An important consideration for anyone cutting the cord is having a stable connection to the internet on all your TVs and devices. People tend to utilize WiFi for most of their devices so making sure a home network has good Wifi coverage is crucial. Unfortunately, WiFi is subject to interference and can make it difficult to have good WiFi coverage
This article will explain how to set up WiFi access points on each floor and have a stable connection between them and your main router using Ethernet.
I’ll go into detail on router placement, the basic configuration of devices, how to connect them via Ethernet, and even how to run an Ethernet connection between floors through the walls in your home.
Why Is WiFi so Bad for so Many
Unfortunately, many Internet providers bring the signal to the lowest point of your home. That means it’s on the first floor or worse, the basement. As we’ve said before, you want to place a strong signaled WiFi access point higher in the home because WiFi Signals propagate out and down.
Internet access entering through the basement can cause many headaches when it comes to your network. If your Internet access is from a cable TV provider, you don’t want many splitters degrading the signal before it hits your modem. In fact, I recommend, at most, 1 splitter between your cable modem and where the signal enters the house.
Ideally, I recommend no splitters on your internet signal. So even if you have coaxial connections on your top floor, there are likely a few splitters that will degrade the quality of your internet. Ultimately, that means your cable modem is in the basement or first floor.
Get Your WiFi Off the Ground Floor
We want a strong WiFi signal on every floor, or at least the top floor in hopes it will cover the lower floors. A WiFi mesh network like Google WiFi is a solution, but it may take more than a few WiFi pucks to lead that strong signal upstairs. That can get expensive.
The best solution is to run an ethernet connection from your internet source ( cable modem or Fiber ONT) to your router gateway on the top floor and/or wireless access points on each floor.
In other words, the more WiFi access points connected to your internet access point via ethernet, the more stable and stronger your WiFi network will be. This doesn’t mean you can’t stick your main router in the basement. You just need to have a wired ethernet connection between the router and wireless access points if you want an optimal network.
Now you could go to the store and get 110 ft Ethernet cables and run it all over the house, but that may not be pleasing to the eye. Instead, I’m going to show you how I ran ethernet to each floor of my home for connecting my router to each floor’s wireless access point.
Setting up Your Home Ethernet Network For WiFi
Before I go into detail on how I ran ethernet to wireless access points on each floor of my home, I want to go over some important details on equipment. We are going to need Ethernet cables and some other networking hardware to optimize our wireless and wired network.
Get The Right Ethernet Cables
First, make sure you have the right types of cable. Generally, you will see varying categories of Ethernet cables out there. The most common are Cat 5e, Cat 6, and Cat 6a. You may even see Cat 5 and Cat 7, but I don’t recommend using either. Data transmission on Cat 5 peaks at a theoretical 100 Mbps and Cat 7 is way too complicated to use while providing little benefits over using Cat 6a.
There is also a wire shielding rating (UTP, STP, S/STP, etc.) I’ll cover the differences between ethernet categories in more detail at the end of this article. For my home ethernet installation, I used cat 6 UTP (unshielded) which has a peak data rate of a gigabit per second.
This is important to know because ethernet is backward compatible. For example, I can install cat 6 ethernet cables in the wall. If I use cat 5 cables to connect my devices, my network will still function. However, my top data transmission speed will be limited by the cat 5 ethernet cables.
Modems, Gateways, Routers, and Wireless Access Points . . . Oh My
Briefly, I wanted to cover some quick definitions of terms I’m going to use so we are all on the same page.
A modem takes one form of data transmission and turns it into another. For instance, your cable modem takes the cable TV company’s data transmission and turns it into something that can be used on your home network.
A router directs traffic on a network. If the router directs traffic between your home network and the internet, it’s considered a gateway router. Finally, the wireless access point is a device that provides wireless access to a wired network.
I wanted to clarify these components because a cable modem blurs the lines of each of these individual devices. The device the cable company calls a cable modem is actually a modem combined with a gateway router combined with a wireless access point in one device. This is important to realize because we can build a better home network by making these pieces modular instead of having them all in one network device.
Build Your Home Network
There are a number of options when building your home network to have optimal WiFi connectivity on every floor. This article will detail a real-world example of building a home network. Then, I’ll show you what changes based on various situations.
Let’s assume you have Xfinity Internet from Comcast. You live in a 3-floor house and Internet access comes into the house on the first floor. Your goal is to get good WiFi on all 3 floors.
