What’s Holding Us Back From Using Home Networks?

Digital amusement options continue to expand, but the majority of people still don’t have a network suitable for sharing entertainment around the home.

Lifehacker readers are generally tech-savvy, so the odds are good that you’ll already have a home network, and realise the benefits it can bring. (In this context, I’m talking a proper network connecting multiple devices, not just a Wi-Fi router streaming out internet access to individual systems with no other connectivity.) Those benefits are particularly evident when it comes to entertainment: with centralised storage and good media centre software, you can easily access TV shows, movies, music and photos on any device that suits.

However, despite the benefits, uptake is far from universal. This week Canon released its biannual Consumer Digital Lifestyle Index (CDLI), which uses data from market research firm GfK to track trends in PC and gadget usage by Australians. The most recent instalment covers the second half of 2010.

There are lots of interesting stats in the CDLI, but the ones that jumped out at me were the figures relating to home networking. While the press announcement emphasised that these numbers were growing, they remain low overall. Just 47% of notebook PCs and 43% of desktops are connected to a home network. For non-PC devices, the figures are lower still: 22% for mobile phones and just 9% for televisions.

One factor evident in the survey that might influence that pattern is that upgrade cycles in many categories are becoming shorter, meaning we’re not hanging on to our tech for as long. Around 44% of us have a sub-two-year life cycle for PCs, and for cameras the same figure is 26%. Despite standardisation, that in turn can make networking less than appealing: who wants to be configuring new devices all the time?

That, I suspect the biggest reason for rejecting home networking is that it remains complicated in the first place. Wi-Fi security settings are a pain to configure and performance can vary, and when you encounter problems the first standard advice is usually “switch off security and see if that helps”. Using cabled Ethernet networks largely eliminates that issue, but unless you’ve designed your house from scratch with cable ducts to every room then trying not to drape the lounge area with cables can be a big challenge. And that’s without considering DRM and format playback issues. The benefits may be considerable, but I’m not really surprised so many resist.

A final piece of good news for gadget buyers, whatever your networking preferences: average prices across the survey fell by 13%. The bits really are getting cheaper.

Lifehacker’s weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained. 


  • Configuring a wireless network in Windows 7 is a breeze. An icon appears in the corner showing new wireless networks. You click it, click your network then enter in the password. Simple.

    I think what’s holding people back is sub-par speeds, the lack of a need for networking, plus as you said, confusion.

    My parents’ house is wireless ready and they have two laptops and desktop. But mum and dad use one laptop, my brother uses the other and the desktop is in the shed. They all do different things, so there’s no need to interconnect.

    Plus sometimes it’s a lot quicker (depending on your router, network traffic etc.) to shove the files on a USB stick and go. Plus my parents wouldn’t know how to connect to another PC without some shortcuts

    At home, I regularly access files on my wife’s PC or watch videos on the Playstation. Only problem is, our Linksys WAG160N router refuses to connect to the network after a few hours, and requires a reboot before it works again. Internet is fine, just not networking.

    • Oh, i thought it was just me…

      I have a WAG 160N as well.. the bugger kept dropping all the time (ethernet AND wireless devices)

      Ive gone and grabbed a Netgear wireless N router (with 4 port gig switch) and its awesome. All main PC’s + server connected to gig, and the PS3 is still plugged directly into the WAG160N

  • The fact that it is illegal to run ethernet cables in your walls in australia unless you are an electrician with special certification may have something to do with it. Telstra pushed for this as ethernet cables can be connected to the phone system via your modem.

    • It had little do with with Telstra and was a result of the ACMA consulting with all industry stakeholders. The main reason data cabling is regulated, is because it is run in the same areas often as electrical cabling, and to ensure the safety of that electrical cabling is maintained. i.e. not wrapping a heap of data cables around electrical cabling, potentially resulting in a fire because of heat.

      • Also, if there is no separation of the data and electrical cables, it can cause interference in the data cables and damage the equipment.

        However I’m an electrician and don’t understand why people don’t run data everywhere when the houses are built these days, they still tend to only run 2-3 telephone points and thats it. Only because the builders want to underprice each other :/

  • Interesting article. I have been recently trying to work out how to best share media with my other roommate. We both have Windows 7 laptops so I generated a homegroup. Unfortunately, the speed of copying/transferring data via the homegroup is still far slower than using ‘physical media’ such as a USB or an external harddrive.

    Until there are quick and easy options, people will continue to do what works for them.

  • Wifi would be the obvious way to network a house/unit, however, routers rarely play nice with each other unless they are the same brand and model. Even then, router software is far from consistent and hardly user friendly.

