If you’ve been delaying upgrading your network, keep delaying

If you’ve been procrastinating about deploying 450-megabit (802.11n) wi-fi to your house, I have a reason for you to procrastinate a while longer: Gigabit wireless (802.11ac).

It’s only about twice as fast as its predecessor, which pales next to the 8x improvement 802.11n provided over 802.11g, but if you’re wanting to stream HD media through your house, you’ll notice the difference.

Like 802.11n, it uses the 5 GHz space. So don’t buy any 5 GHz cordless phones–stick with 2.4 GHz and 900 MHz phones to avoid having your phone interfere with your wireless. Assuming you still use a landline, that is. I suppose the people most likely to deploy advanced wireless technologies are the same people most likely to use cellular exclusively.

There’s another wireless standard waiting in the wings too: 802.11ad, with a stunning 7 gigabit capacity. The problem with 802.11ad is its short range, so it’s more likely to be used for wirelessly connecting devices to displays than for networking throughout the home. It’s still useful–I’m sure people would love not having to use HDMI cables to connect devices to the flat-panel HDTV hanging on the wall–but you won’t be using it to quickly share files between a computer in the living room and a computer in the basement, for instance.

Unless your traffic hitches jumps onto a wired network to get between rooms, that is.

And that’s why it makes sense to be planning for 10-gigabit Ethernet. All I can find right now are switches with single 10-gigabit ports and server-grade 10-gig NICs, much like the situation with 1-gig Ethernet about 10 years ago. Right now 10-gig is overkill, since even high-end SSDs on both sides of the link would have difficulty saturating it. But Monoprice.com has 1,000 feet of CAT6 cable rated for 500 MHz (the minimum required for 10-gig) for around $110 and CAT5e for $79. CAT6 keystone jacks cost 30 cents more than their CAT5e equivalents. For that difference in price, if I were doing any wiring right now, I’d put in CAT6 to avoid having to do the work twice.

Having 10-gig running to strategic points in the house would make 7-gig wireless considerably more useful, since traffic between rooms could ride the wire. Just place an access point in any room where you want ultra high-speed wireless. And from a security standpoint, this is excellent, because the signal isn’t likely make it through the exterior walls of your house, and if it does, it will fade away in your yard. It’ll be a lot less susceptible to wardriving.

So that’s the future I’ll plan for, the next time I have any walls open, or any other reason to run any wire. Then I’ll have wire ready to go when capable equipment exists and is affordable.

That probably sounds ridiculous, but I remember in the 2002-2003 timeframe, 1-gig NICs cost a couple hundred apiece and a switch with a single 1-gig port and several 100-meg ports cost at least that. Today a lot of motherboards have 1-gig NICs built in, and you can pay anywhere from $10-$30 for a card depending on whether you’re buying Intel or no-name stuff out of the back of a van. And a 5-port switch from a company like Netgear or D-Link runs about $40.

Based on that, I think 10-gig wired Ethernet will be affordable before the end of the decade.

What will it be good for?

With local networking that fast, you’ll be able to transfer files at speeds that make you not care whether your storage is attached locally or to the network. Much like a corporate network, you’ll be able to get by with much smaller drives on whatever desktop and laptop PCs you have, and have one machine with oodles of storage to hold your movies, music, and photo collection because you’ll be able to access and view or play it at full speed. The faster our connection to the Internet is, the more useful all of this will be. But Google is rolling out 1-gigabit fiber optics to Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., now. If nobody else is willing to do it elsewhere, they will be.

And with all this high-speed networking on the horizon, people will come up with even more uses for it. In 2001, the idea of Netflix streaming high-definition video over the Internet and displacing video stores seemed ridiculous. Today, it’s the idea of driving a couple of miles and paying $5 to rent a movie on a VHS tape and having to drop it off again that seems ridiculous. And in 1991, everyone’s idea of ridiculously high speed communications was a dial-up modem running at 14.4 kbps. And in 1991, if you understood every word in the previous sentence, the consensus of the general population was that there was something wrong with you.

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