Networks are almost like living, breathing things. They expand, contract, replicate, or break off into their own new clusters of devices and information sharing. If your home or office needs a little more breathing room for a new generation of devices, or wants to grow to support new users, here are some of the best ways you can expand your network to accommodate them.
A New Router
The humble router is the heart of any network, whether it’s at home or in the office. It’s what brings all of the devices together and lets them reach out to the wider connected world. Whether you want to improve the speed of your network, make it compatible with newer devices, or need additional local bandwidth to support new users, a new router can go a long way to help you expand your network.
Higher-end routers can come with support for a greater number of devices and faster gigabit Ethernet standards if you want additional wired connections – but be sure to use some of the newer Cat 6, Cat 6A or even Cat 8 Ethernet cables to really take advantage of it. They not only offer greater bandwidth for faster data transfers and a more responsive network, but most also come fitted with improved shielding on the individual wires, helping to reduce crosstalk and improve the quality of the signal reaching those new devices.
Do note, however, that if you buy a router that offers faster than Gigabit Ethernet support, you will likely need to upgrade the Ethernet ports in older desktop computers to take advantage of it. Fortunately, add-in network cards that support anywhere up to 10Gbps Ethernet are readily available and can be installed in a free PCI Express slot.
Alongside faster wired connections, newer routers can also take advantage of Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), which offers an important upgrade over older generation Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) and earlier wireless technologies (802.11 b/g/n). Not only is Wi-Fi 6 noticeably faster, but it also allows for a far greater number and array of devices to be present on the network without interfering with each other’s signal or bandwidth, allowing for a grander singular network than older Wi-Fi standards.
Another feature worth considering when buying a new router is its wireless range and coverage – external antenna can go a long way to improving the wireless signal, especially in offices with lots of interceding walls or columns. For the most busy of office environments, consider using Wi-Fi repeaters or even building a mesh network of routers. They can interconnect with one another to best route data throughout the network, maximizing coverage, data throughput, and efficiency. It does mean buying more than one router, but mesh networks can be near-infinitely expandable, making it easy to further build your network in the future.
Switches and Patch Panels
If your network already supports the latest technologies and you just need more physical connections to get new devices and computers on board, then a new switch or patch panel is a great way to do it. They give you the option of adding anywhere from a handful, to 48 Ethernet ports to your network, massively increasing the number of potential network devices. Cable Matters offers patch panels that can be wall or rack-mounted, depending on your office needs.
A switch can be a little easier to implement for smaller networks or if you want a solution that is easier to move around if necessary. For an even smaller and quicker solution to onboard additional devices, you can use multi-port Ethernet adapters like this one. Additionally, if any of the new devices you’re trying to connect to the network don’t have Ethernet, you can use standalone Gigabit Ethernet adapters to use any free USB ports they have to provide that connection option.
If your office or home network has very specific needs for certain cables lengths, or you don’t want reels of cable to bundle away somewhere, making your own cables can be a great solution. Not only does it mean you can cut cables to exactly the right length you need, but if you plan to make a lot of cables, it can be much more cost-effective too.
All you need are some Cat6A plugs with strain relief boots, a reel of bulk Ethernet Cable (at least CM, in-wall rated), and a crimping tool. For a breakdown of how to make the cables yourself, check out our how-to guide.
Searching for the latest tech for a network upgrade? Cable Matters’ B2B business team is an excellent resource for both home and office users alike.