Wired vs. Wireless Home Networks

Determine which home networking system is right for you.

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To wire or not to wire? That is the question. Sometimes the answer to the wired or wireless question is a simple matter of whether your home is a new home or a remodel. Wireless technology is less invasive and easier to install than wired technology, for example, making it better suited for a remodel.

A new-home build, on the other hand, has the luxury of open walls, which makes wiring a lot easier. Alternately, there are wired Internet technologies that don’t require running new wires, but rely on existing structured wires in the home, such as phone or power lines. We'll go over the pros and cons of each technology to help you figure out if wired or wireless is right for you.

It's a Wireless World

One of the biggest draws of a wireless system is the proliferation of devices like the iPad, iPhone and Android that work solely over wireless networks. These devices can be used for any number of home-control functions. They are remotes for your TV and entertainment system, and can stream music to wireless speakers. They can control your appliances, climate, security system and lighting. A wireless network is a must to enjoy this functionality, which may be enough to sway you toward a wireless network. Plus, with wireless, you are no longer tethered to wires coming out of walls, meaning you have the freedom to network anywhere. Wireless technologies include Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and HomeRF systems.

Aside from the popularity and convenience of iOS and Android devices for home control, ease of installation is the most obvious advantage of a wireless network. With wireless, you don't need to brave the crawlspace to run cables from room to room or poke holes in drywall to snake Ethernet cable.

"A wireless network is a must in today’s home, and it’s perfect for Web-surfing or getting email on a randomly located iPad, but it does have its drawbacks and it may not be the best solitary choice for a home AV network," says Christian Lawrence, director of business development for Insight Home Solutions. According to Lawrence, wireless networks are often left wide open with no encryption. Older technology that can be easily hacked, such as WEP, is often used. The newest encryption standard is WPA2, which offers a higher level of security, but requires connected devices to also support WPA 2— a minor issue considering most current products do.

With a wireless network, interference, range and bandwidth can also be issues. "Streaming one Netflix 1080i movie can max out a home's wireless network," says Lawrence. "Add to that Junior surfing YouTube and you can bring a typical wireless network to its knees."

For those who can never remember their password, a wired system might be a better solution, according to Eric Landis, owner of All Sound Designs. "We recommend wired not because we experience problems with wireless, but if changes are made to the network and passwords change, our equipment will still work," he says.

But the Pros Love Wires

While wireless is convenient and popular, ask any electronic systems contractor and they'll tell you that a wired connection is more reliable, secure and consistent. "There's a reason businesses, with mission-critical systems and servers, choose wired over wireless," says Lawrence. First, there is very little security risk, as someone would have to be physically connected to your network to access personal data. Reliability is another plus, as a good Ethernet network doesn't fall prey to interference or range.

The biggest drawback of a wired system is the inconvenience of running wire, especially if you are retrofitting your home. While a wireless network is something a do-it-yourselfer can easily accomplish, a wired network might need to be installed by a pro. For complex control systems — like a Crestron or AMX system — or high-def video distribution to multiple rooms, wiring is required.

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