A home network or home area network (HAN) is a type of local area network with the purpose to facilitate communication among digital devices present inside or within the close vicinity of a home. Devices capable of participating in this network, for example, smart devices such as network printers and handheld mobile computers, often gain enhanced emergent capabilities through their ability to interact. These additional capabilities can be used to increase the quality of life inside the home in a variety of ways, such as automation of repetitious tasks, increased personal productivity, enhanced home security, and easier access to entertainment.
One of the primary drivers behind the establishment of this kind of network is the need to distribute residential Internet access to all internet capable devices in the home. Due to the effect of IPv4 address exhaustion, most Internet service providers provide only one WAN-facing IP address for each residential subscription. Therefore, most homes require a device capable of network address translation (NAT) that can route packets between the public address visible to the WAN and private addresses of individual devices that share that public address. This router defines the boundary at which the service provider's network stops and the home's network begins. While it is possible for home networks to exist without connectivity to the outside world via a router, such topologies would have limited utility considering the bulk of current home network usage comes from home devices communicating with the WAN rather than with other home devices.
An example of a simple home network
A home network usually relies on one or more of the following equipment to establish physical layer, data link layer, and network layer connectivity both internally amongst devices and externally with outside networks:
- A modem is usually provided by an ISP to expose an Ethernet interface to the WAN via their telecommunications infrastructure. In homes these usually come in the form of a DSL modem or cable modem.
- A router manages network layer connectivity between a WAN and the HAN. Most home networks feature a particular class of small, passively-cooled, table-top device with an integrated wireless access point and 4 port Ethernet switch. These devices aim to make the installation, configuration, and management of a home network as automated, user friendly, and "plug-and-play" as possible.
- A network switch is used to allow devices on the home network to talk to one another via Ethernet. While the needs of most home networks are satisfied with the built-in wireless and/or switching capacities of their router, certain situations require the introduction of a distinct switch. For example:
- A wireless access point is required for connecting wireless devices to a network. Most home networks rely on one wireless router combination device to fill this role.
- A network bridge connecting two network interfaces to each other, often in order to grant a wired-only device, e.g. Xbox, access to a wireless network medium.
Home networks can use either wired or wireless technologies, such as:
- Ethernet Category 5 cable, Category 6 cable - for speeds of 10 Mbit/s, 100 Mbit/s, 1 Gbit/s, or 10Gbit/s.
- Wi-Fi Wireless LAN connections - for speeds up to 450 Mbit/s, dependent on signal strength and wireless standard.
- Coaxial cables - for speeds of 270 Mbit/s (see Multimedia over Coax Alliance or 320 Mbit/s see HomePNA)
- Electrical wiring - for speeds of 14 Mbit/s to 200 Mbit/s (see Power line communication)
- Phone wiring - for speeds of 160 Mbit/s (see HomePNA)
- Fiber optics - although rare, new homes are beginning to include fiber optics for future use. Optical networks generally use Ethernet.
- All home wiring (coax, powerline and phone wires) - future standard for speeds up to 1 Gbit/s being developed by the ITU-T (see G.hn).
IEEE 802.11 (WLAN)
Further information: IEEE 802.11
One of the most common ways of creating a home network is by using wireless radio signal technology; the 802.11 network as certified by the IEEE. Most wireless-capable residential devices operate at a frequency of 2.4 GHz under 802.11b and 802.11g or 5 GHz under 802.11a. Some home networking devices operate in both radio-band signals and fall within the 802.11n or 802.11ac standards. Wi-Fi is a marketing and compliance certification for IEEE 802.11 technologies. The Wi-Fi Alliance has tested compliant products certifies them for interoperability.
IEEE 802.15 (WPAN)
Further information: IEEE 802.15
Low power, close range communication based on IEEE 802.15 standards has a strong presence in homes. Bluetooth continues to be the technology of choice for most wireless accessories such as keyboards, mice, headsets, and game controllers. These connections are often established in a transient, ad-hoc manner and is not often seen as an act of expanding a home network.
IEEE 802.15.4 (LR-WPAN)
Further information: IEEE 802.15.4
A "low-rate" version of the original WPAN protocol was used as the basis of ZigBee. Despite originally being conceived as a standard for low power machine-to-machine communication in industrial environments, the technology has been found to be well suited for integration into embedded "Smart Home" offerings that are expected to run on battery for extended periods of time. ZigBee utilizes mesh networking to overcome the distance limitations associated with traditional WPAN in order to establish a single network of addressable devices spread across the entire building. Z-Wave is a newer standard also built on 802.15.4, that was developed specifically with the needs of home automation device makers in mind.
Main article: Structured cabling
Twisted pair cables
Most wired network infrastructures found in homes currently utilize some form of category 5 or category 6 twisted pair cabling with RJ45 compatible terminations. This type of medium provides physical connectivity between the Ethernet interfaces present on a large number of residential IP-aware devices.
Main article: Fiber to the home
Existing home wiring
Further information: Home wiring
As an alternative to wireless networking or additional network cable installation, the existing home wiring (coax in North America, telephone wiring in multi dwelling units (MDU) and power-line in Europe and USA) can be used as a network medium. Using these wiring systems requires installation of a home networking device before the network can be accessed by the end user device.
Main article: Power line communication
The ITU-T G.hn and IEEE Powerline standard, which provide high-speed (up to 1 Gbit/s) local area networking over existing home wiring, are examples of home networking technology designed specifically for IPTV delivery. Recently, the IEEE passed proposal P1901 which grounded a standard within the Market for wireline products produced and sold by companies that are part of the HomePlug Alliance. The IEEE is continuously working to push for P1901 to be completely recognized worldwide as the sole standard for all future products that are produced for Home Networking.
