Why do we need a Network Switch at Home and what can be connected to the Switch?


Architecture Diagram for Network Switch at Home - What components could be connected to the Network Switch

What is a Network Switch?

A Network Switch is a Hardware appliance with a fixed number of Network Ports (RJ-45 Ports) that can connect multiple Network devices to the Home LAN (Local Area Network). They are mainly used for sharing Internet connectivity between multiple computers (or) sharing some network resource – like Printer or NAS Box so that they can be accessed by all the users of the network.

Network Switches these days come with speeds of 100 Mbps/ 1000 Mbps per port and this should be sufficient for any network based application. The network devices are connected to the network switch using twisted pair copper cables, Cat 5E – Cat 6 cables/ RJ-45 Jacks. There maybe other passive components involved if you decide to go for structured networking at your home.

The computers/ laptops/ printers and other devices connecting to the network switch need an Network adapter (or) NIC – Network Interface Card to connect to the network. Most of them have in-built NIC cards and if not, NIC cards can be added.

The network switch and all the devices connected to it require an IP address (each) and that can be provided by a Wired/ Wireless Router. So, as shown in the diagram, you need to terminate the Internet connection to a Modem, which is in-turn connected to the Wired/Wireless Router, and that is connected to the switch. Do note that the Wireless Router mostly comes with an in-built modem these days (for broadband connections via phone lines – xDSL) so Modem + Router = One device. But cable modem may require a separate router, if you want to share the Internet connection with multiple users.

The wireless router also comes with a few network switch ports as well (at-least one, maximum four) for connecting additional devices to the network. For single user/ simple home applications that should suffice. You can connect a new network switch to the wireless router in order to extend the wired network to accommodate even more devices (or) just connect additional devices in wireless mode. So, there are multiple options to expand the network.

Can we have an Internal Network (LAN) without Internet Connectivity?

Yes. For this, you do not need the modem + router. You just connect all the devices to a wired network switch and you have an Internal LAN. The IP addresses for these devices need to be assigned manually and perhaps you can use a static IP addresses. If you want to share your media files between your laptop and your brothers PC (or) print some documents/ photos on your home printer (or) backup your files on a Network Attached Storage (NAS box) – all without wanting to connect to the Internet, you can use this configuration.

Is it possible to share Internet connectivity from a mobile device connected to my computer ?

Yes, its possible to do that using a network switch. These days, Internet can be accessed in your laptop/ PC using mobile dongles / 3G cell phones that are connected via the USB port. It is possible to share this Internet connection with multiple users inside your home, but for that you need to install a proxy server software in your PC/ Laptop so that your computer will act as the gateway to all the devices connecting to the Internet. Then, you connect this computer and the other computers to a network switch, to share the Internet connection.

Is it possible to extend the Home Network (LAN)?

Extending the network refers to two things – Adding additional devices (and) extending the physical length of the network to cover more distance.

For adding additional network devices, you can just connect one more switch to one of the network switch ports and connect additional network devices to them. And for extending the length of the Home LAN network, you can use network switch as a repeater after every 90-100 meters. This is required because, a Cat6 cable that connects to the network switch port can have a maximum length of 90-100 meters only.

If you want to connect a computer that is at a distance of 150 meters from the main network switch (for example), you have to take a cable from the main network switch for 90 meters, connect it to a port of a second network switch there and then connect another cable for 60 meters from (another port of) this second network switch to the computer.

What are the advantages of Wired Network over Wi-Fi (Wireless) Network?

Wired networks are faster than wireless network. Each wired network port can connect to a device at 1000 Mbps (Max), which is a dedicated connection while a wireless network can connect at 450 Mbps (Max) and that too this connection is shared between all the devices connecting to it.

Multi-media, voice, video, network games and other real time applications perform better in a wired network.

Wired networks are more secure than wireless networks – In spite of encryption in wireless networks, the connection can still be hacked by a determined hacker who has the right tools or knows some vulnerabilities in your network. But since wired network can be connected only from within your house, it becomes very difficult for the hacker to access it.

Wired networks are more stable and dependable than wireless networks as there are no channel interference in wired network from other devices (or other access points operating in the same channel).

What devices can be connected to a network switch/ What are the applications of a network switch?

A number of devices can be connected to the network switch to enable a lot of applications on your home network. A partial list of devices/ applications enabled by network switch (home network) is given below.

  • Internet Sharing – If there are multiple users in your home, and a single Internet connection the network switch (along with router+modem) can be used to share the Internet connection among multiple people and multiple devices at the same time.
  • File Sharing – If you share your music folder (for example), then other members of your family can access the songs in that folder through the home network switch. Of course, your computer needs to be on for this and you can share any type/size of files across your home network.
  • Common Printer – Whether a printer can connect directly to the network port of a network switch (or) to the USB port of your computer, it can be shared over the home network using a network switch so that anyone connected to the network can print using a single printer. With an All-in-one device anyone can print, scan, copy and fax.
  • NAS box: You can have a centralized storage and backup for all the users in your home network by connecting a centralized NAS appliance to the network switch.
  • Computer Server: You can connect a computer server to the network switch if you want to share some applications with your family members (like 3D Games) or storage/ remote access of common files, etc.
  • Share Media – Home Theater/ DVD – You can connect your DVD players/ home theater systems to the network to view the output of the DVD player from any screen at home (for example).
  • Network Camera – You can connect a network (surveillance) IP Camera at certain locations in your house and view the output from many devices across the network, by connecting them to a network switch.
  • Video Conferencing – There are certain high quality video conferencing devices which you can directly connect to the network / Internet and see/speak to people who are at distant places using your TV/ LCD Monitor, for example.
  • VOIP – You can connect an IP Phone directly to the network switch and it could be used along with a VOIP Server/ Software to make VOIP Calls across the Internet. Or, you can just connect the Telephone adapter given by your VOIP provider to any normal phone and make VOIP calls over the Internet using it.
  • Network Gaming – You can use the network switch to enable multiple people from your home participate in network based gaming/ connect the network gaming console to the Internet.
  • Stream TV Programs – You can stream TV programs/ media stored on the laptop to any screen – LCD TV/ Plasma TV connected to your home network. If you use certain media appliances connected to the network switch, you can even record live TV programs in your PC to be watched later.

Have a look at the most popular wired network switch models from Amazon. You can also buy it from there, if you live in the United States.

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