WiFi might be great for laptops and smartphones, but in terms of speed and reliability it is still far behind ethernet. This is why I have installed ethernet cabling throughout my house.
The Internet have come a long way since I first started using it. Moving from dial-up connected to a single computer to a cable modem and ethernet connections to todays WiFi/ethernet combo allowing dozens of devices to connect – but somewhere along the road it has gone downhill.
Wireless connectivity might be fantastic for mobility, but it still suffers from congestion, interference, and poorer speeds compared to ethernet. A second problem is connecting older computers that use 802.11b to a network with 802.11g devices will bring the whole network down to the slower speed: this isn’t good for someone who mixes new machines and low-end computers and for someone with a lot of devices on their network. Thirdly, while most computers these days have WiFi built in, older computers either don’t have it or are limited to 802.11b cards, and even finding these can be expensive.
Apple’s Wireless & Ethernet
Apple introduced 802.11b WiFi to the Mac with the first iBook – the clamshell – in July 1999 and the Power Mac G4 Sawtooth in September 1999 in the form of AirPort. It wasn’t until the 12” PowerBook G4 (January 2003), Power Mac G4 FireWire 800 (January 2003), and iBook G4 (October 2003) that 802.11g was offered, calling it AirPort Extreme.
Compare that to when ethernet was brought in. The Power Macintosh 9500 in May 1995 had the first 10-BaseT, folioed by the PowerBook Kanga in November 1997 (although also optional on the 3400c in February 1997).
Ethernet had been around long before that, in various coaxial forms. However, 10-BaseT became the new standard in the early 90s, followed by 100-Base and 1000-Base (a.k.a. Gigabit).
10/100 ethernet was first available on the Blue & White Power Mac G3 in January 1999 and Lombard PowerBook G3 in May 1999 and and gigabit ethernet was introduced with the Power Mac G4 Gigabit (a.k.a. Mystic) in July 2000 and the 550 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 in October 2001.
At around the time Apple was introducing wireless 802.11b in mid 1999 with its maximum bandwidth of 11 Mbps, it had also started using 10/100 ethernet with its maximum bandwidth of 100 Mbps in its Macs – and shortly after that 10/100/1000, which far outpaced WiFi, and it still does today.
WiFi vs. Ethernet
Apple released OS X 10.9 Mavericks in October 2013, and I started downloading it on my MacBook over WiFi. I know the servers were struggling to cope with demand, and it estimated 17 hours for the download. For some reason I decided to connect my MacBook via ethernet and restarted the download, and it estimated 55 minutes. Less than an hour later it was done.
I had not noticed this difference in speeds before. With a fairly decent 18 MB ADSL broadband I reach download speeds of 1.8 MB/s, and this was on both WiFi and ethernet, so what was causing this I don’t know.
My wife’s Intel iMac was already connected via ethernet – purely because it is less than a metre from my router, so it just made sense – and she experienced super quick loading and rock solid stability.
The room directly above the router has my daughter’s Mac in it, and the wireless signal was fine in there (albeit 802.11b). The other room struggles to get a stable signal when connecting Windows machines, but oddly my MacBook and iPhone connect fine.
Cabling Up My House
So I started thinking about how I could push a good, fast, and stable connection to computers in various rooms in my house. I already had small holes drilled in most walls and ceilings to feed television cables through, so widened them – adding one upstairs – and began planning what equipment I would need to push an ethernet point to each room. Here is what I went with:
- A TP Link TL-SG1005D 5 port gigabit ethernet switch.
- 2x 0.5 metre ethernet cables. (Yellow)
- 1 metre ethernet cable. (Grey)
- 5 metre ethernet cable. (Grey)
- 2x 10 metre ethernet cables. (Grey)
- And my existing BTHomeHub 2 b/g/n wireless modem/router with 4 ethernet ports.
- Broadband connection provided by TalkTalk. 18MB ADSL.
My router (a BTHomeHub 2) sits in this room and takes in my ADSL cable. I now have three ethernet cables in this. The yellow one goes in to my Sky+ box (a PVR) allowing catchup and on-demand TV.
A grey cable goes in to my wife’s Intel iMac. The final grey cable is a 5 metre one that goes through the wall into the next room.
The grey cable from the other room feeds in to the back of the TP Link switch, as does a short yellow cable that goes down to the Windows 8 tower sitting underneath the switch.
Two grey cables, both 10 metres long, go from the switch and feed up through a hole in the ceiling to the bedroom above. This leaves one free port on the switch.
Both 10 metre cables enter the same room via the whole in the floor. One of those will go to a Windows XP tower in the same room when it is up and running, but it is currently connected to a Acer Aspire netbook. The other grey cable then feeds through a hole in that room into the room next to it.
The final cable fed from the previous room connects to my daughter’s Power Mac G4.
After a lot of drilling and cable feeding, the final results are great. My DIY skills are a little rough, but any holes will be covered with furniture.
This project has saved my daughter’s G4 from a life offline – as its 802.11b Airport card had to be removed to stop it from slowing down the rest of the network and was on the verge of being passed on to someone else.
The Windows 8 tower that was suffering from poor WiFi speeds now screams long. The XP tower is having other issues; however, I tested the network connection in that room using a Acer Aspire One running Elementary OS, and it performed brilliantly.
Everything is working fine. WiFi is now only used for portable devices, such as phones with my MacBook being the only computer.
Ethernet is here to stay, at least for the next few years, and while WiFi is improving rapidly, for now and for those older machines, ethernet is the fastest and easiest route.
My current switch only has one spare port on it, so I might replace this with an 8- or 16-port switch. Either that or I might put a second switch upstairs to feed more ethernet points on in the bedrooms. For now everything can sit how it is.
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