Bandwidth. For the staff at Geek Exchange, other than food and shelter, bandwidth is one of life’s essentials. We play games, some of us have even cut the cord from our cable/satellite providers, and right now we are glued to our screens watching all things E3 – all of which is dependent on the speed we get from our Internet Service Providers (ISP). If you’re anything like us, you have a house full of tablets, phones, consoles, and PCs all vying for that precious bandwidth – and often not under the most ideal circumstances. So how you can you maximize your speed while at the same time not breaking the bank?
Easy, by utilizing a piece of tech that often flies under the radar.
While I promise not to turn this into a network dissertation, I want to explain a few core elements for those who might not be familiar with them as they will come in handy as we start breaking things down. Every network is compromised, fundamentally, of two distinct areas: a Wide Area Network (WAN) and a Local Area Network (LAN). The WAN is essentially your connection to the outside world – your connection to the internet you purchase from your ISP in speeds like 100 Mbps, 300 Mbps or 1 Gbps. The LAN is essentially your connection to the inside world – all the phones, consoles, and tablets we mentioned earlier. To further define this let’s consider a cable modem. It’s split into those same two areas: a WAN side and LAN side. The WAN side is the portion of the cable modem that you plug the coax connection into that goes into the wall and that ultimately connects back to your ISP. The LAN side is the network cable that you plug either directly into your PC, your router or your wireless access point. Cable modems, DSL modems, etc., they are like Blade, they walk in both worlds. To get to the WAN, you have to come from the LAN. Our goal is to optimize the speed we are getting on the LAN side of the network.
It goes without saying the best connection for your LAN network is a wired one – it is the fastest, least prone to interference and the most stable. The challenge is that, unless your home came pre-wired for network cabling (category 5e at least nowadays) you’re forced to use other solutions to connect your LAN devices to your network. For phones and (most) tablets without a network connection, Wi-Fi is the only choice which is fine – often you’re just surfing the web, browsing or doing research which, for the most part, aren’t bandwidth sensitive activities. It becomes problematic when you need to use your console or PC for something that is bandwidth sensitive – like playing a fighting game or first-person shooter and you can’t use a wired connection. But if you have coax in your home from your cable provider, we have a solution: Actiontec Bonded MoCA 2.0 Ethernet to Coax Adapters. We’ll be referring specifically to the Actiontec ECB6200.
The Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) is a standards consortium that has published specifications for networking over coaxial cable – basically using frequencies that are not used by your cable provider – it’s these frequencies that the Actiontec adapters take advantage of. So how does it work? The adapters are deployed in pairs with a cable input and output on one end and an Ethernet (network) output on the other. It’s as simple as plugging both units into a power outlet, plugging in the coax cable to the input of one adapter, taking the other adapter to a location in your house where you need internet and connecting up to a coax connection there and repeating the process. In my personal setup, I split the coax cable coming out of my wall with a Starburst 2-way Coax Splitter (the same splitter Actiontec uses in their testing labs) and ran one connection to my modem and the other to the MoCA adapter. This way I’m not passing anything through the adapter and then back out – it’s only being used to extend my Ethernet connection. Once that’s done and you’ve established a link between to the two devices, all that’s left is connecting the network cables and waiting for the solid green lights.
Depending on exactly what you want to do, you may need a network switch. A switch takes a network connection coming in and “splits” it into multiple connections – there is a bit more to it than that, but I’m keeping to my “no network dissertation” promise. This is useful because you may have several devices that need internet access and one network connection isn’t going to cut it unless you want to unplug the network cable from one device and plug it into another every time you want to use it. Here is a diagram of my network below:
Notice that I have my cable modem, connected to my router. My router is connected to an 8 Netgear port switch that is “splitting” my internet connection in 8 connections. The Actiontec MoCA adapter is connected to that switch. It takes the internet it’s receiving from the Netgear switch, converts into a cable signal and sends it over the coax cable in my house to the other Actiontec MoCA adapter. That adapter converts it back into Ethernet where that connector plugs into an 8 port Meraki switch which – that’s right you guessed it – “splits” the connection again. From there, I have my PS4, PS3, NVIDIA Shield, and Nintendo Switch plugged into that switch all receiving their internet from the MoCA adapter on the other side of the house.
OK, so lots of switching and splitting to get all this done, but how is the actual speed from adapter 1, through a switch to adapter 2, through another switch and finally to my network devices measure up? Well, the maximum practical speed we can expect over the category 5e is near 950 Mbps or almost 1 Gbps. Using a utility called iperf designed to measure network speed, I tested my link from the living room to the office.
I was able to achieve a throughput of 822 Mbps… not bad. Not quite 1 Gbps but close and definitely faster and lower latency than powerline and Wi-Fi. The maximum distance suggested is 300 ft and I’m a bit beyond that so your results may actually be slightly better than mine. in conclusion, if you need to extend your internet to another room, require a highspeed, low latency connection, and can’t run network cable, MoCa 2.0 adapters are some of the best tech around.