Let’s also assume you collected a couple of routers over the years, or have access to buying 3 affordable routers like the TP-Link Archer. As long as the routers all support gigabit ethernet, along with 802.11n and 802.11ac wireless we are in good shape (most modern wireless routers do.) If your routers support a slower speed then you are going to be limited by the slowest piece of networking equipment.
Here is a diagram of our network goal and the steps to get there.
Step 1: Put the Xfinity cable modem in bridge mode. This will turn off the gateway router on your Xfinity modem and allow you to use your own router. You don’t have to do this, but I personally like to have control over my network’s gateway and this makes it easy to swap our Comcast equipment and use your own cheap DOCSIS 3.1 modem.
Step 2: Take a Cat 6 Ethernet cable and plug one end into port one on your cable modem. Take the other end and plug it into the WAN or Internet port on your router. This will be your gateway router.
Step 3: Power on your gateway router and it should pull an address from the Comcast modem. If not, log into your gateway router and check the WAN Settings. It should be set to pull an IP address dynamically. If possible release and renew the IP address, which should request a new one from Comcast. Here is a good guide from TP-Link on resolving issues with bridge mode.
Step 4: Log into your gateway router if you haven’t already. Check to see what your router’s IP address is. It should start with 192.168.x.x or 10.0.0.X. For example, my gateway router has an address of 192.168.1.1 and a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. This means 192.168.1 is my network address and the last number is my device address. With this setup, devices will get a number between 2 and 254 for the last digit of their IP address. This is important to know for step 5.
Step 5: Make sure DHCP server is turned on. This is how devices on your network are given IP addresses. You are going to need a few IP addresses reserved for other routers you will use as access points. There should be a setting on where the DHCP server will start handing out addresses. Reserve about 10 or whatever you may need. For example, I would set mine to start at 192.168.1.12. That will give me 10 static IP addresses, 192.168.1.2 through 192.168.1.11 for me to assign to devices.
Step 6: Set up your wireless network name and security if you already haven’t.
Step 7: Factory reset one of the other routers you will be using as an access point and log into it. Turn off the DHCP server and assign this router one of the static IP addresses you set aside in step 5 (e.g. 192.168.1.2.)
Step 8: Configure the wireless network name and password. You can set it the same as on the gateway router and it should hand you off seamlessly when you move between floors. If you want separate WiFi networks by floor, that is an option as well. It’s up to you. Place this router on the 2nd Floor.
Step 9: Use a cat 6 ethernet cable to connect one of the LAN ports on your gateway router the LAN port of the router you just placed on the second floor. Don’t worry, if you don’t have an easy way to do this, I will show you how to install an Ethernet jack in the wall later in this article.
Step 10: Factory reset your last router and repeat steps 7, 8, and 9. However, this router will be placed on the 3rd floor. Make sure you assign the router a different IP address than the one you used in step 7.
We now have a powerful WiFi signal on each floor. While the image doesn’t indicate this, stagger the location of the router on each floor if possible. For instance, if the 1st-floor has the router on the east side of the house, put the 2nd-floor router on the west side. Then, go back to the east side for the 3rd-floor router. Of course, where you can run the wires will typically dictate router placement.
Each of the routers I used also had 4 Ethernet LAN ports on them. Therefore I have 2 available LAN ports for wired connections on the first floor, and 3 available on each the 2nd and 3rd floors. Plus, if you need more, you can just add a smart switch by plugging it into the LAN port of one of the routers.
A Home Mesh Network like Google Wifi
Mesh networks like Google Wifi are even easier to set up. You can read all about it in our review of Google WiFi. If you want to take the network I just designed and use something like Google WiFi you simply need to replace the first-floor gateway router with a Google WiFi puck. This puck will act as your gateway.
Then, connect a smart switch to the other port on the main Google puck (the gateway router.) From there you can use an Ethernet cable to connect other Google pucks on the 2nd and 3rd floor to the smart switch. The image below illustrates connecting multiple Google WiFi pucks with a smart switch.
You may wonder why one would do this. Isn’t the whole point of the WiFi Mesh is the ease of use? Well yes, but in most cases, this will give you better WiFi coverage than just sticking a puck on each floor. In the long run, it means fewer dead zones and saves buying more Wifi pucks.