- Universal Powerline Association
- HomeGrid Forum
The following standards allow devices to communicate over coaxial cables, which are frequently installed to support multiple television sets throughout homes.
- Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA)
Endpoint devices and services
- Personal computers such as desktops, laptops, netbooks, and tablets
- A network attached storage (NAS) device can be easily accessed via the CIFS or NFS protocols for general storage or for backup purposes.
- A print server can be used to share any directly connected printers with other computers on the network.
- IP phones or smartphones (when connected via Wi-Fi) utilizing VoIP technologies
- Television: Some new TVs and DVRs include integrated WiFi connectivity which allows the user to access services such as Netflix and YouTube
- Home audio: Digital audio players, and stereo systems with network connectivity can allow a user to easily access their music library, often using Bonjour to discover and interface with an instance of iTunes running on a remote PC.
- Gaming: video game consoles rely on connectivity to the home network to enable a significant portion of their overall features, such as the multiplayer in games, social network integration, ability to purchase or demo new games, and receive software updates. Recent consoles have begun more aggressively pursuing the role of the sole entertainment and media hub of the home.
- DLNA is a common protocol used for interoperability between networked media-centric devices in the home
Some older devices may not feature the appropriate network interfaces required for home network connectivity. In some situations, USB dongles and PCI Network Interface Cards are available as accessories that enable this functionality.
Main article: Home automation
Due to the lowering cost of computing and the ubiquity of smartphone usage, many traditionally non-networked home equipment categories now include new variants capable of control or remote monitoring through an app on a smartphone. Newer startups and established home equipment manufacturers alike have begun to offer these products as part of a "Smart" or "Intelligent" or "Connected Home" portfolio. The control and/or monitoring interfaces for these products can be accessed through proprietary smartphone applications specific to that product line.
- HVAC: Nest Learning Thermostat
- Smoke/CO detectors: Nest Protect
- Garage door and gate openers: Liftmaster MyQ, GoGogate
- Security: iSmartAlarm
- Lighting: Lifx, Phillips Hue, Samsung Smart Bulb
- Wireless on/off switches
Instead of selling individual products, some service providers have begun offering complete and externally managed home automation and home security solutions that lease networked systems of devices in a subscription model together with externally managed services.
- Time Warner Cable IntelligentHome
- AT&T DigitalLife
- Comcast Xfinity Home
Most small embedded home network devices require remote configuration from a PC on the same network. For example, broadband modems are often configured through a web browser running on a PC in the same network. These devices usually use a minimal Linux distribution with a lightweight HTTP server running in the background to allow the user to conveniently modify system variables from a GUI rendered in their browser. These pages use HTML forms extensively and make attempts to offer styled, visually appealing views that are also descriptive and easy to use.
For HAN users, Microsoft offers simple access control features built into their Windows Operating System. Homegroup is a feature that allows shared disk access, shared printer access and shared scanner access among all computers and users (typically family members) in a home, in a similar fashion as in a small office workgroup, e.g., by means of distributed peer-to-peer networking (without a central server). Additionally, a home server may be added for increased functionality.
The Windows HomeGroup feature was introduced with Microsoft Windows 7 in order to simplify file sharing in residences. All users (typically all family members), except guest accounts, may access any shared library on any computer that is connected to the home group. Passwords are not required from the family members during logon. Instead, secure file sharing is possible by means of a temporary password that is used when adding a computer to the HomeGroup.
Common infrastructure issues
Wireless signal loss
The wireless signal strength of the standard residential wireless router may not be powerful enough to cover the entire house or may not be able to get through to all floors of multiple floor residences. In such situations, the installation of one or more wireless repeaters may be necessary.
WiFi often extends beyond the boundaries of a home and can create coverage where it is least wanted, offering a channel through which non-residents could compromise a system and retrieve personal data. To prevent this it is usually sufficient to enforce the use of authentication, encryption, or VPN that requires a password for network connectivity.
However new Wi-Fi standards working at 60 GHz, such as 802.11ad, enable confidence that the LAN will not trespass physical barriers, as at such frequencies a simple wall would attenuate the signal considerably.
Electrical grid noise
For home networks relying on powerline communication technology, how to deal with electrical noise injected into the system from standard household appliances remains the largest challenge. Whenever any appliance is turned on or turned off it creates noise that could possibly disrupt data transfer through the wiring. IEEE products that are certified to be HomePlug 1.0 compliant have been engineered to no longer interfere with, or receive interference from other devices plugged into the same home's electrical grid.
The convenience, availability, and reliability of externally-managed Cloud computing resources continues to become an appealing choice for many home-dwellers without interest or experience in IT. For these individuals, the subscription fees and/or privacy risks associated with such services are often perceived as lower cost than having to configure and maintain similar facilities within a home network.
There is an increasing trend of home-dwellers opting for service providers' triple play solutions which are usually bundled with Gateway/Router/WiFi combination devices that require nothing but the setting of a password to complete configuration. In such situations the home-dweller no longer requires the purchase of an additional routing device to distribute internet access throughout the home—It also obviates the need for the home-dweller having even the most basic understanding of networking technology.
The recent intense competition brewing between the major service providers over the "connected home" market of the Internet of Things suggests the possibility that the concept of a "Home Network"—a network distinct from the outside world and managed by the home-dweller—might dissolve over time as complete "Smart Home" solution offerings become more and more appealing to the average consumer who does not always have the time, patience, knowledge, or interest in the extra IT activities required to make the various devices in the home talk to one another.