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I have a very frustrating home WiFi network.

The building in which I live is very (over 300 years) old and was long-ago extended on one side so that the (15"-thick) formerly-external wall is now internal; owing to layout, the radio must often penetrate this thick wall with as much as 70° incidence (i.e. direct line passes through 1114mm of solid brick; since 2.4GHz has a wavelength of approximately 125mm, this is almost 9 wavelengths!).

Therefore the only surprising thing is that I get any coverage at all on the other side of the extension from the access point (which I put down to reflection off surfaces around doorways).

I have tried power line communication, but the electrical wiring is also pretty old and not of particularly great quality: connections can be even less reliable than WiFi.

It strikes me that this is a perfect use case for an additional access point or wireless extender, which would normally be my next consideration.

However, since we are about to take up floorboards in a couple of rooms and move some other wiring around, it is a very good opportunity to install some data network cabling (which, whilst perhaps not needed, could provide some good future-proofing against unforeseeable needs over the next 20 years: increased home automation, media distribution, etc).

I want to maintain full WiFi coverage throughout, so will end up connecting at least one additional access point to any new cabling. Devices that remain fixed can switch to being fully cabled rather than using up the existing WiFi.

My questions are:

  1. I'm thinking two cables to each of sitting room/study/bedroom and a single cable to the kitchen, which would total about 100m in aggregate. Of course it's hard to say without knowing what requirements I may have in the future, but does that seem adequate to accomodate 20 years of growth (the last thing I want is to pull up floorboards again)?

  2. Cat6 seems like an absolute minimum requirement for adequate tolerance to any future requirements, but for only 100m of cabling it seems churlish to hold back from a higher quality cable whilst undertaking all of this work.

    Should I stick with copper, but go all-out with Cat7A (I estimate the additional cost over Cat6 to be maybe £100, which is completely affordable)? Or would fibre make more sense for true future-proofing (I have no grasp on what the extra cost would be, especially given that media converters will be required at each end of every connection for the time being)?

  3. Is this all overkill for fairly mundane household needs (albeit increasingly streaming video etc over the data network)?

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I think this question might do better on a more ICT related stack. Maybe one of the mods know which is the best fit. –  jippie Nov 10 '12 at 15:03
We do electrical engineering here, so this isn't really the right place to ask. You have a IT problem, not a electronics problem. That said, whatever cables you install, I would consider a means of adding more in the future without needing to rip up the floor. At the very least, install the nicest bestest you can find now, with some extras. Hopefully that will be at least adequate when it's needed in the future. –  Olin Lathrop Nov 10 '12 at 15:13
This question would be probably better suited for home improvement site. Anyways, you should also narrow it to a single question, or break it into three separate ones. –  clabacchio Nov 10 '12 at 17:18
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closed as off topic by Olin Lathrop, Leon Heller, clabacchio Nov 10 '12 at 17:16

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

IT industry is very keen on getting things to work on UTP cabling because it is cheap, robust and has a huge installed base. So the answer is CAT6 or better.

Fiber cabling on the other hand is expensive, connectors are sensitive to dust and without careful handling it will break sooner or later.

20 years in IT is an extremely long time, 20 years ago we had totally different types of networking technology (Token Ring, Decnet, ...) and Ethernet was based on thick or thin coax. Your best bet is to install empty pipes in which you can run new cables whenever you require them. 'Loze leiding' that is what we call it in Dutch, don't know the proper English word for it.

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@jippied: In English, we'd call it a duct or a cable-chase. eggyal: Leave at least one piece of heavy cord, nylon parachute cord f/ex, in each chase or between each pair of rooms as a messenger line for hauling a new cable (along with a replacement messenger line!) at some future date. –  JRobert Nov 10 '12 at 19:33
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(this is a StackOverflow / ServerFault question, but screw it)

If you're intent on doing custom length runs, then just buy a 1000ft payout box of solid CAT6. These can be as cheap as ~$110. This isn't including the RJ45 connectors or a good crimping tool (the crimping tool alone could be $50, $75, $150, etc). However, if you're intent of doing lots of routing, neat bundling, etc... custom lengths might be the best option for you.

A potentially simpler option could be to buy pre-made CAT6 cables. You can get them anywhere from 0.5 feet to 100 feet, and pretty cheap, too. As an example of price, MonoPrice has 75 foot pre-made CAT6 cables, in a multitude of colors, for $9.95 a piece. Going off your earlier mention of 100 meters of wiring in aggregate, seven 75ft cables would cost you $70 plus shipping. Of course, if you didn't need 75 foot lengths to all rooms, you could save money there as well and potentially double up the kitchen cables or do triple runs to the other rooms, etc.

Some people will probably scoff at this - it's not plenum-rated, it's stranded so there's not as much support that you'd normally get from the solid wires, etc etc. However, you're not running a ton of them that are going to create so much smoke that they'll choke you to death and if they catch on fire.. it will most likely be from something else that is liable to burn your house down anyways. They're also not meant to support mission-critical infrastructure... just provide an upgrade path for 10 - 20 years that is more reliable that your electrical wiring or WiFi signal.

That's my two cents - this can be done cheaply and easily. If you've gotten so far as to asking the question, it sounds like you should just bite the bullet and do it... and stop wasting your life waiting for web pages to load over WiFi. :)

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