Truth in Networking®
The purpose of this document to identify commonly used terms in home networking and to establish their correct and accurate use. This paper will help sort fact from fiction, myth from reality and otherwise establish some Truth In Networking.
After reading this document, consumers will have a working and useful grasp of terms that will help them make informed decisions regarding their home network.
Wired or wireless?
The home network is essentially defined as the means by which consumers receive and access content from the Internet on any device, anywhere in the house. Pervasive and uninterrupted connectivity is the killer app in the home.
There are numerous technologies standards available for achieving this always-on connectivity but none is capable of doing everything. Wireless technology for instance, provides mobility and is easy to set up and use. This is particularly appealing for people (read: almost everyone) with a laptop, tablet, smart phone, et al. Nothing says convenience like “no wires.”
However, high definition video and whole home Internet access can be a challenge if there are several devices being used simultaneously. Problems with a wireless network may also arise if the type of construction materials are particularly thick or if the house is large and the signal must travel a greater distance and reach several rooms. High density living environments such as apartment buildings might cause interference with your neighbor’s, and vice versa. Though terrific for mobility, wireless technology does not always provide the consistently reliable connectivity end users expect.
Wired technologies, in support of Wi-Fi®, are often used to provide the reliability required for HD/UHD, gaming, streaming, content sharing and high speed Internet access around the home.
So which is best?
Power line, coax or Cat5/6?
Power line or electrical wiring is ubiquitous throughout the home as there outlets in every room including the garage and the patio. Products integrating power line technology such as HomePlug® are easy to use and install and like Wi-Fi, is more than adequate for small data packets and smart home applications such as regulating the thermostat.
But power line is prone to interference when other appliances are in use and is generally unable to sustain the bandwidth needed for whole-home, Internet access or multi-room DVR applications where speed and reliability are critical to a satisfactory experience. Power line effectiveness is also dependent on the age of the wiring and may not work at all in an older home.
Coaxial cabling was originally designed for video. Though outlets are not as common as power line, they are found where people watch TV. In the U.S., three, four and even five coax outlets are common. In addition, coax is inherently secure and immune to interference as it is a shielded medium. Coax also has lots of bandwidth so is not effected by the number of devices on the network. Coax provides the performance and reliability that other wired mediums frankly, cannot.
Cat5/6 or Ethernet is shielded and is capable of the performance and reliability of coax, but it is not an incumbent wire. Recently built homes may have Ethernet cabling already in place, but older homes will have to incur the cost and inconvenience of installing new cabling. So while the performance is on par with coax, the cost of a new wire far exceeds the cost of an existing wire.
Phone line is used for wired telephony but not for any other applications including Internet access. While every house has copper wiring for their landline phone it is not suitable for home networking applications including Internet access and is therefore not included in this document.
Essentially there are two metrics for measuring performance. One is the theoretical data rate and the other is the actual data rate. The former is usually listed on the package but is never actually realized even in the most pristine of lab environments. The latter is the rate you actually get in your home.
When the packaging states that the product inside is capable of a data rate of 200 Mbps (Megabits per second) for instance, that is the theoretical (or what is referred to as the PHY rate), not the actual or net (or MAC) rate.
Of course, the higher the number, the more valuable the product, right? Not always. The end user is seduced into thinking that more is better, when in fact more is often less.
Ask the vendor or the sales staff if they know the actual data rate. If they refer to the number on the package, start walking.
MoCA 2.0 offers two performance modes of 400 and 800 Megabits per second (Mbps). This is the performance you will actually get.
High performance is desirable of course, but so is reliability. High speed that is intermittent and unpredictable is not a solution. Will I download that movie from Netflix in two minutes or two hours? Will it consistently stream or will it be affected by buffering? Both high speed and reliability are required for consistent delivery of content and whole home Internet access.
Many home networking technology standards claim to be capable of high speed but none can claim reliability with any degree of certainty. MoCA had conducted field tests and has demonstrated 400 Mbps in 90 percent of all outlets. No other technology except Cat5/6 can make this reliability claim.
A comparison of the various home network technology standards is available at www.mocalliance.org and is titled, “Performance and reliability: Home networking technology standard comparison.”
Interoperability vs. compatibility
These terms are often used interchangeably but they are not the same.
Compatibility generally means coexistence. This means that two technologies, products or services can reside in the same network or system without interfering with each other’s operation.
Interoperability means each succeeding version of a networking specification can interact with the one previous. This means that the equipment bought today will work with the new equipment bought tomorrow.
Interoperability includes backward compatibility. Backward compatibility does not always mean backward interoperability.
Think of it as being friendly with your neighbors (compatibility) and having them over for a BBQ (interoperability).
Every version of MoCA is guaranteed to work with the one previous. This means the equipment you bought a year ago is not obsolete when new equipment is connected.
Home networking economics
Something to always consider when evaluating and setting up a home network is the cost of purchase vs. the cost of operation. If the purchase cost of a wireless router or power line adapter is low but the network does not work reliably, than the overall cost is actual high due to additional equipment purchases as well as lost productivity. A low purchase price but with high maintenance costs results in an expensive network, not a cheap one.
Think of the car that is inexpensive to purchase but is in continuous need of repair and which you cannot be sure will start in the morning. A more expensive car can be less expensive to operate, and overall is the most cost-effective means of transportation.
Same principle applies with a home network.
Cheaper is always more expensive in the long run.
Solution or alternative?
To sum up, a complete and comprehensive home network will need more than one technology standard. But when confronted with claims and marketing speak, make sure the number on the package is what you will actually get in your home. Ask for the definition of reliability and outlet coverage, and be very suspect of claims of backward compatibility. Chances are it is not backward interoperable.
When it comes to performance, reliability and cost-effective network management and operation, MoCA technology is a proven solution.
The rest are merely alternatives.