One of the most common things I hear in this industry is something to the effect of “everything is wireless these days, right?” Unfortunately, that is an urban myth, perhaps perpetrated by the people who make cheap wireless products in China, or maybe it’s just wishful thinking coming from futurists who long for a more disconnected life. But, either way, it’s simply not true yet, as I’ll explain below.
What’s Still Wired
Whenever my company does an installation – whether commercial or residential, new construction or retrofitting existing construction – we always try to make sure that certain things are hard-wired. Key amongst those things are network connections to equipment (e.g., Ethernet cables), all audio connections (e.g., speakers) and all video connections (e.g. HDMI cables or baluns). Surveillance cameras fall in this category too – they must be connected with a wire to work effectively.
In some homes, particularly older brick or adobe homes with solid walls and no attic or crawl space, we are occasionally forced to go wireless for one or more of the above technology connections. But we only do it as a last resort, and it’s always a compromise in system reliability, stability, and performance.
What’s Okay to be Wireless
If you follow the guidelines above (i.e., connect everything you can with a direct wire/cable), then you should have a very effective wireless home network, or Wi-Fi network. Obviously you don’t want to have to plug your laptop/tablet/phone into the wall every time you use it, so some things pretty much have to be wireless. But, ideally, your laptop, tablet and phone should be the only wireless things in the house if possible. Computer printers are another exception – they generally work well with just a Wi-Fi connection.
Why Can’t I Go More Wireless?
You might be thinking to yourself right now, “that seems extreme – I can buy an inexpensive wireless camera system and a wireless video sender at my local discount warehouse right now.” “Surely they wouldn’t sell those products if they didn’t work!” Well, I’m not debating that they can work, I’m just saying that experience in the industry has shown us that Wi-Fi connections are generally unreliable for anything except as mentioned above. We recently had a customer who purchased one of those inexpensive wireless camera systems mentioned above, and he asked us to come over and help us get it working. Long story short, due to the distances involved, the thickness of his walls, and other unknown factors, we were only able to get one camera of the five to work at a time. Probably not what he envisioned when he bought the system! The problem is that there are too many unknowns when you go wireless. Distance to the receiver, the amount of metal and other RF-blocking materials in the way, thickness of walls, competing transmissions (e.g., microwave or phone), and more all come into play when attempting to transmit wireless signals. You may get lucky and it may work fine initially, but whenever someone turns on the microwave or moves a piece of furniture, suddenly it no longer works. Ugh!
For now, the best way to connect all of your electronics in your home is through a direct, wired connection. You should strive to establish a hard-wired connection for key things like wireless access points and television connections. If you can’t run the wires yourself, hire a licensed electrician or a low-voltage contractor. You may have to patch up some holes in the wall, but a little paint will go a long way towards relieving the pain and suffering you’ll otherwise have from an unreliable wireless connection!