy 8-wire version of telephone cable. It's still four twisted pairs, and the twists still have different pitches just as they do in round Cat 6. But the pairs are laid out across the width of a flat jacket rather than being bunched up inside a round one. Its measured performance is as good as round Cat 6. Has to be, or it couldn't be sold as Cat 6.
posted by flabdablet at 9:49 PM on May 18

Sure, but the spec also requires the pairs have a certain twist with respect to one another. Improved electronics can deal with the extra crosstalk and dispersion, just like I can sometimes get GigE to work on Cat3 labeled wire, but legit Cat6 it ain't. Good luck trying to get 10Gb running on it over any reasonable length.

Not that it really matters for the asker's use. If it works, it works, just don't expect any degree of future-proofing and definitely don't put it anywhere it will be hard to replace.
posted by wierdo at 7:12 PM on May 20

the spec also requires the pairs have a certain twist with respect to one another

and flat Cat 6 conforms to that spec.

Not all flat cable is flat Cat 6, obviously. But if it's certified as Cat 6 - be it flat or otherwise - then it meets all Cat 6 specifications and performs like any other Cat 6 cable.
posted by flabdablet at 4:04 AM on May 21

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