The average household today has 5.7 mobile devices, each responsible for about .566 gigabytes of mobile data traffic per month. According to Cisco, though, the average mobile connection will generate 2.5 GB of mobile data traffic per month by 2017, and the average household will produce a whopping 131 GB of Internet traffic per month in 2016, up from 50.3 GB per month in 2011.
So go wireless, right?
Joshua Roberson, national builder sales manager of NuVo & On-Q Electrical Wiring Systems for Legrand North America, has this discussion with homebuilders nearly every day. And what he tells him is sure, go wireless—but with a solid structured wiring backbone as well.
Wireless Is Fantastic …
“Wireless is fantastic to search for recipes or to research something while watching the TV,” says Roberson. “And entertainment streaming services are by far becoming the norm,” on everything from TVs to tablet computers and smartphones.
All new homes today should have a robust wireless network for mobile device connectivity
And builders should consider moving beyond the now standard Wireless-N devices (802.11n Wi-Fi standard) to the new “ac” standard recently ratified and certified, with products just starting to roll out. Wireless AC is faster than Wireless-N, and operates on the less-crowded 5 Ghz range, instead of the now overcrowded 2.4 GHz range. What that means is less interference and better performance, at least for now.
Roberson and others highly recommend commercial-grade routers and switches, as most off-the-shelf routers often can’t support the number of wireless devices streaming video and other services from the Internet. Legrand recommends wireless access points (WAPs) that act as signal repeaters to be placed out of sight in attics, while still providing a reliable whole-house wireless signal.
So there’s your wireless network. Why do you still need the structured wiring of Ethernet and coaxial cabling? You only need to review the Cisco predictions. A robust wireless network will support a home’s growing legion of mobile devices, but as Roberson says, “Wireless is like a pie, and you can only slice it up into so many pieces. Netflix and other video and entertainment streaming services take up to 80 percent of the bandwidth [or the size of that pie, that pipe, whatever you want to call it] in your home.”
Also, don't forget that a wired home network is faster and more reliable than wireless. Period. But we know that is not the end of the discussion.
If these reasons aren't enough for you to wire homes with good structured wiring consisting of Category 5e or 6 data cable and RG6 video (coaxial) cable, consider video and where this is all going—rapidly…
The Network Hog
The big bandwidth hog in homes is streaming video. And here is where a wired home network can make a big difference. Let the iPods, tablets and mobile what-nots wirelessly stream all the video they want, Roberson says. But make sure your televisions, desktop computers, video game consoles, entertainment hubs and other stationary devices stay wired whenever possible. Know where these entertainment, work and connected areas are going to be, and be sure to get wiring to them—as in at least two Category 5e or 6 cables to each location, plus HDMI cables if sources like cable boxes and Blu-ray players are going to be within 30 feet. More bandwidth will be freed up for the wireless devices to stream, and this allows the smart TVs and other stationary web-connected devices to use faster and more reliable wired connections.
Roberson tells of two identical smart televisions in his own home, one wired and one that streams movies from services like Netflix wirelessly. Roberson says not only can he finish watching a movie about 5 minutes faster on the wired TV, due to less buffering of the signal, the video quality is much better.
“Wi-Fi products are not effective with high-traffic applications such as video. Quality will suffer,” says homebuilding networking expert Eric Simon, CEO of Energize the Experience and director of Enterprise IT for Networkfleet/Verizon Telematics. “New standards such as WirelessHD – 60 GHz range, so it is outside of the Wi-Fi ranges – also will help improve the quality [issues] that challenge typical Wi-Fi networks.”
Here Comes 4K
With the advent of ‘4K’ or Ultra HD that has four times the resolution of today’s Full HD 1080p sets, wired networking becomes a necessity.
Most experts predict that 4K will become the next video standard, and distributing that signal throughout a house could be problematic for a wireless network.
A wired network, even of Cat 5e cable, can transfer the 12 to 20 mbps required of 4K video inside a house, say from a centralized DVR like a Dish Hopper to satellite units in bedrooms and the such. Category cable can also be used to transmit HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) signals used for transmitting HD video and audio and HDBaseT, which sends both HDMI and power over Category cabling.
Power Over Ethernet (With a PoE)
Yes, we said power, which is yet another reason to wire with Category-based structured wiring. Category cable can provide Power Over Ethernet (PoE), which is set to gain prominence in powering devices such LED lights, which in turn can be network nodes used to control lighting levels and even to transmit data—LEDs are, after all, pieces of electronics with solid-state circuitry. You can almost count on a lot of innovation taking place here.
Cat 5e, 6 or now 8?!?
Roberson says that for now builders shouldn't have to worry too much about whether to use Category 5e or Category 6 cabling in their structured wiring packages, as they are both capable of transmitting a 4K video signal. But he doesn't think video will stop there. “We’ll see 8K, and so on.”
Want to really future-proof? Category 8 cabling has been ratified and is appearing in commercial buildings. “With its 1.6 GHz minimum rate, it is the optimum standard for short runs to handle a typical cable os satellite’s 1200 MHz rate along with multiple simultaneous streams of data/video transfer. This Cat 8 standard is meant to accomplish the forthcoming speed standard of 40 gbps, or 400 times the performance of the current Cat 5 standard,” Simon says.
Cat 6a might cost about $.21 per foot and requires basic cabling experience to terminate, while Cat 8 will run upwards of $1 a foot with more expensive ends and specially qualified installers, he adds.
Roberson says having Category cabling in place allows you future flexibility. A Cat 5e cable originally used for a phone drop, for instance, can be used for an Internet connection, video or low-level power for more and more efficient electronics. Conduit, whether rigid PVC or flex conduit, should be run for future expansion as well.
The Home Hub
“The roads are converging for data, voice and video. MSOs [multiservice operators like Comcast] are offering their phone services as VoIP, and MSOs set-top boxes communicate via TCP/IP. Phone companies are offering their video services through IP streaming. Video on demand providers like Netflix are communicating all over Ethernet channels as well,” Simon points out.
“We should focus our efforts on ensuring that data communications has a fast and reliable path. In the end, the builder that puts in RG6 and Cat 6 cable to the key video locations—such as the great room, kitchen, family room and master bedroom— is providing the homeowner with a more reliable experience.”