Friday, 10 March 2017 16:40

Home network myths busted – where is it going?


Whole home Wi-Fi and home automation are the two main game changers in home networking now, with lots of supplementary drivers, the head of a major networking company says.

Graeme Reardon, managing director, D-Link Australia, told iTWire in an interview that as far as home automation there were things like Apple's HomeKit, although there were other solutions as well.

Reardon probably knows more about home and small-to-medium business networking than most and he is willing to share that knowledge.

After starting with D-Link in 2000, he joined Cisco as regional director of the Consumer Business Group, did some time at Multimedia Technologies (a networking distributor) and returned to D-Link in 2013.


This writer attempts to to catch up with him every year to get an updated Australian perspective on home/SOHO (small office/home office) networking and where it is heading.

Q. Where is home networking heading?

I think there are two main game changers at present and lots of supplementary drivers.

First, is whole home Wi-Fi (WHW) and the second is home automation like Apple’s HomeKit, although there are many other home automation solutions.

Second, the drivers relate to an increase in the number of connected devices, the increase in streaming of music and even 4K video content, increasing on-line game play, and the increasing number of devices that need to be connected to the network.

A typical home could have 20 or more devices – mobile phones, tablets, desktops, games console, TVs, set-top boxes, DVD/Blu-ray, media centre, Wi-Fi speakers, AV amp, home network storage, security cameras, smart locks, and smart appliances.

This means you need a Wi-Fi network that can cope and cover your whole home, otherwise, there’s going to be bottlenecks, buffering and a lot of grumpy family members.

Whole Home Wi-Fi – what do you mean?

Until recently most home networks put up with Wi-Fi G or N – 2.4GHz and later 5GHz bands. While 2.4GHz can penetrate most home walls it is slower. 5GHz is faster but does not have the distance coverage.

Australian homes, as distinct from units or apartments, are generally larger and the result is an uneven signal strength throughout the house. If you have an N or G router, then two things are sure. First, you are not going to get enough signal to be useful all over the house and second, you can forget streaming music, let alone video, anywhere but to devices a couple of metres away from the router.

On that point our studies show that 99% of routers are not placed in the best position to provide even home coverage — either stuck away in a cupboard or too far from the TV to stream even 720p content — let alone HD or 4K.

A few years ago, D-Link Australia looked at the issue, including the unique Wi-Fi destroying “tin” roofs in many homes and developed Whole Home Wi-Fi (WHW) concept – in fact, D-Link Australia and New Zealand lead the rest of the D-Link regions in the development of a seamless network that provides good coverage everywhere.

D Link WoH logoAll D-Link products with the WHW logo will interconnect and offer networking across a single SSID (Service Set IDentifier) broadcast from the main router. We think our solution is best because it allows you to use a router, range extender, Powerline (Ethernet over Power), or even a USB dongle to give coverage. Essentially, WHW gives you one big wireless network around your home, all with the same name. No more separate networks with confusing and frustrating names.

As a bonus, this means with WHW you can use various D-Link products starting at ‘entry-level’ AC750 devices, all the way up to AC5300 devices, which give you greater speeds and the ability to handle more devices simultaneously depending on your budget and size of your property, however, if your still finding Wi-Fi blackspots, simply buy a Whole home Wi-Fi compatible range extender to cover them.

Q. Home Automation is still a long way off – why is it a game changer?

If you use a recent iOS device, baked into it is its HomeKit app that will control an ever-increasing range of home devices.

D-Link has just released its Omna 180 HD Camera that is HomeKit compatible but the real value is in the entire ecosystem covering motion sensors, lighting, security alarms, sensors, locks and more. These devices need to be connected simply and easily and in Apple’s case, it is via HomeKit. There’s a lot more to come in this space.

But Samsung, for example, is working on using industry standard Wi-Fi to connect an even larger range of SmartThings. These include its TV, music systems from Samsung, Sonos and Bose, smart kitchen appliances like fridges, ovens, dishwashers and even robotic vacuum cleaners.

Whatever the outcome, smart homes are the next big thing and it will place a lot more devices on the home Wi-Fi network.

Q. You mentioned HD and 4K streaming and the fact that routers were invariably in the wrong place?

Sadly, unless the router is a newer generation Wireless AC device, it needs to be very close to the TV, in the same room at least, as Wireless N or earlier iterations often do not have the shared bandwidth or distance capability to stream stutter-free HD or higher video content.

