Designing a Network for New Home Construction

Designing a Network for New Home Construction

In building a new house, there are pivotal windows of time where it’s possible to make a change or add a feature at a huge discount. Perhaps the most pivotal is just before drywall is installed. When that happens, the price of making systemic changes, like plumbing and electrical, goes up.

When we did our electrical plan, we added little icons for network connections around the house as placeholders. We knew we’d have good wifi and figured that we’d decide about the wired network later. As the electrical rough-in was almost complete we had to make a decision: wired network or not? Wifi would probably be enough. But adding a network, at that moment, was priced at a discount that would soon disappear forever.

Before pulling the trigger, we considered using a mesh wifi system with plug-in satellites that extend the range from a primary access point. We’re currently using Orbi and it works fine. Something like Eero or Nest Wi-fi could do the job. But would we regret not having taken the opportunity to build network infrastructure?

I talked to some of my geekier friends who said I wasn’t likely to regret having ethernet built-into the house. We’ll have a fiber optic internet connection for a house that’s under 2,500 sq/ft and a single story. We work from home and most of our evening entertainment will be web-based. We decided to add the wired network and I started to learn how it all fits together.

Designing the Network

First, we had to think about the overall design of the network. We’d need a home base where everything connects and then ethernet cables that extend the internet to locations of our choosing. For example, we want our TV to have a wired connection to the internet via the network. This means an ethernet cable had to go from the wall behind the TV to the home base where it connects to the internet. The same is true with the network connections in our kitchen and garage. This was the basic idea of our network and it was an empty vessel without an internet connection.

The Basic Network

The property had a fiber connection when we purchased it and once the construction started, an orange tube stuck out of the ground, waiting for a house to appear. Our future network would be powered by the wire inside that tube. To do that, it needed to make a few jumps.

First, we needed the fiber optic cable in the tube outside to breach an exterior wall and connect to our office. Our service provider did this work and left behind a modem that connects to the internet and makes wifi available. This was the first jump: into the house. The blue tube at the bottom of the box below is the fiber arriving in our office and home base. At the top are ethernet cables arriving from across the house.

Our Network Box

Getting Connected To The Internet

By connecting the modem to the fiber connection, we could have wifi. This is the second jump: into the room. We could stop there, but we have a network and want to put it to work.

Our modem/router (above) has ports on the back that can be used for connecting the ethernet cables for our network. But it’s the most basic version possible and there only a few ports. If we’re investing in a network, I want it to be useful, powerful, and manageable.

This is where things get interesting. We have relatively simple needs and the challenge was cutting through all the complexity and identifying what products would be best for us.

Learning About Ubiquiti and Unifi

I saw a couple of friends recommend a company called Ubiquiti and the company’s line of products called Unifi for people in my position. As expected, I went to the website to learn more and quickly felt buried in confusing terms and acronyms. There are just so many options. After a couple of research sessions, I started to get a handle on what we might need.

One of the reasons people like Ubiquiti is that it’s an ecosystem of devices that work together seamlessly across internet, security, and entry access. You can start with a device or two and then build-out if needed. The more I learned, the more I liked the products and started to formulate a plan.

One of the most interesting discoveries was PoE (power over ethernet) devices. PoE means you can add devices to the network that don’t require a separate AC electrical connection. The power comes through the ethernet cable. I had no idea!

This was a pivotal because it meant we could add access points throughout the house that could make our wifi more bulletproof. The key is understanding the difference between wired and wireless access points. Wireless products like Orbi or Eero have a router and wireless “satellite” access point that plug into AC wall outlets. These devices extend the network from a single source.

Wireless Mesh Network

PoE devices are wired and create multiple sources and better coverage.

Wired Network of PoE Devices

This kind of product represents the third jump – across the house. Using PoE devices, meant the network could be modular and grow as needed. In fact, I found that Ubiquiti makes access points that fit nicely into outlet boxes and have their own ethernet ports for connecting another device.

Wired Network of PoE Devices Extending the Network

For us, this means the network connection behind our TV can be a wifi access point and a wired connection to the TV. If we need more wifi coverage, we could always use a wireless access point that plugs into the wall.

Home Base

With the internet connection in place and the network set up, I was confident that we’d have the wifi coverage we’d need. Next was figuring out how to manage and monitor the network. Until recently, this often meant using separate devices that serve as gateways, switches, etc. I dreaded this phase.

