Will 5G Cellular Data and WiFi 6 end the need for wired networks for good?

With 5G cellular data now a reality, it seems like now would be the time to really cut the cord for good.  Recently my neighbor and I “cut the cord”, but it just meant we stopped paying the cable company for TV.  Why people call that “cutting the cord” I don’t know.  We still have a cord to bring us TV but now we pay YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, Fubo, Disney and who knows who else instead of the local cable company. That is when it really works. There are many areas I need to select 4G LTE data for my phone to work properly even though the screen shows 5 bars of 5G.

Believe The Hype?

The first TV ads for 5G cellular show phones nearly 2 gigabytes per second (GBs).  Carriers are advertising cellular internet plans and internet backup over 5G.  At 2 gbps, the speed is better than most home networking wired speeds.  The cellular companies would love for you to get a cellular data plan for every device in the house.  Going truly wireless and cutting the cord completely is now an option.  Except for the real cost.  Connecting home computers and printers isn’t that easy just yet.  

When it comes to computers and smart devices we talk about wireless in two ways.  Cellular Data or WiFi.  My solar system on my house has both.  The solar company chooses Cellular Data.  When I asked the owner he told me it was because the number of calls he was getting after the owners changed the Wifi password.   He realized the way to eliminate the nightmare customer complaining was to pay the small extra fee for the cellular system.

Recently we did use Verizon 5G at a somewhat remote area to live stream a wedding to over 300 viewers since they were locked down under Covid restrictions. Sometimes 5G is impressive.

Home Security Goes 5G? 

My home security system has a cellular back up as well.  There are “repeaters” that will hit the market soon and having the cellular company become the third choice of ISP will be an interesting thing to see as it evolves.  Right now in my area the local cable companies are only charging $39 per month plus tax for 500/500 internet.  That means about 500 Megabytes per second (MBs) upload and down load.  That is not even 1/6 the speed the 5G carriers are bragging about, but there is a difference.

First, let’s put a little perspective on speed.  4K streaming of an uncompressed raw video is about 150 MBs.  So if you only had 300/300 two people could watch 4k uncompressed raw video from a professional studio shot on a cinema camera.  The reality is that most 4K streaming is compressed using something like the new h.265 standard and is not raw data.  Netflix advises 25MBs for 4K streaming.  So why does a phone really need 2 GBs, or nearly 8 times the speed?  Honestly I don’t know.  We had 75/75 until a week ago and honestly can’t tell the difference.

Second think about all the times your cell signal skips, stops, and then picks up after you lost the call.  Is that what you want your entire work and home life to be like?  5G is good but…

So What About WiFi and WiFi6?

The July 2004 Tech Living Magazine cover said “Wired v Wireless”.  On the inside I discussed the wildly fast WiFi speed of 54gbps. While that magazine is long gone, the discussion of Wired vs. Wireless continues as speed and reliability improve. I am writing this on a laptop in my office that is connected to the internet and the rest of the network connected devices via a gigabit ethernet connection.  Or I am writing this on my laptop at the office connecting over WiFi?  Either way the network speeds are nearly identical.  

All but one of the printers at home and the office have WiFi built in.  That said, WiFi is turned off for security reasons.  Easy hack you know.  Every desktop, printer and video screen is hard wired at the office and the stereo rack and TV are also hard wired at home. The liability of losing customer information is just too scary.  

The networks at home and the office are the same layout.  A main combination WiFi router connects to the ISP.  A single wire connects  segments for each “zone”.  Each segment has a switch and WiFi router.  Early on I learned to design even simple home networks to follow the same guidelines as the big networks I built for big companies.

The spec is simple.  Each location that has a desk or electronics gets a triple run Cat5e, Cat6 and RG-6QS cable.  It doesn’t matter if it is a Video screen in the conference room or a TV in a bedroom or a home office desk or work desk.

Meshing It Up

The WiFi System at both my home and office is a High speed mesh network.  I don’t use the cable company router, the main mesh node is also my router.  This allows me to set up a point to point network so I can access the servers from home without having them open to the entire network.  The office only has two computers and wired only connections are used at the main router’s wired ports.

Easy Guide to Network

Our home system is very straight forward and way over built for the size of my home.  There are three segments.  Following my basic design philosophy, each segment has a WiFi router acting as hot spot and a switch to wire everything in that area together.  The three WiFi routers now create a “mesh” network so I can walk around with a laptop and not lose signal anywhere.

This design philosophy keeps the network very efficient and easy to troubleshoot and maintain.  Once upon a time “broadcast storms” were once common.  By separating out the network into segments like this, I could go to the main hub and unplug each segment.  When the lights stopped running solid, I would know which are to go restart devices.  That said, I haven’t seen a “broadcast storm” in years and haven’t had a single hard wired failure in the last ten years.

WiFi Does Work, Most Of The Time

Overall I am very happy with my WiFi mesh network.  While my home internet has 500Mbs upload and download speeds, the WiFi only has 300 MBs of available through put.  The reality is that the new WiFi mesh we just installed has enough bandwidth for four people to stream 4k TV, play video games and play music on a smart assistant.  

Since I upload and download raw 4k video files, I do come close to using all of the bandwidth a few moments each day.  That computer is hard wired.  The ReQuest movie server (yup still have mine and still like it) does use a little bandwidth as it sync’s and that is all on the wired side of the network.

One of the biggest downfalls of wireless, even with a mesh network is simple reliability.  Your neighbors might jump on the same channel as yours and suddenly you are slowing down.  When you open your WiFi network settings, how many networks do you see?  I can see six and I live in a spread out neighborhood.  I have been in a Starbucks downtown and seen as many as 30 at one sitting.  

