SOHO Networking



In a few short years the Internet has transformed from an interesting communication technology to something that has transformed everyday life around the world. For the younger generation not being connected is an alien notion. No longer are computers seen as number crunching machines, but rather as a way to access the rich diversity of worldwide information.

Cable TV data over cable service interface specification DOCSIS  and Telephone Company digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet access represent orders of magnitude improvement over low speed dialup. A lucky few residential subscribers have fiber to the premise (FTTP). FTTP delivers virtually unlimited speed at low cost and high reliability. Internet access is not limited to wireline connections. For folks in rural areas wireless ISPs (WISP) deliver high speed access.  The cellular telephone phone network is no longer predominately used for voice. Digital protocols, like long term evolution (LTE), provide high speed untethered connectivity.

Unshielded twisted pair (UTP) Ethernet has become the overwhelming favorite for local area networks (LAN). Once the provenance of corporate IT departments today virtually every home with an Internet connection also sports a home LAN.  Unlicensed Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous not only at home and in the office but on the road with Wi-Fi hot spots providing untethered network access from bus stops to hotels.

Much has changed since I decided to learn more about networking back in 1998 and install my own home network to share a dialup connection. Several "no new wire" initiatives focus on reducing barriers to home networking by eliminating the need to install Ethernet cabling. Significant effort has gone into phone line networking: HomePNA and power line networking: HomePlug. Verizon is making extensive use of multimedia over coax alliance MoCA technology to utilize existing inhome TV coaxial cable to network set-top boxes. New homes are often prewired with coax and twisted-pair Ethernet for triple play services: telephone, TV and Internet. While wiring is certainly an issue, a larger impediment is network configuration and security. As networking migrates to small business and residential users it needs to be easy to set up and safe to use. In my experience wiring is only a small part of the equation. A more significant issue is the level of knowledge required to connect and configure networking components. Living with a home LAN is kind of like owning a vintage British sports car, when it works it is exhilarating but one must be a knowledgeable mechanic to keep it running. 

The security aspect of small networks is often overlooked. One should be cognizant the same wonderful technology that allows access to millions of web sites also allows millions more to attempt mischief. This is especially true of wireless networks, since attacks can be orchestrated from a distance. Security is a multilevel discipline; one must protect the user machine from unauthorized modification and access without unduly interfering with legitimate use. 

As Internet access becomes ever more pervasive the role of first-mile access providers comes under increasing regulatory scrutiny. Completion among first-mile access providers is extremely limited. It does not matter if nationally there are hundreds of Cable TV or Telephone Companies if only one or two service your area. This places the first-mile access provider in a powerful position as gatekeeper converting the Internet from an open peer-to-peer egalitarian network to a walled garden controlled by a few powerful players. The FCC recently adopted Network neutrality regulations to balance the needs of service providers with that of the general public. Rapidly changing technology and business models makes this a difficult task. Even the choice of terms is important; I prefer using the term first-mile rather than last-mile to describe residential access. I think it better conveys the value proposition. The Internet is the rich collection of endpoints, making it the valuable resource it has become. Without end-points it is simply interesting technology without social value. 

The Internet is as revolutionary as the printing press. For the first time in human history ordinary citizens are able to publish and distribute their own creative works sharing their views with others. This site is an example of that benefit. Extreme low cost and ease of exchange threatens existing media business models developed in an age of information scarcity and high distribution cost. The Internet represents as dire a threat to those businesses as the automobile did to horse transport a century ago. Legacy players are struggling to survive. Some will innovated and learn to exploit the new technology but most are resorting to legal means in an attempt to limit how this marvelous new technology is used in a vain attempt to protect an obsolete business model.

I've described my experience building and evolving a small office home office (SOHO) LAN on the Writings page.  It began as a dialup network 1998 with a few Ethernet drops and has evolved over time to encompass the entire house with both wired and Wi-Fi connectivity. 56kbps dialup has long since given way to 7Mbps DSL, still slow by contemporary standards but considering our rural location more then adequate.  The SOHO LAN has enabled me to implement a number of home automation projects.   

Revised 3/22/2015



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