Home Network Rebuild: Early April 2016

Over the past couple of months, I have slowly begun collecting the pieces of equipment necessary to revamp my home network for higher performance, customization, and reliability. Working for home 3-5 days a week, I need rock solid connectivity. My efforts are starting to show progress, despite some fairly significant work remaining (mainly around wiring the house).

The Router: Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite

The first piece of my Home Network rebuild and while there is a learning curve on the setup, I have it successfully configured for dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 on Comcast with a 150Mbps/12Mbps connection and I am going a month plus without rebooting it once. It’s amazing how well it works once it is setup.

Purchase: Ubiquiti EdgeRoute Lite for ~$96 @ Amazon.com

The Switch: Dell PowerConnect 2816

I had some basic requirements for the ethernet switch that would act as the central hub for my home network:

  • 16 or 24 Gigabit Ports.
  • Managed switch
  • Fanless
  • Rackmountable
  • Supports link aggregation
  • Low power
  • Low cost

After looking around, I decided to go cheap with the switch to fill my more limited near-term needs. I purchased a used Dell PowerConnect 2816 off of eBay for $49.99. Other than being used, it fits all of my criteria. Worst case, if I ever need to upgrade or the switch dies, I’m only down $49.99.

So far, the switch is holding up well. The web UI looks like it came from 2002 and there is no encryption to speak of, but I can live with that for now.

Only issue I have had was my Apple TV 4th generation not detecting the ethernet network or obtaining an IP address from DHCP for over a minute after startup. I found a blog post about PowerConnect switches and slow login issues. Turns out Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) can slow down a network port’s activation. By enabling the Fast Link functionality in the switch’s STP settings, my Apple TV now instantly connects to the network when waken up. I activated this setting for every port on the switch that didn’t have a router or a switch connected to it.

Wi-Fi: Apple Time Capsule

My ultimate goal is to purchase an Ubiquiti UniFi AC Lite access point, but we’re not there yet. For now, I have my Apple Time Capsule running in bridge mode. It still handles the Wi-Fi and Time Machine backup duties, but nothing else. It’s amazing how stable this setup is now the Time Capsule isn’t handling DHCP and firewall duties.

What’s Next?

  • Cable Runs: I need solve the problem of running ethernet cable from my 2nd floor (where my home office is being renovated) to my basement. I have a possible solution for this by running cable down the wall that surrounds my chimney, but need to fish the cable through there.
  • Network Rack: If I am going to run cable, I need to pick where the network rack is going to be located so I can rack mount all of my new equipment. I’m eyeing a location underneath my basement stairway that is currently unused space and is right next to the chimney I mentioned above. However, there is no power there at the moment.
  • Patch Panel: I should do this right and run all of this cable into a patch panel, to make rewiring my switch very easy.
  • Wi-Fi Access Point: As mentioned above, I’m looking at Ubiquiti’s AC Lite access point. I want to mount it on 1st floor ceiling at the center of my house, with a Power over Ethernet (PoE) working, for maximum coverage.
  • Network Attached Storage (NAS): I’m looking at a Synology NAS DS416j to handle a number of services, including logging and backups. This is probably the final step of my home network buildout and we are fairly far away from this purchase.

Upgraded home network to a Arris SB6183 Cable Modem

A few months ago, I received notice that my Internet connection through Comcast was going to be upgraded from 105Mbps down to 150Mbps down. I had gotten into the 105 Mbps package as part of a promo in April. I thought nothing of that upgrade other than a thank you to Comcast, as my uBee DDM3513 Cable Modem was supposedly able to handle ~170Mbps down.

A couple of days ago, I received an automated phone call from Comcast. Normally I would ignore those as the tend to be marketing calls, but it turns out this one was actually interesting. Apparently my cable modem could not take full advantage of this new speed tier after all according to the message. A quick check on Comcast’s device list confirmed that, at least from their perspective.

I measured my Internet connection’s speed and it showed an average speed of ~129 Mbps down. Not 150 Mbps down, but close. So what could be the difference? I ended up purchasing an Arris SB6183 Cable Modem, which has a max speed of 686Mbps down, and tested it.

Turns out, I was losing out on a lot of speed. Buying the SB6183 increased my internet connection download speeds by ~48 Mbps, to approximately ~177 Mbps, a decent amount above Comcast’s advertised rate for my plan.

In reality, with just my wife and I, we don’t use nearly all of this connection even if we are both streaming Netflix at the same time. That said, with some changes upcoming in my life, the increased speed will be very nice. But that is a topic for another post.

Hard wire the home network

My home network, for a techie such as myself, was not very well designed. I take all of the blame. The two main mistakes are laughable:

  • My home wireless router (Apple Time Capsule)? Effectively buried by being located in the basement, since I was having cable modem signal issues and wanted to limit how many splitters the cable modem was going through. It’s like I decided to artificially limit its range in and around the house by in some cases making signals go through concrete!
  • My two AppleTVs both used wireless to connect to the Internet. In theory this isn’t a big problem right? Well, when you’re in a house with 10+ devices potentially on wifi at the same time, those AppleTVs have high bandwidth demands that can result in stuttering video and audio.
  • This basement network “closet” effectively laid on the carpet in a basement room underneath a rarely used TV, with no shelves and cables everywhere.

Given I’m on vacation this week, one of my home projects ended up being running ethernet cable around the house to rectify these two main problems. The new network design:

  • The home wireless router is now located on a shelf in the main living room on our first floor, effectively right in the middle of the house. In theory, there is no more centralized location for a wifi router to be. This should result in an impressive improvement in wireless range and performance.
  • The cable modem remains in the basement, now mounted on a wall close to where its ethernet cable (Cat 6a) can run upstairs to the wireless router.
  • Cat 6a cable now runs from the living room AppleTV into the basement and then back up to the living room in the spot where the wireless router is located. Now our main AppleTV has a direct, hard wire connection to the Internet and removes a major source of wifi congestion.
  • Cat 6a cable also now runs from the basement AppleTV to the wireless router. While not used much, it removes one more device form the wifi and ensures optimal performance when it is used.

I’ve already greatly improved wifi performance now that the router is mere feet away from me in the living room. I haven’t tried to stream a HD movie yet on the AppleTV, but I’ve noticed that both iTunes Radio and iCloud Photo Stream seem more reliable already. I’m curious to see how far the wifi signal reaches outside…we were on the edge of its range previously when sitting on our patio.