Eventually I discovered the Unifi Dream Machine, which is an all-in-one product that’s designed for people like me. It has a gateway, switch, and a wifi access point in one device. It also has ports for connecting the ethernet cables. This is what brought everything together; the home base of the network. The Dream Machine comes with software that provides for setup and network monitoring via a free app. We’d still need the modem, but the Dream Machine would be our router.

So that is our plan. The fiber connection will connect to our modem, then the Dream Machine. The Dream machine will serve as our wifi and wired network controller, including access points that are powered over the ethernet connection. My plan is to start with the Dream Machine and test the coverage, then add access points as needed. Easy scalability FTW.

In learning about how this works, I used the Ubiquiti design center to get a feel for how the devices would perform. This version is probably overkill, but shows how the signals work with our floor plan and multiple access points.

Note: I have no relationship with Ubiquiti or any other company mentioned in this post.

Betting on Blurbs for Big Enough

Betting on Blurbs for Big Enough

If you pick up just about any modern book, you’ll find short quotes from influential people saying nice things about the book and/or author. These are called endorsements or blurbs and they provide a bit of social proof.

On the front cover of Jason Fried and DHH’s book, Rework, words from Seth Godin appear above the title:

On the back cover of Paul Jarvis’ book Company of One, there are multiple quotes under the title “Praise for Company of One.”

In publishing a book, these endorsements can be a way to differentiate and give potential readers a way to evaluate what the book is about and for whom it is intended. This is also the case with my book, Big Enough. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a mission to contact influential people and ask them, in the parlance of authors, to “blurb my book.”

To be honest, I dreaded this part of the process, in part, because it’s such a big ask. I am requesting that they spend hours reading a draft of my book and then come up with a pithy remark that serves to market my book, all within a deadline of a few weeks. Of course, their name on the cover or on the book website is marketing for them, too, so it’s not as one-sided as it seems. But still, I recognize the size of the request.

Today, I sent an early version of Big Enough as a PDF to twelve kind people who had agreed to read it and potentially provide a blurb. With that complete, I’m reflecting on the experience and most of what I feel is gratitude. Anytime you ask someone for a favor, there is always a chance of rejection. Going into the process, I figured that I simply wouldn’t hear back from most. That wasn’t the case at all. Of the 20 people I contacted via email, only two didn’t respond and there is some chance that email algorithms played some role in that process.

The endorsement worked like this for me…

My publishing partner, Page Two, provided a spreadsheet with labeled columns for helping me manage the blurbs. Using that sheet, I started brainstorming influential people I know whose work or reputation fit the context of Big Enough. I looked through my email contacts, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections and browsed the blurbs on related books. I listed a mix of people I knew directly and those who I planned to contact. With the names in place, I started reaching out one by one.

It starts with an email that explains the basics. For most connections, I would mention how we know each other, an event we attended or a personal connection we have in common. I remind them about Common Craft and explain that I have a book coming out. On a few occasions, I asked people in my network for an introduction to someone I didn’t know personally and that was productive, too.

Here’s a version of the message I sent to people aware of Common Craft:

I’m writing to ask for a favor. As you know, my wife Sachi and I have run Common Craft since the early 2000s. Our early videos helped established the explainer video genre, etc. Behind the scenes, we were always focused on entrepreneurship, technology, and business models. Over the last decade, we transformed Common Craft into a company that’s intentionally small, product-focused and designed to promote a healthy quality of life. 
The favor is this: I have a book coming out in May of this year. It’s called Big Enough and it tells our story. Today the book is being designed now and I’m reaching out to a handful of influential people to ask about reading the book and potentially providing a testimonial. I think you’d find it entertaining and relevant, especially in the context of technology’s impact on small businesses like ours. It’s relatively short (big enough?) and can be read in an afternoon.
If you’re interested, I’d like to send you an uncorrected proof as a PDF. If the book connects with you, it would be awesome if you could share a few words I can use on the book and/or website. I would need the blurb by XXXXX.

To my surprise, it worked. The majority of people I asked responded and said they were happy to take a look. This doesn’t mean the blurb will happen, but it’s a step in the right direction. I am also grateful to those who responded with a simple “no”.

The next challenge is working with the blurbers to get their quotes in-hand and ready for production. I’ll probably have to send reminder emails and warnings about deadlines, but that goes with the territory.

Over the last couple of weeks, my dread regarding this process turned to excitement. I realized I was learning a new skill and developing a strategy I could use in the future. More than that, I was excited by reconnecting with old friends and potentially making new connections. In a few cases, my emails led to phone calls and online meetings. It felt like my network was getting stronger.