I see a lot of people get excited to jump into home automation and often because of this excitement (or laziness) they do not plan out the system they will be implementing over however long it takes them. Most people do not jump in and connect everything they can in one shot, most do things a few devices at a time which makes it even more important to have a plan. One of the first things to sit and plan out in my opinion is your network.
When planning your network, you need to think about the devices that will be connected today and what will be connected in the future because who really wants to replace network gear as your network grows. The important factors to consider are; What speed internet are you getting from your ISP? How many wired devices will you have in place and how will you handle distribution to those? What type of Wi-Fi coverage do you need? What type of load are you going to place on your network? I am sure people could rattle off plenty more important factors, but these are the major ones in my eyes.
First let’s talk about the speed you are going to get from your ISP, this can be very important and for a lot of people may not be something you have a choice in as only one speed may be available. When considering speed from your ISP you do need to consider both upload and download speed and upload is usually overlooked because people do not think about how they are going to use the network….FYI if you are going to do any cameras you need to be able to upload high resolution video, or if you want to control things from your phone that information must first go UP to the cloud! My recommendation here is to get the most speed that you can reasonable afford from your ISP, and if Gigabit is available get it (but make sure your wiring and devices can support it)!
Once the internet is coming to your house your journey has begun. The first thing to do is buy some high quality network switches and a good Wi-Fi router. You might say “hey my ISP gave me a modem router combo why do I need anything else” well that’s simple, what they gave you in junk and your best bet would be to replace it with your own modem and the previously mentioned high quality network switches and a good Wi-Fi router, but most of you are not going to do that so at a minimum put that piece of junk into bridge mode and go out into a network switches and then into a Wi-Fi router. Network switches can be pretty generic but it is very important to get switches rated for your internet speed, typically because the cost is not all that much different just get a switch that can support Gigibit speed and personally I am a fan of Netgear switches but that may change based off of your choice for Wi-Fi. I am a big fan of mesh Wi-Fi and have been using Eero for some time now. In the future I will most likely switch to an Amplifi system. For most people mesh really is going to be the way to go as you do not have to worry about running wires for access points and can easily flood your home (both inside and out) with high speed Wi-Fi. But its not just about speed you also have to be able to manage the network easily and I have to say the Eero app gives me the ability to control my network and easily identify devices connected to it which is priceless and can really simplify your life. For example, the setup of my Raspberry Pi based whole home ad-blocker, Pi-hole was a snap because I could easily change my DNS settings.
Once you know the gear that is going to run your system, the next step is to start planning out the location of devices and how they will connect. Bottom line on this anything missions critical that can be wired should be wired! The way I have my system setup I come out of my modem and go into my first Eero, then out of that Eero into a Netgear switch. This switch is dedicated to my SmartThings Hub, my Hue Hub, my Lutron Hub and my Raspberry Pi based Pi-hole and nothing else. This is all placed centrally in my house. If things are going to fail I want those to be the last to go. From here I go mesh out to two additional Eero nodes (one on each end of the house that also has a Netgear switch attached to it. This gives me all the wired and wireless internet I need. It can also stand up to the rigorous demands I put on the system from time to time.
You absolutely need to think about the amount of stress you are going to put on the system. I have roughly 60 devices connected to my network at any one time and at least 12 of those are high bandwidth video devices which include 6 Wyze Cams, two Ring Video Doorbell Pros, two Ring Floodlight Cams, and two Ring Spotlight Cams. I read on Ring User Groups all day long about people having problems with connectivity and you know what, I do not have these problems because I thought about where devices were going and what I would need in place to support them. I have no problem streaming from multiple cameras at one time in full resolution and I do not have Gigibit internet. If you are going to put thought into nothing else think about where devices will be in relation to network gear and take speed test and signal to noise readings at the locations where devices will be.
If you take nothing else out of this article please leave with one thing, do your homework before you start buying things. Understand they types of network coverage you are going to need so you do not end up on one of the user groups out there complaining about connectivity issues and blaming product when at the end of the day it is most likely your network. I would recommend to everyone go with a mesh Wi-Fi system. I love my Eero system and I hear a lot of good things about most others. You do not need to be and IT Administrator to do this you just need to research and put some thought and common sense into the design of the system from start to end and if you figure it out in the beginning you will be able to spend more time enjoying your system in the end with less time spent troubleshooting.
What are some of the things you have done to make sure your network met your needs? Let me know in the comments below.
I am passionate about the IoT and connected devices. Using connectivity to automate our lives will empower civilization to achieve greatness.