This mesh network also provides the option to use wired Ethernet on as many devices as you want. Simply, by using a smart switch with more ports. Just be sure that each port supports gigabit Ethernet.
How To Install Ethernet Wall Jacks In Your Home
Now that we know what our network is going to look like, we are going to need to install ethernet wall jacks where our routers are going to go. If you have the right tools this is very easy to do. Since we are using cat 6 Ethernet, you are going to want to install cat 6 Ethernet in wall jacks.
Tools For Installing Ethernet Wall Jack
Here are the tools to do the job:
You will need a Twisted Pair Radial Stripper. This is used to remove the jacket from the Ethernet cable and expose the 4 twisted pairs of wires inside. They are available on Amazon. They look like the image below.
Next, you will need a Punch Down Tool. This tool makes it easy to terminate the wire and install the jack. These are also available on Amazon. One is pictured below.
You will also need Cat6 wall jacks and wall plates, pictured below. I found these at Home Depot. You will also need drywall mounts for the plates. Some brands include them with the plates. Some do not. You will see what these are when I show the images of the installation later in the guide.
You will need 2 jacks for each connection you run. I put a wall plate in the nice rooms where the wireless access points will be. My gateway router is in the basement, so I just got a surface 2-port mount since I’m only running 2 wires. If you are running more you may want to look at getting a patch panel and possibly building a proper network rack.
Oh and I almost forgot. You will need Cat 6 Ethernet cable. Make sure you get “riser” rated cable for running it between walls. It’s available on Amazon.
You will also need a pair of wire cutters to cut the cable. If you are going to buy a pair, you might as well buy an Ethernet crimping tool. These are used to terminate the ends of cable when making your own ethernet cables (the male ends.) They have a wire cutter built-in and don’t cost much more than wire cutters. I’m just explaining about wiring the jacks, so I didn’t use the crimper. I was lazy and just bought pre-terminated cat 6 Ethernet cables.
Below is a recap of the supplies we’ll need.
List of Supplies to Install Ethernet Jack
- A punch-down tool
- A twisted pair radial stripper
- 2 Cat6 wall jacks per wire run, and wall plates, and/or Ethernet Surface mounts. These will house the wired ethernet jacks.
- Cat 6 Ethernet riser cable. I used 110 feet.
You will likely need a few more tools to cut a hole in the wall and fish the wire through the wall. These may include:
- a drill
- a jab saw
- a steel fish tape for fishing wires through the wall
- a long 1-inch paddle drill bit to drill a hole in the floor between walls.
- A stud finder – ( <Borat Voice> – My Wiiiiiiiife!)
How to Run the Ethernet Cable Between the Walls
Before I detail what I did to run an Ethernet connection in my wall, please note this is just a retelling of my experience. Consult a professional before attempting this on your own.
Running a wire inside a wall takes some creativity and a bit of luck. You always want to be aware of where power lines and other critical infrastructure may be. I used a stud finder ( < Borat Voice Again > my wiiiiiiiiiife!) that detects power lines so I didn’t accidentally cut into one.
Running the Ethernet cable from the 1st floor to the basement was easy. A heating duct was installed between the floors and there were about 6 inches of clearance on one side. I simply measured from the heating duct upstairs drilled a hole and dropped the wire in.
However, running ethernet from the second floor to the basement was an entirely different beast. Not only can I not see what’s in the wall on the second floor, but there is another wall on the first floor I need to traverse.
I wanted to have the ethernet jack in my office. Below my office is a bathroom on the first floor. So I went to the basement and looked for where the sink drain pipe comes out. That is where the inside of the 1st-floor wall is relative to the basement ceiling.
In the first-floor bathroom, there is a medicine cabinet that goes into the wall. I pulled the medicine cabinet off the wall and could see into the wall.
Again, I had to measure to note where all the power lines were. That board above leads in between walls in my office where I want the ethernet jack installed.
Next, I went into my office and measured where the medicine cabinet was below me. Then, I used a stud finder ( My wife. . . ah, it’s getting old) to find a good spot for the Ethernet jack. Then, I used a 1-inch drill bit to drill holes in the corners where the wall plate will cover. I then cut out a hole to fit the wall plate with a jab saw. Here is a photo of the jab saw I used.
Here is a photo of the hole I made in the wall.
I then stuck my drill with a really long 1-inch drill bit in that hole. I used a flashlight to find the floor and angled the bit to drill a 1-inch hole in the floor. I then ran the wire in the hole, ran downstairs to where the bathroom medicine cabinet was, and pulled the ethernet cable through.
