Home Networking: Back to the Future

I've long since concluded that retail wireless routers for home computer networks are designed for relatively new 2-bedroom flats, but of course they're not advertised that way. I recently confirmed this when, in a moment of reasonably calm frustration, I hopped into my 25-year-old car, drove to the nearest Staples, and asked them to show me their best router. The sales guy said its signal would likely reach my garage. I was not sure how he knew I had a garage, but I was sold.

Ninety perturbing minutes later I had it installed, and it was just a marginal improvement over my ancient -- according to the sales guy – five-year-old predecessor. In full disclosure, I am not a techie, my house was built well over 100 years ago, and the walls are massive. I intuitively had the Internet cable and modem installed in the center of my 3-story urban townhouse, but the signal becomes spotty just 25 feet away.

So I was thrilled yesterday when I saw a New York Times article in the Personal Tech section titled “Improving Your Home Network,” replete with a call out teaser that read "Working around thick walls, home appliances and a poor location." The article is nearly a full page -- yes, I have the paper delivered; it's more reliable than my Internet connectivity. This article confirms everything I suspected, including that the latest craze, "a device called a network extender," does "...increase the range of the network [but] many range extenders immediately reduce the available speed they can transmit by 50 percent." Conclusion? "Many in the networking industry say they believe that extenders are a product whose time has gone."

The solution, according to the NYT writer, "is not Wi-Fi... It's the problem. Instead, a wired connection is the answer, said David Henry, the vice president of product management at Netgear. The best way to create a home network is to place Ethernet, also known as Cat 5, cable throughout the house, and connect each device directly into it." I was incredulous! The solution to improving my home network connectivity is precisely the same project that the budget committee I was on approved at an East Coast university 30 years ago -- and we called Ethernet back then too. Ethernet was developed by Xerox Corporation and I seem to recall that we negotiated a few free photocopiers with that deal.

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