Let's design the home network in my new apartment

I moved in November, and because of shenanigans with my previous internet provider, ended up replacing our 25mbps DSL with 1.5 Gigabit Fibre from Bell Canada. I am quite happy about this and my total bill will actually be lower than before. Unfortunately the fibre comes in, and the fibre box / router combo, (Bell Gigahub), is at the back of the apartment in the kids bedroom, and the office is at the front of the apartment. Even with Wifi 6e coming out of the router wifi performance is not great in the office, so I would like to improve things, but I’ve never had much of a wired network, so I have questions.

The Current Plan, (tell me what to improve):

  • Mount the Gigahub in the kids room as far from the back wall as the fibre cable will let me.
  • Run network cable, (probably a flat “Cat 8” cable from Amazon - I know Cat 8 is overkill, but it seems pretty cheap so I figure future-proofing is good), from the Gigahub’s 10 Gigabit port along baseboards to the office. I believe this will be a 62-foot run, but could be 100 feet if I have to go around doors.
  • Put a switch in the wardrobe in the office that already contains the printer. This will become my “networking closet” and also contain the home server, (old MBP), and a Pi-Hole/VPN raspberry pi.
  • Run a shorter cable from the switch to my desk, where it’ll connect to an Ethernet to Thunderbolt adapter, and into the Caldigit Element Hub that my M1 Air is connected to.
  • Maybe run a second cable from the network closet to my desk to plug into a Raspberry Pi there, if I put the second Pi at my desk.

What should I be doing differently?

Notes about the apartment

  • Rented, but I’m in Quebec so I have more freedom to make modifications than most places.
  • Built in 1929
  • It appears that I have gyprock & studs, but there may be remnants of plater & lathe underneath, which would explain the poor wifi speed at the front of the apartment.
  • First floor, so I can’t get into an attic.
  • I can get into a crawlspace, but I don’t see a way to get a cable down there without drilling through a pretty nice hardwood floor, so attaching cables to the top of baseboards seems preferable, (that’s pretty normal here in Montreal’s old apartments).

Some Questions

  • I may have some extra cable length from the long run, can I just coil it safely, or am I going to accidentally make a weird electromagnet or antenna?

  • I know very little about switches.

    • Is there an “upstream” port, or do all ports behave the same?
    • Would all devices connected to the switch share the bandwidth of the connection between the switch & the modem?
    • What does managed/unmanaged mean?
    • Does anyone have a switch they can recommend?
  • Is there a reason to avoid putting the Raspberry Pi Pi-Hole/VPN server on the switch? For example will the physical distance and switch make DNS or the VPN slow? I could probably find a way to mount this Pi in the kids room with the Gigahub if needed.

  • Does mix & matching cable speed affect the network as a whole? For example, if I plug my printer into the switch with some Cat 5, will that mess with the network? Same with the Raspberry Pi - it’s ancient and only has 100 Megabit ethernet, will that be a problem?

  • When devices on the LAN are talking, does everything run through router, or does it just go through the switch if both devices are connected to the same switch? In other words, will the connection between the Gigahub and the switch become a choke point in the network?

  • Is there a way to take advantage of my 1.5 Gbps fibre connection without paying a ton of money? There’s a 10 Gbps ethernet port on the modem/router, but it seems like 10 Gbps switches are expensive, and I don’t see a great way to get >1 Gbps into my computer(s).

  • Forward-thinking: I wouldn’t be surprised if much faster internet connections became available within the next few years, Bell is already offering 3 and 8 Gbps in parts of Ontario, so I’d like to be able to take advantage of them without re-doing the whole network, maybe just by replacing a switch.

  • My old router, an Archer C7 available if needed, but it’s getting a little old and the Gigahub seems to do everything I want, with Wifi 6e as a bonus.

  • MPU 24 is about home networking. It’s old, but do lessons still apply?

  • Bell works with Plume, so I could just get a Plume pod by adding $5/month to my internet bill, put it halfway between the Gigahub and the office, and have reasonable service over Wifi. However, it seems like I can get some cable, a switch, and an ethernet to thunderbolt adapter for under $150 and have a wired gigabit connection, which feels worth it. I could still get a Plume pod and put it in my office, connected to Ethernet for the backhaul, and have extremely fast wifi throughout the apartment.

Device List

  • Gigahub (Fibre termination / Router / Wifi)
  • Server, (old laptop).
  • Pi-Hole/VPN Raspberry Pi
  • Main computer (M1 Air)
  • Printer
  • Raspberry Pi 4
  • A Plume pod?
  • Assorted handheld devices that will be on Wifi
1 Like

Have you considered or willing to consider WiFi Mesh? I am not talking Plume, but actual WiFi 6E mesh.

The “server” MacBook has historically had some trouble staying connected to Wifi, and since I want to access it headlessly it needs to be able to plug in somewhere, but where doesn’t really matter.

Otherwise, fewer wires sounds great if I can get the speed. I just went and did some reading on 6E and it seems great, but it also seems that there are very few client devices available, (only the very latest iPad Pros support it from Apple, not even the iPhone 14 Pro).

What would you recommend as an alternative to Plume? It looks like latest Plume pod does have 6E, but it seems like Bell hasn’t started supplying those yet.

