Home Automation: Why Is My Network So Expensive?

Can’t we just go to Best Buy and pick up something cheap?

Today Ethernet networks have become ubiquitous, becoming the foundation of just about every kind of home automation system imaginable.  Almost every new device that comes to market today has the ability to connect to the network whether wired or wireless.  It is the most efficient way to share data whether between two devices in the same room or two devices on opposite ends of the planet.  So if the network is so important, why is it that people have trouble understanding the increase in cost for a network today versus ten years ago?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that people generally assume that as technology moves forward, prices come down.  While this is true and has been the case for networking gear as well, the requirements of the network have grown exponentially over the past decade.  For instance, a year ago we upgraded the network in a 20k sq. ft. oceanfront home in Naples, FL.  When I say “upgraded” I mean that they had a four port Linksys router which served as the entire network infrastructure in an equipment room the size of an 8 car garage.  Their integrator was swapping out their old Crestron gear to make way for the latest and greatest from Crestron which all utilizes the network for communications.

When the system was first put in over a decade ago they must have spent about $100 or less on their “network.”  This is because there were not really any devices that relied on network communications.  When we finished the project upgrade we had three 28 port switches, a wireless LAN controller, a robust firewall router and 12 wireless access points serving as the core network for this home.  This was due to the fact that they added close to 75 new hardwire Ethernet devices as well as wanting a seamless wireless experience on the entire property.  Obviously this was a huge difference in price between the original network and what we put in.

The above was an extreme example of the changes in networks between yesterday and today but it only serves to explain the need for more gear, not necessarily the quality of gear.  Some people would question why one cannot purchase simple networking devices from the big box stores, or consumer stores online.  After all, they are a fraction of the cost of the enterprise networking gear we recommend.  In the past it may have been alright to just go to the local electronics store and pick up a generic wireless router, but with the requirements of today, especially in regard to home automation, that just doesn’t cut it anymore.

This is because we as a society rely on our connection more today than ever before.  With tablets, smartphones and laptops in every home there are more devices vying for access to the network.  Adding on top of that all of the home automation devices in a smart home such as lighting control, AV control, security systems, etc. you have got an enormous amount of traffic to deal with and those consumer devices are not up to the task to handle it.

Worst of all, the consumer devices are not made to work 24/7 as an enterprise grade device is.  In the past if your wireless router died on you, and they did all the time, you would either have to reboot it or replace it.  This wasn’t a huge problem although it could be quite frustrating.  Imagine today if your network died on you, especially if you have a smart home.  You may be in a situation where you couldn’t even turn on or off your lights or control your thermostat.  That’s one of the primary reasons you would want to purchase enterprise grade gear.  It works and is made to work 24/7.  Businesses rely on that kind of reliability, shouldn’t your home as well?

Of course there are other reasons.  Processing power is generally better which means traffic can flow faster.  When you touch a button to turn on your lights or to change the channel on your TV do you want a 3 second delay in-between button presses or do you want it to work right away?  On top of processing power enterprise grade networks also allow an engineer to manage your traffic better by segmenting parts of it.

Being a Miami resident, where we are known to have some pretty heavy traffic, I like to think of Ethernet networks as highways.  If all of the cars are on the road at the same time we get traffic congestion.  This is true in Ethernet networks as well.  Just as we have express lanes, HOV lanes, fast lanes, etc. on the highway, we have ways of managing traffic on the network as well.  By segmenting traffic into separate networks or prioritizing traffic as more important or less important, we can insure that there is enough bandwidth available to the devices that need it when they need it.  The ability to do this is not normally found in consumer gear but is always found in enterprise gear.

Another enormous benefit is the fact that enterprise grade gear brings with it a host of tools that aid in troubleshooting of problems that may arise.  One faulty device has the potential to bring an entire network to its knees.  With tools like extensive logging, application visualization, remote access and others one has the ability to find the issue quickly and sometimes even before it has become a problem.  With consumer grade gear you are most of the time just flying blind and it could take hours or even days to determine where a problem lies.  With the insight you get with more robust gear you can normally pinpoint any issues within minutes, thus saving time, heartache and money.

There are numerous other benefits in spending more on your network in a smart home whether it’s having the ability to let your programmers program and troubleshoot remotely or to secure your own private files and documents from potential threats.  There are even ways to make the network fault tolerant so if one device fails another picks up automatically and sends an email out to your provider letting them know something went wrong.  I cannot stress the importance of a strong network.  As we continue to rely on it more and more the need for more robust gear will only continue to increase.

So it seems that it should be clear as to why one would spend more today on a network than they did ten years ago.  Unfortunately I still hear people question why 10% or so of the cost of their home automation system is network gear.  Well the primary answer to that is simple.  The other 90% of your gear is cheaper today because the network is doing most of the work.  If you think of it like that, and factor in everything else mentioned above, it will help you realize that in the end paying more for an enterprise grade network is really saving you time, money and frustration with the rest of your system.  Best of all, if you have the right network in place the first time you won’t have to keep asking yourself why you have to keep rebooting devices to get them working again.

If you have questions or comments about anything in this article, or need help designing a reliable network for your home please feel free to call WhyReboot directly at 877-307-0052.  We take ownership of your network so you don’t have to.

 

This article first appeared on the Home Automation Hound website found here.

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