home wiring 2.0

We moved into our new home a year ago and back then the builder asked me about the network wiring of the house. Basically the home will be wired with cat5 cables for phone service. If I want a network (data) jack additionally, more cables will be added – and of course the cost. Buying a new home was financially demanding so I went on the cheap side of me and opted for voice only.

I have been using wireless network since then and I was generally pretty happy about it. However I’m moving my office to the basement and if the router follows me the wireless access will be very spotty from the second floor. Adding more access point is not a good option in my opinion so I decided to re-configure the wiring so I can have the wired data access in rooms that I want.

One big pre-condition for this setup is that I DON”T have a landline and don’t intend to get one. Like 20% of American household (and growing) we only use cellphones. I do have a SIP phone (basically a VOIP solution) and it needs a data port. Currently it is connected to my wireless router through a VOIP adapter. My VOIP phone is another good reason to have more data ports around the house. I have a cordless phone set which only needs one line to the base station (all the other handsets are cord free).

So I made the decision to go ahead re-wire cat5 to support data only.

One alternative – if you need voice jack – is to split the cat5 cable to support 2 jacks, one for voice and the other for data. Obviously that requires more work. Since this is not my configuration I’ll briefly mention it at the end of the post.

What is cat 5 cable

Here we need to have a little bit of explanation on cat5. “Category 5″ is a cable specification.

The cable looks familiar? Yep, you see it everyday if you look under the desk, around your ethernet switches.

A cat 5 cable includes 8 wires, every two of which are twisted together, known as twisted pairs. The wires are color coded, they are: orange, white orange, green, white green, blue, white blue, brown and white brown.

These wires carry voice or data signal. As a matter of fact, only 2 pairs (4 wires) are needed to support a 10/100 BASE-T network; only 1 pair is needed for a voice line. That’s why it’s possible to split one cat 5 for both data and voice. Again, in my case, I’m going all data.

Planning

A good planning always pays. Here is a list of things you need to check and prepare before start cutting wires.

  • You house is wired with cat 5 or cat 5e. Usually this is done in newer house and it can be confirmed by checking the outlet. It should say cat5 on it. If this is not the case, stop reading and go visit reddit.com.
  • You have “star” wiring. Meaning every single wire branches out from the central panel. If they are in a loop, you can stop now and go watch a movie.
  • You can access your switch board and it is either inside the house or in your basement. Because you’ll put cable modem and network switch there it needs to be securely located.
  • Equipments, tools and parts.

1. The cat 5 jacks. I bought 10 for $29 and didn’t even need one at the end.

cat5e-jacks

2. The Leviton data board.

leviton-vocie-data-board

3. A bunch of ethernet cables.

4. A wired router

linksys-wired-router

5. Some tools

tools

  • Internet downtime.

The internet will be broken for a few hours and you’ll need to let the wife know.

Let’s roll

1. Re-wire the patch panels

Note: I chose to do this first – instead of the jack – was because there is a chance the wiring of the jacks will work without any changes.

The following photo shows the patch board where all the cat 5 cables are originally terminated. Notice the third from the left is the new data board that I added. The builder’s contractor did a great job labeling the cable so I didn’t have any problem to locate the one that I want to rewire.

voice-data-panels

So I basically cut of the wires and punch them in to the new data panel (3rd one on the left). Remember the color codes for those twisted pairs? Now it’s the time to use them. Below is my color code mapping.

Wire color Board slot
Green Green
White green White green
Orange Orange
White orange White orange

Although the color codes seem to be a straight one to one mapping there is somewhat a standard to follow. And it matters because both ends of the cable need to follow the same standard to get the data juice flowing. Just remember T-568A is the standard we are going by here. You may or may not need to rewire the jack to T-568A, depending on what your builder used originally. To learn more about the standards you can visit this page.

The Leviton patch board has instruction on the color mapping on each punch slot so it was super easy to find the correct punch slot. It’s the first time that I work on these punchdowns and I have to say it was pretty easy to get a hang of it. Just keep a steady hand and enjoy that little clicks when you push the wire in. The plastic tool that comes with the patch panel was good enough for me and I don’t think you need to invest a $30 punch tool unless you are planning to do this to make a living. Again, I’m cheap.

This photo shows the two wires are terminated into data panel. The cables coming out of the black ports go into the router.

voice-data-panels-2

2. Connect the patch panel to a router

Now is the time to notify your family that the internet will be down. I took the cable modem and connect it directly to cable company’s video feed. Did I mention I don’t have cable TV? If you do, you probably need a splitter. Then, connect the cable modem to a wired Linksys router (I left the wireless router upstairs and it will be my access point). Now it’s also a good time to configure/check the router if it’s a new one. Once you verified it is online, connect it to your patch board and make sure you use the right port where the wires were terminated.

3. Check and re-wire the jack, if needed.

If you are as lucky as me your jack is a data port already. If not, it is possible it’s not wired using T568A standard so you’ll need to rewire it that way. The cat 5 jack should have a label on it that clearly indicates which color goes where for A or B standard so it should be pretty easy to punch and attach. Here is the color code mapping:

Wire Jack slot
Green Green
White green White green
Orange Orange
White orange White orange

As I mentioned I didn’t even need to rewire the jack but I did one anyway. Here is a picture:

new-jack-in-wall

At this point you should have one room wired. So plug in a your computer you should have the internet. If not, check the wires, connections.

4. Take a break and finish up

Now it’s a good time to take a break and give yourself a pad on the back. If you have more outlets to convert, repeat the same steps. Once you are done, tidy up the wires and outlets.

The old wireless router can now be used as a simple access point. Just make sure to re-configure it to a different static IP (192.168.1.2 for example) and turn off DHCP (The wired router is doing that now). Connect one of the LAN port to a network switch or a data jack you are done.

Voice + Data over one cat 5

As I mentioned I don’t use this kind of setup but since I did some research on it I might as well write it down.

Remember there are 4 pairs of wires in a cat 5 cable? We just used 2 pair. The 2 pairs left can be used for phone lines, and as matter of fact, two phone lines if you wish.

1. Make a phone jack

You can use a cheaper voice jack for this one. Here is the color code mapping:

Wire color Jack slot
Blue Blue
White blue White blue
Brown Brown
White brown White brown

2. Terminate phone jacks

Since I don’t have a land line of my own so I don’t get a chance to practice this. Basically one twisted pair can support one voice line so you can play with it and see what’s the best fit for you.

One suggestion is that you should use a regular voice jack, which is smaller than cat 5 jack so you can’t accidentally plug in data cable in a voice jack. Since there is always a chance the wires are not done correctly, the high voltage generated from the phone rings can toast your network adapter if the cable is plugged into the wrong jack.

Some think there will be data transfer degradation when the voice line is in use. Based on what I read and talking to friend who actually did this setup, it seems more like just a theory.

Document what you did

Once you get it working please make sure finishing the last mile before start surfing the web: documenting what you did. Label the wires, mark the jacks. Or write a blog post, maybe.

So that’s how I rewired my home to version 2.

As landline becomes less and less popular these days I really think this is a setup that may become more and more popular. As we are going to see more and more “network intelligent” electronic devices in homes in the future. Devices to stream internet video to TV is a good example and is already making the front run. With more bandwidth hungry devices in your home wireless access point can become a bottleneck. In that case, the more data port, the merrier. Of course if you are building a new home and have the chance and means, you can pimp the wiring up by doubling cat 5 or even adding cat 6. But for most of the existing homes, it’s not that easy to drag wires behind the walls and this might be a more feasible solution.

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