Welcome to a crash course in home networks! If you are reading this then you are probably sat amongst a load of Ethernet cables and flashing boxes wondering what do all these things do?! Don’t worry, we at Fing are here to save the day. No longer will you have to nod your head blankly at the sales person whilst they tell you which router to buy. Crying over not knowing what a gateway is will be a thing of the past. You are about to become a home network genius.
You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed by your own home network setup. The whole reason behind creating Fingbox (our easy-to-use home network security device) was because of how daunting the majority of homeowners find the topic of home networking. Although in the back of our minds we know that our lack of knowledge leaves us vulnerable, it tends to not bother us - but then things stop working. We’ve all glared at our router and politely asked it why it has decided to stop working during the season finale of our latest Netflix binge watch. As the amount of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in our homes increases so will the likelihood of you encountering tech that is refusing to work. Learning the basics of home networking will not only help you troubleshoot any problems that arise, but also help you make more informed choices when purchasing tech for your home. You may leave all your network worries to a tech support company and so feel even more that you don’t need to learn about your home network setup. However, as smart homes grow we will see more tech and support companies taking advantage of homeowners’ lack of understanding of home networking, pushing products or services they don’t actually need onto their customers. A basic knowledge will give you more power to understand the usefulness of your tech support, and hold them accountable for poor service. We at Fing are determined you are not going to be caught short on your home network – by the end of our crash course you’ll be making tech companies shake at the knees.
One of the most difficult things about understanding networking is the fact that most of what is happening isn’t actually visible! It’s harder to grasp how your Wi-Fi works when you can’t physically see what is happening. This is why we decided to start this series with looking at the part of your home network you can see – the networking devices. Home networking devices are the physical boxes and cables that are required to setup and run your network. The collective term in networking for physical devices is hardware. Networking hardware comes in all shapes and sizes, and their functions vary massively. We’re going to take you through the 10 most common network devices that you are likely to find in your home.
To get things started we’ve made you a cheat sheet of the most common networking devices. You can scroll below the infographic for more detailed explanations.
Gateway A gateway is a device that routes traffic between two separate networks. The best example of a gateway within your home network is your router. This acts as a gateway between your own personal network and your broadband provider’s network.
Wireless Access Point (WAP) A wireless access point is a device that creates Wi-Fi from a wired network, allowing a Wi-Fi enabled device to connect to a wired network. Without a WAP you would need to use cables to connect your devices to the internet. A lot of Wi-fi enabled devices today, such as mobile phones, do not have an Ethernet port for wired connections, so a WAP is a vital part of your home network. It either comes as a separate device that plugs into your router, or is inbuilt into the router itself.
Network Switch A network switch is a device that connects multiple wired devices to a network. You are not as likely today to see a dedicated network switch device in your home network due to the rise of wireless Internet. However, they are still used widely in more complex smart home networks and business environments. Network switches can be integrated within routers – if you look on the back of your router you are likely to see around 4 Ethernet ports for this purpose.
Ethernet A staple in all types of networks, Ethernet cables are the standard wired network used almost everywhere today. These are the cables that go between your router and your Internet connection. A lot of computers connect to the router via an Ethernet cable.
Router The router is probably the one device we all confidently know when it comes to home networks. The router is the heart of your network, passing traffic back and forth between the Internet and your IoT devices. Most consumer-grade routers will now incorporate a WAP and network switch.
Wi-Fi Repeater/Extender If you have Wi-Fi blackspots in your home, or are lucky enough to own a big house, you may need a Wi-Fi repeater to extend the coverage of your wireless network. These devices receive the existing Wi-Fi signal from your router, amplify it and then pass on the boosted signal to the previously unreached areas of your house.
Smart Firewall Device A smart firewall device is a piece of hardware that plugs into your router and blocks threatening traffic, such as malware, from entering your home network. A lot of routers now actually come with inbuilt hardware firewalls – click here to see if your router has a firewall you can enable.
Network Security Device A home network security device is a piece of hardware that plugs into your router and monitors what devices are on your network, secures your network against hacker threats and alerts you to any changes in the health of your network. These devices can also have Wi-Fi troubleshooting features to help look into the issues on your network.
Automation Systems Automation systems are predominately seen in smart homes but are also a growing part of general home networking. These systems connect all the smart home tech together so they can communicate with each other. This allows them to automate their functions under pre-programmed rules. An example of this would be a smart thermometer picking up the temperature has dropped in your bedroom. The automation system would then instruct the smart heating to turn on in that one room. Sensors Going hand-in-hand with automation systems are sensors. These are smart devices that detect and respond to input from the physical environment. In our example of the automation system’s reaction to the temperature drop, the smart thermometer is the sensor.