We recently released a Powerline AV and Ethernet switch bundle called the Home Entertainment Connection Kit that is selling very well when people find that streaming video over Wi-Fi is not always reliable.

Simply plug one Powerline AC2000 MIMO (up to 2000Mbps or 250MB per second) into a 240V power socket near the router, connect it to the router via an Ethernet cable and plug the other Powerline adapter in near the television and connect it to the supplied Ethernet hub and then you can stream content to any device (Blu-ray, set top box, games console, NAS) connected to the hub. It is far more reliable than Wi-Fi, especially where there are heavy users in the same home.

Note: Streaming a 1080p HD movie uses about 5GB per hour. Streaming a 4K movie takes about 20-30GB per hour. The caveat here is that the Internet connection needs to be able to handle at least 25Mbps for compressed HEVC.265 4K and at least 50Mbps for Dolby Vision and HDR content. See Lifewire article here.

Q. What about the newer Wi-Fi AD and AX standards?

Two issues. First, the AD relies on the 60GHz spectrum (that is 12 times higher frequency than 5GHz) which has very high speed (up to 7Gbps) but only over very short distance – it can be interrupted by the signal passing through something as simple as a vase of flowers, so it’s really only for line-of-sight, and certainly within the same room, applications only.

Second, there are few, if any AD endpoint devices to use the speed anyway.

D-Link’s thinking is that AD is a stopgap measure on the way to AX so we may skip AD altogether and go straight to AX – that means for the next five years or so AC will still rule.

AX works with 2.4 and 5GHz as well in the unlicensed 2.4GHz band, it makes use of MIMO/MU-MIMO and uses a new Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) to achieve up to 10Gbps speed. It is due for release in 2019 so AD is not really the way to go. It is also compatible with AC and will give these devices a speed boost through more effective spectrum usage. It is the logical successor to AC.

Q. What about Internet of Things (IoT) and router security from hacks and bots?

Protection of the home network and all things connected to it is a priority. A properly configured router stops most of the attacks but there are persistent bots out there that keep hammering away.

All I can say is watch this space to see D-Link’s take on preventing Internet nasties compromising the home network. It’s something we take very seriously indeed.

Q. D-Link was in the news recently for some router and camera vulnerabilities – what is the status of that?

Almost every router and security camera maker has been in the news for similar vulnerabilities – no excuse, of course, and we continue to take security as our number one priority. It is a fact of life that cyber hackers are getting smarter, that routers and security cameras, all IoT devices, present great opportunities to become part of DDoS Mirai botnets etc.

That said it is a wake-up call to all connected device makers and something we take very seriously. Because of our ongoing efforts to keep ahead of any security threats D-Link has issued and continues to issue, firmware updates that tackle these threats head on.

Also, it’s important to note that no recent (say up to two years old) D-Link routers are affected and none at all in Australia. The most recent announcement was a US -based issue.

Q. Has the NBN driven modem/router sales?

We are beginning to see an upswing in modem/routers sales to connect to the NBN. These all have a WAN Ethernet port as well as an ADSL/VDSL port to take the signal from the NBN Connection Box - Network Termination Device (NTD that has voice and data ports).

What we are finding is that users need a better router than their old G or N and that is driving sales of AC2600/3200/5300 modem/routers and extenders. About 80% of customers are buying combined modem/routers as with the NBN continually switching access methods (FttP / FttN, FttDp, HFC etc), customers need to have a single solution that will work across all of these various access types. We have a very useful ready-reckoner for helping customers choose the right product here.

My advice to everyone is to futureproof your purchase so that you are not locked into a particular access technology, as well as to make sure you get a Tri-Band product, as you will quickly find that in the next few years, you will have many more devices on your network, and more and more of these devices will be talking at the same time.

Q. Care to comment on NBN speeds?

Honestly, I think there is more than enough public comment out there. A lot depends on the ISP, its contention ratio (and that relates to price and data plans) and whether they buy enough bandwidth from NBN. The ACCC is closely monitoring “so-called” speeds offered and I think this will solve a lot of issues.

Q. Any announcements coming on new products?

Most of our current innovation is in the cloud and the services that connect to routers and IP devices. We have over 6 million mydlink users and we will focus on delivering more functionality from the cloud – security, file sharing, remote monitoring, IoT control, voice integration, and more.

I also see more Omna HomeKit and home automation products, as well as connectivity devices being announced over the next few months.

Finally, there’s a big push by D-link ANZ in the SMB and managed service providers market.

Exciting times ahead. Stay tuned.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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