    • Wifi is the obvious choice, especially when you’re renting – but its not always the right one. especially with streaming media, its easy to saturate a wifi connection around your house (not to mention everybody else with wifi around you). You should wire in as much as possible, especially if it’ll get heavy use.

      For example: my router/dsl modem is next to the tv. My fileserver is wired in and can output video to the tv. any game consoles can hook in directly.
      There’s a wifi bridge to the office, since I tend to have two to four machines in here running at any given time.
      There’s a media box in the bedroom, which runs on wifi only, as do all laptops/phones.

      My setup is a total hack job, but it really does help to keep things simpler and more reliable if you use ethernet when you can.

  • You know its funny, how many people upgrade PC’s/Laptops to surf the web and use word excel. Most people’s PC would serve them well for years and its sad people think they need this awesome quadcore CPU and 1Gb graphics card to check hotmail and watch youtube…

    As for networks, passwords and protection, its funny, how many stories you see, esp in print, that say about the dangers, but offer know advice on how to fix it or make it better by stronger passwords.

  • So where can I go to get a well designed media network for my house? I have about 2tb of media that I want to be able to watch/listen to on 2 TV’s, 2 iPads and my stereo….can anyone suggets the optimal setup for me?

  • WiFi is pretty crap right now anyway. I’m not sure what the next move after N is, but hopefully that brings it at least up to the reliability of Fast Ethernet. Currently’ I’m running 3 different network types in my house, I’ve got a wires network for my Desktop PC/Modem/Entertainment centre, I’ve got a wireless network for the laptops/Phones/Kindles ect, and then I’ve got a powerline network connecting the Modem with the Entertainment centre. I’d love to just use wireless, but it’s crap. It can’t even transmit SD video across the room without crapping itself. So there needs to be much more improvements in this area, especially if that’s going the be the network topology of choice in the NBN days ahead.

    • Sounds like a setup issue rather than an inherent limitation or capability of wireless technology.

      We stream 1080p HD video from our NAS to the TV and laptops over 802.11n (2.4GHz) wireless without any trouble at all. The physical distance is not that great (it’s a smallish house), but with good signal strength I can’t see why this would not be possible.

  • One very underrated solution to the problems of home networking are Ethernet Over Power adapters. I am using a pair of 200Mbps units (really only get about 110Mbps) to stream 1080p video from my Ubuntu server’s SMB shares to my XBMC running Acer Aspire Revo next to the TV downstairs. You can get 2Gbps units now which are more than enough for home use.

    On the primary point of the research, I think that people are just lazy when it comes to networking and technology in general.

  • PRICE! Apparently “smart wiring” for a builder/electrician requires buying Clipsal equipment. You can buy a switch, 4RU rack, 100m Cat 6 and 16 port Cat 6 patch panel all for less than it will cost to get a single 4RU Clipsal Rack.

    Wireless and PoE will both cost you in either a WiFi dongle for each TV/PVR/Xbox or an endpoint for each PoE power outlet.

    • You also have to take in account the price for labour, and they reason they get clipsal over a generic no name brand is they want the reliability and customer service offered, because most electricians aren’t network engineers, they want to set it up and have it work because they don’t want to be getting call outs for faulty gear.

  • complicated.. surely not!

    lazy.. yes!

    1 stolen box of cable from mate’s work, 5 cat5 sockets, 1 pair cat5 cutter, and some plastic thingys to go on the end… hammer, or drill…

    = one fully wired/networked house.. (also its a rental property) hahahaa…

    • and all the cables are exposed and not in the walls? ugly and a tripping hazard.

      and if the cables ARE in the walls, it’s illegal to do it yourself, unless you are licensed to do so.

      • Is it illegal to run it under the floor? I have lots of under floor space and wooden floors, would be pretty easy to whack some cable around that goes nowhere near the electricals at all.

  • agree that it can be a pain to setup; particularly with different brands of networking equipment often not playing nicely together, but when it works it’s great. The secret ingredient of my wireless home network serving HD video to 2 x WDTVs, 1 x SONY Bravia Internet Ready TV and a Sony Internet BD Player is wireless-N 5GHz dual-band served from a Netgear wndr3700 dual-band router. HD Video is served over a 5GHz 11N dual-band network, while the other 11n devices (laptops, iphones) are served from the 2.4Ghz network on the same router. I understand that there are other good dual-band routers out there but this router / network setup has been very reliable.

  • My Apple Airport Extreme just sits there and gives me internet, it never fails and it never needs rebooting etc. It has just sat there doing its thing now for more than a year, maybe 18 months. Just saying.

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