My hole was off a bit and it was a little close to the stud which caused the wire to slide in between them a bit, but I was able to manage. Since I could see where the sink pipe as I was able to feed the wire all the way to the basement.
If you have drywall, as I do, don’t worry too much about making holes. It’s fairly easy to repair drywall.
Wiring the Ethernet Jack
Wiring the ethernet jack is very easy to do compared to getting the wire through the wall. The first thing to do is to use the twisted pair radial stripper.
You simply stick about 2-3 inches of cat6 Ethernet cable in the hole, rotate the tool around completely the wire and pull off the outer cover.
Inside the ethernet cable you should have 4 twisted pairs of wires
- blue and blue-white pair
- green and green-white pair
- orange and orange- white pair
- brown and brown-white pair
We will use the punch down tool to insert each wire into the back of the ethernet jack. There are two standard patterns to do this, pattern A and pattern B. Use pattern A, most people do, and every place I worked does. You can see the pattern A wire templet on the jack. The template shows you where each wire terminates. The only difference between pattern A and pattern B is swapping the orange pairs with the green pairs.
Next just lay the wires where they go on the template and you will use the punch-down tool to punch them into the jack.
In the picture above you can see the right side of the punch down tool has a pointed tip. That cuts the wire. You want that side of the tool on the outside of the jack when you punch down the wire. See the image below for a better idea of what I mean.
Once all 8 wires are punched in, connect the back cover of the jack. It should snap into place.
Then we insert the jack into the wall plate or patch panel. Again, it should easily snap into place.
Now we attach the wall plate mounting bracket to the drywall. As you can see in the image below there are tabs on the bracket.
Those tabs will bend back around the drywall to hold the bracket in place.
Then we just screw on the wall plate.
Wire the other end of the cable exactly like this one. Don’t worry about topics you may have heard like crossover cables or cross-wiring a port. Modern ethernet auto detects the connection. Once you terminate and mount the other end of the cable you can test the connection with a tool like this one. You can also just plug in the modem on one end and the router on the other. Configure the router and run a speed test.
And that is how you run an ethernet connection between a WiFi access point and a gateway router to ensure you have stable fast Wi-Fi throughout your house.
For those curious about the different ethernet standards available and why I chose Cat 6 ethernet, keep reading.
Differences between Ethernet Cat 5e, Cat 6, Cat 6a.
Category 5e: Provides 1000 Mbps data transmission speed at 100 MHz. It’s the most affordable of the three and is suitable for modern Ethernet installations.
Category 6: Provides 1000 Mbps (gigabit) data transmission speed at 250 MHz. While it’s more expensive than Cat 5e for the same data transmission rate, Cat 6 Ethernet has better insulation and thinner wires. Ultimately this results in a better signal and cleaner data transmission. Cat 6 Ethernet is better suited to deal with electromagnetic interference than Cat 5.
Category 6a: Considerably more expensive than Cat 5e and 6 Ethernet, but provides a 10,000 Mbps data transmission rate (10 gigabits) at 500 MHz. Also, is better for interference than cat 6.
These differences are just highlighting the speed. There are also differences in the wire shielding to further reduce interference. Inside an ethernet cable, there are 4 twisted pairs of wires (8 wires in all). A shield looks like a foil covering. Here are the differences in shielding ratings.
S/STP – Each of the 8 wires have a shield around them, and each twisted pair has a shield.
STP – Each twisted pair is shielded.
S/UTP – There is a shield around all 8 wires, but each twisted pair is unshielded.
UTP – No shielding.
Obviously the more shielding, the higher the price, but you also have to ground each shield. This grounding is done by using grounded jacks and connections.
Since I’m doing a simple home install and I don’t foresee my home internet speed being more than a gigabit in the next 5 years I opted for Cat 6 UTP for my installation.
I don’t see my Internet speed going over a gigabit in the near future so 1000 Mbps is plenty of speed. I went with unshielded wiring because I will stay away from power lines in my house. I went with Cat 6 over 5e to just in case I need to be closer to a power line than I like. Remember, Cat 6 is much better at handling interference than cat 5e.
Also note, that these categories are backward compatible, meaning you can use a Cat 5e cable in a jack wired for Cat 6, but the connection will be limited by the lowest-rated cable.