Snapshot in Time: IP Home Networking


Nine months ago, I put out a call-for-tally amongst my Facebook pals: Count the things in your place that have (and use) an IP (Internet Protocol) connection, either wired or wireless. The high at press time, back in October 2010, was Steve R., with 33.

Since then, I took on a summer intern, Kirsten, to build out an over-the-top video lab of sorts. This means we tricked out a back room of the office with the following: Comcast box, Xbox, Boxee box, Roku, Apple TV, GoogleTV. Panasonic-connected TV, Samsung-connected Blu-ray player, TiVo Premiere box, iPad.

Prior to this exercise, my tally of things that needed an IP address at work was six. Post-lab? Sixteen.

Granted, this is a corner case. Everything in the lab will be used to simulate recreational use, to see why it is that consumers will go to the “connected” side of the connected TV.

One thing is clear so far: Some things just work better with a wire. Big screens (HDTVs), certain “connected” things - the best in the digital garden.

Case in point: In getting this set up, we moved the combo cable modem/VoIP box from my desk to the lab, to get at the extra Ethernet connectors on its back panel.

We lugged the Wi-Fi router in there, too, so we could still have a signal on our laptops; it all worked in the new location. Thrilling! Not so thrilling: Dust bunnies the size of small dogs, hiding behind the heavy objects that needed to be moved, to get to the wires that needed to be moved.

Then I went back to the desk to make a call. (Yes, I still use a wired desk phone.) No signal. No fax. Scoff if you will that these are archaic devices - most of us still use them.

This began an investigation of whether we needed a second cable modem, and how that would work, or whether the structured wiring in the building is sufficient to connect up the phones and fax without additional gear.

If you like puzzles, home networking is kind of fun. In a dusty, sneezy, geez-I-hopethis- works-because-I-really-need-signaltoday way.

The point is this: As everyday consumers knowingly or unknowingly increase the number of things in their lives that need an IP connection, it’s probably good to be ready to solve the many use cases that will invariably pop up. Headless gateways that can plunk onto a shelf in the garage are great, in some ways, but … the wire is still best, here in the summer of 2011.

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