Admittedly I only need two WiFi routers for my house, but the bar-b-que area slowed down to 40Mbs.  For no other reason than to have 300 Mbs evenly around the house I added the third router to the network mesh.  The previous network had three hotspots because it could not cover the house with two hotspots.  

My neighbor had similar issues with another brand of hotspots, Outside we were both jamming the entire block. We each removed a hotspot and the problems were solved.

Before Home Mesh Networks

My previous network was the Apple Airport WiFi System with one Airport Extreme as the router.  Each zone or segment had another Airport Extreme.  The main Airport Extreme did not have enough hard wired ports so I added a switch right underneath it.  The main switch was connected to a network switch in each “zone” or “segment” as I like to call them.  

Each zone had a network switch, and the is how the local Airport Extreme was connected.  This saved the bandwidth so the WiFi devices weren’t using band width to connect to each other.  Many mesh networks are “dual band or tri band” meaning they connect wirelessly.  

The new mesh network was literally a one for one replacement of the Apple Airport Extreme WiFi Routers.  When we upgraded our internet speed, we were also able to remove the cable company router from the mix.  This increased speed, reliability and removed one more device that might be causing an issue some day.  

The new mesh network hubs only have two hard wired ports.  One for inbound, one for outbound.  At first they need to be connected so the network could be set up.  The routers were set up in a “daisy chain” in my office first. After running the setup, I just replaced the Airport Extreme WiFi Hubs.

The entire WiFi setup was done with an app on my phone in under 30 minutes.

There are now WiFi routers that can reach nearly 3 Gbs.  That is 10 Times the speed of the WiFi network I chose.  If you are a gamer these higher speed routers might be what you are looking for.  With the main network hard wired, the WiFi needed even coverage over speed. Even with our lower speed WiFi 5G Cellular Data won’t match those speeds anytime soon.

WiFi Challenges

Some of the energy saving construction techniques used in my home also limit WiFi range and reliability.  Radiant barrier roof sheeting for instance is a great radio frequency blocker and reflector.  It is part of why I only see six WiFi networks.  With three WiFi routers instead of two there are fewer reflections of signals in the house. It turned out the reflections cause the network to slow down. With just one router the system automatically adds power. That extra power creates more reflections.  

Modern WiFi routers adjust power and signal strength to the minimum required to get maximum speed.  With just two hubs the reflections caused the hubs to keep ramping up power. The added power increased the problems, and slowed network speeds.

It took very expensive network sniffers to get my home network figured out.  Once I realized the problem and added the third WiFi router everything worked.  My neighbor sees 11 different networks and can run his network with one super WiFi router.  His house is original 1970 construction.  In addition to the radiant barrier, we discovered that rock wool insulation and acoustic loaded vinyl barrier can also reduce WiFi reliability in small spaces.  

Metal building construction, lath and plaster walls and even cell phones can have some impact on WiFi performance.  By having three low power hubs instead of a super hub, the WiFi mesh creates a more even coverage across my home and yard.  When testing from the same room as the super router next door, the WiFi easily outpaces the network speeds.  In the garage they are about even.  In the yard speeds are a little slower but still plenty good for most work or home needs.

Wired still wins

With the option of endlessly expandable WiFi mesh networks, single super high powered all in one WiFi routers and 5G Cellular Data networks, why do I still think wired is the way to go?  It comes down to a couple of simple truths in the world of networking.  In the ten years I have owned my current house, not once has a wired device failed to connect or had difficulties connecting as long as the ISP connection was live.

At then end of the day, no one has ever called me to ask for help with the wired network after it is connected and is working.  When a wired network has an issue, it is 99% of the time the wire itself.  A simple wire tester will find the problems quickly.  WiFi has more questions than answers.  The installation apps that come with many new WiFi routers over simplify and a little online knowledge just adds to the confusion.  I could start another business just supporting WiFi installations.

If you turn off the wireless connections on TV’s and printers, that is just one less place a neighbor can warhog your network or worse, take you down.  If you have kids, they neighbor kid might do it just to get a better ranking on a game.  Yup, it happens all the time.  The only way to do that on a wired network is to come over and plug in. 

The reality is that we are all going to have some combination of wired and wireless networking 5G or otherwise if we have mission critical data.  Without a connection to my home and office servers via a virtual private network or VPN, I am dead in the water and my income stops.  

Imagine your work week without internet or network access.

About Scott Bourquin

Scott Bourquin aka “The Cool Toys Guy” finished his military career as a KC-10 Instructor pilot in the Air Force Reserves. With a severe case of ADHD, Scott never stops moving. While serving multiple rotations in support of Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Scott continued his quest to build a business centered on CoolToys. 

Scott is one of just a handful lucky enough to have gone through the THX Home Theater Certification at Skywalker Ranch. People started calling Scott the Cool Toys guy as he built his home theater and smart house business. He has writing in CEPro and Tech Living as well as performed as a stage speaker and trainer at CEDIA and CES. He is a best selling author,

In 2009 Scott sold the home theater business and returned to SoCal to be closer to his family, resume surfing, while still flying jets and racing cars. Unable to shake the need to keep moving and still having the reputation as the CoolToys guy, he took over his uncles marketing business, and kept growing the CoolToys Blog. In 2017 he decided to do what he was telling his marketing clients and make a video. CoolToys TV was born.  

Scott is still involved in the A/V and Tech business as a writer and speaker.  His Book, The Easy Guide To Internet and Network Stuff is available on Amazon and Apple Books .

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