Growing up as a child of the 80s, I had no idea or concept of a home network. No one I knew had a computer at home, and I didn’t even know what the Internet was. My first exposure to computer networks was in college where dozens of computer labs were spread across campus. We were able to send instant messages to other students, collaborate on shared files, and even play video games with people across the world. These capabilities blew my mind.
I saw the future, and there was no going back. For the first few years out of college, I never had more than one computer. I focused on making sure I could access the Internet from home to download music, send emails, and surf the web. I went from a dial-up Internet connection to ISDN to DSL, and finally to cable. My 1 Mbps download speed seems paltry by today’s standards, but it was screaming fast to me back then.
As the years flew by, the dot-com boom (and bust) of the early 2000s changed the Internet and the world of home networking. My life changed too. I got married, and immediately there was a need for two computers at home to connect to the Internet. Back then, I just had a modem from my cable company plugged directly into my computer. I didn’t even have the equipment to get two computers in my house onto the Internet. This is when I started learning about home networks.
I figured out that I needed a router to share my Internet connection. That was just the beginning. As time rolled on, we wanted to share files, add more computers, stream video and audio to devices, put computers and network devices in different rooms, add wireless devices to our network, and… the list goes on and on. The more I began to rely on the Internet the more I realized I needed to worry about security too!
Fast forward to today, and robust home and wireless networks are a requirement for modern living. Video conferencing, watching TV, gaming, and so much more—all rely on your home network. If you are the person who is responsible for your home network, then you know that members of your household take it for granted when the network works well and lose their minds when it doesn’t.
Do you want your network to support your household and all the devices in your home? Do you want your Wi-Fi to be rock solid without dead spots or disconnections? Do you want to make sure all the devices in your home are protected from malware, ransomware, and other hacking? If so, keep reading. This book gives you all the tools you need to have the high-performing, secure, and reliable home network that today’s technologies demand.
About This Book
Who Is This Book for?
Routers, modems, switches, firewalls, hubs. ADSL, fiber, cable, cellular. The terms bandied about in the home networking world can become overwhelming and confusing in a hurry. Even if you are familiar with most, or all of these terms, combining them to get the best network possible can become overwhelming. In today’s world, being able to set up a home network is more important than being able to set up a TV. Whether you live in a house or an apartment, are a boomer or a millennial, you rely heavily on your home network and the Internet for your quality of life.
This book is for anyone who wants to set up or improve their home network so that everyone in their home and every device can rely on it without constant fiddling. You don’t want your streaming videos to buffer, and you don’t want to be kicked out of your game because your Wi-Fi dropped. You want Zoom sessions with family and friends to be crisp and clear and your home network, computers, phones, and streaming sticks safe from hackers.
Perhaps you’ve already got your home network set up, but you are struggling in a couple of areas. Maybe you are looking to improve your home network but don’t know where to start. Or you could be moving to a new home and starting from scratch. If any of these situations apply to you, then this book is for you.
When you are done reading this book, you’ll know the following:
What components make up a home network, and which components you need in your home
How to make your home network fast
How to have solid and reliable Wi-Fi throughout your home
How to secure your home network from hackers
How to evaluate your current home network and make improvements
How to set up a home network from scratch and do it the right way
While this book is targeted at those who will build and maintain their own home networks, it’s also useful for those who will have someone else build or maintain their home networks. Having the knowledge of how things work can help you better describe to your network technician what you want to accomplish and what problems you are having. Knowledge of home networking is important for everyone, even if you aren’t building your own network.
How to Use This Book
This book steps you through building a home network from scratch. It starts by providing a foundation of knowledge and then using that knowledge steps you through the process of building and improving your home network. If you read this book sequentially, you’ll learn the key components and technologies that make up a home network, and the way to first plan your own home network and then to build, secure, maintain, and improve it.
Many people reading this book won’t be starting their home network from scratch. For those readers, this book can be used as a reference. The layout and chapters make it easy to quickly find the home networking information you’re looking for.
Be sure to take advantage of the glossary, checklists, diagrams, sample network builds, and additional resources in the appendix. Home network technology involves a lot of jargon, and the glossary is there to explain all these technical terms. The checklists give you a quick way to track your progress in accomplishing the recommendations you’ll find in each chapter. Finally, the additional resources in the appendix are links to up-to-date home technology resources.
Conventions Used in This Book
Here are the conventions used in this book, which highlight important information:
What I Do – In several sections of this book, I give specific information and address the discussed topics in the context of my own home. For example, in the home network security section, I discuss some of the security steps I’ve taken. I’m not suggesting what I do is the best thing for everyone. Instead, these sections are intended to give you real-world, practical examples of what’s possible.
Key Takeaways – At the end of each part, I provide a checklist of the key information that you can use as a summary for quick reference.
How Do I Do That? – Throughout the book, you’ll find advice and solutions to common home network scenarios you are likely to encounter and decisions you may face.
Part 1: Introduction to Home Networks
What Is a Home Network?
A computer network is a group of computers that share information and resources with each other. In many ways, a computer network is just like your network of friends and family. You share stories and information with your friends. Sometimes you ask your friends and families to tell you things, like what movie they recommend. Sometimes you tell a friend something, and that friend tells another one of your friends the same thing. Computer networks work the same way. Sometimes a computer sends information to another computer in its network. Sometimes it receives information from a computer in its network. Sometimes the information it sends and receives travels from computer to computer before reaching its final destination, just like your friend telling another person something you told them.
Using this friends-and-family analogy, you can view your home network like the network composed of friends and family that live with you. Some information you may want to share with the people in your home only (private family information, information that is useful for household members only, etc.). Some things you don’t mind sharing or learning from your network outside your home (updates from extended family, discussing vacation plans, etc.). In your home computer network, there are things you may want accessible on your home network only (financial records, home videos, printers), and there are things you want to access and share with computers outside your home network (e.g., online games, websites, home videos you want to share with others).
A home network usually starts with your Internet connection, which is shared with all of the computers (this includes mobile phones, printers, smart devices, etc.) in your home network by your router. The router also allows all of the computers in your home to talk to each other. You may have more wired devices than the router has connections for. In this case, you probably have a network switch that connects multiple wired computers to your home network.
I know I just threw a lot of terms at you. Don’t worry if you aren’t familiar with all of them. I’ll explain them in detail shortly.