Upgrading my home network: part 2

Introduction

If you’ve read part 1 of this article, you will probably feel my frustrations or at least laughed out loud. I had tried several Internet providers and yet even when I settled on one that was adequate, my internal network was still shabby to say the least. This second part has been a long time coming so without further a do, let’s get on with how I went about upgrading my home network.

The MiFi device that I was using as a router\3G modem is great for mobility but doesn’t have the power to give me the coverage I needed so I bought a TP-Link MR3420. This is effectively a wireless router with a USB port that supports a wide range of USB 3G modems. The one that I had been provided by 3 when I got the PAYG deal was on the compatibility list. The other good thing about this dongle is that is has a CRC9 connector for an external aerial to help boost signal strength. I didn’t have any power in the loft of my house, which is where I wanted to have the modem…the higher the better. Rather than just use a really long aerial lead, I got Mr Electrician to come around and fit some lighting, four power sockets and a couple of switches in a cupboard at the top of the stairs so that I could power cycle any kit up in the loft without climbing up there. It’s been handy, although I’ve only had to do it a couple of times since installation. We also fed a couple of RJ45 leads from the loft down to where the telephone sockets are.

The lowdown

Below are some pictures with descriptions.

Eaves

The picture above is looking upwards in to the top of the house. On the right is the TP-Link router. You can see the USB lead that goes off to the USB dongle at the bottom. Two of the Cat5e leads are connected to a patch panel in the loft and from there downstairs, the other connects to a Power Line device which isn’t functional at the moment but will, for those who are unaware, will allow me to run networking over the mains power. Finally, the device at the upper left is a 3G aerial. I’m toying with mounting it to the outside of my house for better gain. I’m also not too happy about the temporary feel of this picture e.g. having a 3G modem right next to a power lead.

Patch Panel

Here is the patch panel that connects the yellow leads from the router to the orange leads that get routed downstairs as you’ll see. The patch panel is Cat6. Yuck, no wonder it was lying around spare at work. I was pleased that the joists were just the right distance apart to let me screw the patch panel in.

Cable run

The data centre grade cables travel in between the joists downwards and come out in the space shown above. As is quite common in the part of Scotland I live in, many rural houses are built as 1.5 storey properties i.e. the upstairs rooms have a slant as they meet the roof. The space above is accessible through a small entrance in the master bedroom. It is quite spacious and gives great access to some of the plumbing and wiring. I used clips at every joist to make it look neat.

Wall port

The most difficult part was getting the leads from the previous picture down to the ground floor. A fair bit of poking around was required but above you can see the dual RJ45 wall port that are both connected back to the router. The yellow lead is run around the skirting board and through a small hole in the wall to my study, where my main PC is just on the other side. The white, flat lead, as some of you may recognise, goes in to my Sonos wireless bridge which is sat on a small table nearby. Yes, that was me that did the painting around that phone socket when we first moved in.

As I stated before, I also have a Power Line device that I can plug in anywhere to connect to the other one in the loft but I’ve not had any need to use it so far. The wireless signal covers the entire house and I’ve not got any devices that don’t have wireless. Having said that, I do have a Raspberry Pi and I may just use the Ethernet port so I can use the WiFi adapter elsewhere. I’m not sure yet.

Summary

So has the networking improved? Most definitely. The biggest improvement is the wireless internally. All devices can now talk to each other at different ends of the house. The 3G still isn’t great but it’s much more stable than it used to be. The packet loss is 0% most of the time but once a couple of devices start trying to download at the same time, the connection evaporates which isn’t great and shouldn’t be acceptable in this day and age. I think I need to apply some science to determining the root cause. There are tweaks I can make to try and improve further which I mentioned above e.g. mounting the aerial externally. If I make any further amendments, I’ll keep you posted.

Till the next time.