Date:17 January 2018
Add these devices to your existing home and you’ll be set for the smart home revolution, no drills required.
There are two ways to ready your house for intelligence: you either build the complex network of cabling into the structure, or your retrofit it. Retrofitting is fun if you have the time and tools, but it’s very disruptive and can look unsightly. Of course there’s another solution to reliably sending usable Internet to all the corners of your home. And of course that solution is pretty much plug and play, or else the header of this story would be very silly indeed. Here’s our fix to common home networking problems.
Problem 1: My area will never have fibre coverage and wireless broadband is too expensive for me right now.
The Fix: You need a reliable and fast Wi-Fi router with LTE failover and the fastest internet speeds that you can afford, or that your infrastructure can provide.
A solid foundation
Your router translates the incoming bandwidth to a language that your devices understand. The TP-Link AC750 (Archer MR200) is a dual-band Wi-Fi router capable of up to 300 MB/s on 2,4 GHz and 433 MB/s on the 5 GHz band. You also get CAT 4 4G/LTE speeds of up to 150 MB/s where supported. Of the four local area network (LAN) ports, one is a wide-area network (WAN) type: it takes the incoming data stream from a fibre/cable modem. There’s also a SIM slot and two removable antennas for LTE reception.
Use it with: the fastest Internet you can afford (VDSL is better than ADSL, especially for upload speed) and a top-up wireless data SIM to tide you over should someone steal or damage the copper cables. Ensure that the wireless data bundle has a long lifespan (minimum of 3 months)
Problem 2: I can’t get full Wi-Fi coverage in my house and hate those Wi-Fi range extenders because they don’t give me the speed I need.
The fix: You need a mesh network system. Eero, Plume and Google WiFi are the buzz brands when it comes to intelligent wireless access point management and deployment, but those solutions can be expensive and still only pass on a wireless signal that’s open to inteference. Hard cabling access points will always deliver better results.
We didn’t know that sending your Internet signal over electrical wiring was an option until we were intorduced to the TP-Link AV1200 Powerline kit. You plug an ethernet cable from your router into the main unit, plug that into a wall plug and then add up to 5 receiver units throughout your home by plugging them into the wall outlet as well. Each receiver transmits a dual-band AC Wi-Fi signal and the network supports multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) antenna technology with beamforming. You can also plug in an ethernet cable for wired Internet and the units have built-in plug points so you don’t lose the power outlet entirely.
Use it with: any connected device with an ethernet port. Cable connections are the most stable and will work best for streaming content, so definitely plug in your smart TV.
Problem 3: I have a ton of downloaded content on various portable hard drives. How do I let everyone on the network watch from anywhere?
The fix: network-attached storage (NAS) and a media network controller. Best practice is to plug the NAS box straight into your router and then use Plex or another universal plug and play (UPnP) management application to manage the network.
The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) announced in January of 2017 that it would dissolve as a non-profit because it had fulfilled its purpose. That purpose was to establish a wireless media interfacing standard and certify devices that comply. Certification is still being conducted by SpireSpark International. DLNA allows content streaming over the Wi-Fi network or directly (peer-to-peer) between devices over the Wi-Fi antennas. The HiMedia H8 is an Android-based set-top box that comes preloaded with a DLNA manager ¬– you can download one of your choice from Google Play if you want. For homes with mostly Apple devices, an Apple TV unit is your best bet to unlock network-wide AirPlay powers.
Problem 4: I don’t want to get an XtraView decoder installed, but want to watch DStv in my bedroom and keep the decoder in the lounge.
The fix: you need an HDMI extender. There are wireless solutions and ethernet cable solutions, but the DSTV Now application has become very good at streaming live footage over connections as slow as 2 MB/s. The caveat: you must have access to a DStv Premium account that operates on an Explora decoder. If you connect your Explora to the Internet you gain access to the extensive online CatchUp+ library and gain the ability to remotely set recording schedules or set programme reminders via DStv Now or the DStv Connect website.
Over the wire
Have a ton of unused speaker or alarm cable running through your house? This HDMI extender can send a truncated HD video signal (720p) as well as the associated audio over two-core flex cabling. You plug the HDMI source into the one box, connect your flex to the chocolate block connector and plug an HDMI cable in at the other end. There’s even an infrared (IR) repeater you can add at each end so you simply take the decoder remote to bed with you. The maximum range is 300 metres, which should be plenty. Flex is great, because it can run through the gaps in your window openings and is easier to conceal.
Problem 5: I want to play music in every room of the house, from any source, and control it all from a central hub.
The fix: Wi-Fi speakers. Samsung’s Wireless 360 Audio speaker is a great plug-and-play solution that can mesh together with other similar speakers on the proprietary Multiroom Link application. Most speaker manufacturers have their own variation of this solution, which can even intercept your music streaming service on the app level and then stream it to the speakers of your choice. You could also stream direct to a single speaker via Bluetooth (or two speakers simultaneously if you have a Samsung Galaxy S8). If you’re more into crafting your own speaker housing, or want to physically build your audio delivery system into your house, the Lumi Audio WSP-6 ceiling speaker is your perfect solution. Connect it via Wi-Fi, or hard cable ethernet or stereo; the choice
is yours. There’s no Bluetooth to be seen, but Airplay, DLNA and Wi-Fi direct are viable options. You can even stream direct from NAS as well as you favourite streaming service through the SmartSonix app. Don’t stress about output because there’s an amplifier built in.
Rock the airwaves
Playing your music over Wi-Fi to a wireless speaker allows for better quality audio because the bit rate tops out at your router’s maximum speed. Streaming from your local libraries won’t use any bandwidth, but take care streaming from music services because high bitrate/high resolution audio can come in quite heavy at around 50 MB for a four-minute track.
Products available at www.linkqage.co.za
Your network quality is only as good as the Internet coming in. Our testing was done on a 20 MB/s Telkom line, served over copper cable. Data is capped to 100 GB per month, with the TI Entertainment bolt-on, which allows for 100 GB of fair use streaming of Netflix, Showmax and DStv online content. The main ADSL connection is the fastest available and costs R700 a month, with an additional R100 for the TI bundle. Top-up data bundles are around R150 for 100 GB.
We mentioned earlier that VDSL is better, because it is. ADSL upload speed is 1 MB/s max, whereas VDSL can go up to 10 MB/s – very important if you work from home and need to transfer files.
Pro tips for mounting and cabling solutions, from someone who got it wrong enough times.
You may not know this, but your router wants to be the centre of attention. It also wants to be high. The single best thing I’ve done for my home network was to invest in an 802.11ac wireless router, drill holes to run Cat 6 cable from our cable router to a central location, hard cable the wireless router and put it on top of a cupboard. The four Wi-Fi signal antennas are arranged with two facing forwards and two facing to the back of the house. It’s helpful that 802.11ac has a large footprint and beamforming antennas, but the placement has made it easier to plug in range extenders to help relay signal through walls and trickier areas of the house. Bottom line: you don’t need to mount your router upside down, just higher so that it doesn’t need to pass through bodies or other obstacles simply to get out.
Cable management can also get crazy when upgrading your home’s smarts. Techflex makes various braided/woven cable management solutions with fire – or rodent – resistant properties, depending on your needs. I prefer the spiral sleeves because they’re easier to wrap around cables and it expands easier. No one likes a rat’s nest behind their PC or smart device; wrap it up.
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