What some people do when they’re locked into the ISP’s device is to downgrade it to just a termination point and add their own mesh system to it. If you can’t turn off the router you can disable the wifi and use your mesh system in bridge mode just for wifi.

I’ve used Netgear switches for years with good results. I have both 4 and 16 port versions.

Time to learn to terminate your own cables. Tools aren’t that expensive and lets you makes exactly what you need.

On the old DSL system I downgraded the DSL modem to just turn the DSL signal into ethernet and did everything through my own router. It looks like it is possible to do the same with the current system if I want, but even if the ISP’s box is a bad 6e router, I suspect it will do a better job than the several year old Archer C7 I have :wink:

While moving the fibre box in the kids room today I realized it’s possible to get an extension for the fibre line, so I just ordered one and will try locating the box centrally in the apartment, which I think will give pretty good wifi everywhere, (the apartment is just under 1000 square feet, on one level). Even moving the box 8 feet in the kids room today drastically improved the wifi at the other end of the apartment.

Once the box has been relocated I’ll re-test speeds and reconsider my needs. Obviously I still like the idea of max-speed over copper into my main workstation, and may do it for fun, but in reality the 500 megabits that I think I’ll get over wifi would probably be plenty until I get new devices and can move into the real 6e world.

I think it is worth mentioning that Wi-Fi 6e is often misunderstood.

The primary design goal and benefit is to handle higher density installations with hundreds of client devices (or more) in locations such as stadiums, theaters, and other public venues.

The majority of the improvements in 6e (versus plain 6 and earlier) improves sharing of the bandwidth with multiple devices rather than improving the speed of an individual device.

Highest speed throughput with Wi-Fi 6 and 6e requires using very wide channels. That works well in lab testing, but in real world with interference from neighboring Wi-Fi and other noise, setting wide channels can actually reduce throughput.

That’s why the default and automatic settings in most Wi- Fi gear doesn’t set the maximum power and widest channels. Advanced prosumer or commercial Wi-Fi gear does allow fiddling with all the settings, but if you don’t tread carefully with knowledge and lots of testing, you can end up reducing your throughput rather than maximizing it.

All Wi-Fi transmission is half-duplex, a point often ignored when looking at raw or specified maximum speeds. Your actual speed is less since wired Ethernet, even at the same or slower speed, is a full-duplex transmission medium.

Hence wired is always potentially better than wireless even with the improvements of Wi-Fi 6/6e.

For practical home use, wired, if possible, provides peace-of-mind and stability that suddenly, for no apparent reason, your connection slows down or stops working.

This happens rarely with modern gear, but still very annoying when it does happen in the middle of critical work or entertainment.

3 Likes

Is there any way to get this moved to another room? Maybe run a wire to the hallway?
Apart from connections issues I’m not sure I’d want a wifi router broadcasting signals from a child’s bedroom?

I’d probably disable wifi on the router, run the cable from the bedroom to the office and start distributing wifi access points from there. Or: If you run a wire exposed anyway, why not (re)move the wifi from the router to the hallway, from there cable to the office as backhaul and add some access points along the way?

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@JohnBeales : You should start a club for people who live in Faraday Cages

Seriously, this is a very good discussion and will help a lot of people. Thanks for posing such a great case study.

Note that anything beyond Cat 6A does not have an official spec. In some cases, the manufacturer is just guessing on what the spec might be at some point in the future. In other cases, it is purely marketing (an excuse to charge extra for nothing). You may not be “future-proofing” at all. There is no reason to buy/install anything more that 6A. However, in most applications 6A is not needed, is more expensive, and more difficult to install (thicker, stiffer cable which requires special connectors). Therefore, in any case where you are unsure of what you need, I recommend using standard cat 6 only.

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This happens a lot with my “server” laptop - a 2014, (I think), MBP, and is the reason I want it wired :wink:

I realized it’s easier to get an extension for fibre-optic cable than I thought, so I have one coming that I can run alongside the existing, exposed, copper phone line to a central point in the apartment. I ordered white to match the walls so it’s taking a bit to get here, but it’ll be worth it.

As a bonus the wifi will be blasting out about on the opposite side of a wall from the TV, so hopefully the TV will get amazing speeds, (which it doesn’t need), without even running a cable!

I once stayed in an AirBnB that refused to have wifi…

TIL. I thought the spec went beyond 6A, but maybe not all the way to 8. I’ll check the pricing, the “Cat 8” on Amazon is pretty cheap, but I was sorting cables yesterday and have a chunk of 6 or 6A and noticed how much thinner it was that the short piece of “Cat 8” I have. If it’ll give me a solid-ish 10 gigabit connection over the distance I need it’ll be easier to “hide” along the tops of the baseboards and around door frames.

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Not much insight, I just have regular 100Mb ATT internet in the US. But I do have flat cat 6 (pretty sure it’s 6) running from my router to a switch on my home office (nailed some clips in the ceiling/molding) and I have my thunderbolt dock for my MBP, Apple TV and Synology NAS hooked up to that switch. All runs fine. It’s just a regular $20 1gbe switch.

I’m not an IT pro but I know managed vs unmanaged basically means how the IP addresses are assigned; you can either manage them yourself or…not. I think for general home use and file sharing unmanaged will be fine.
I’m pretty sure 2.5 and 5 gbe switches are a thing too, I’d look at those unless you’re going to be editing a lot of 4K video on this network.