Network Device Speeds And Distances

by | Apr 23, 2014

Network Device Speeds

When talking about home theaters, we eventually start talking about Internet access for streaming services like Hulu, Netflix. and YouTube and access to hard drives on your network for your pictures, music library and videos. In addition, your Blu-ray player will want Internet access and you might have other devices like your TV, DVR and sound system that want to be connected. With this in mind, it will be useful to discuss network device speeds and range.

bits & Bytes

The standard measurement of computer data is a Byte. With one Byte, you can contain one alpha-numeric character. So, the letter “A” is one Byte, the number “9” is one Byte and so on.

Bytes consist of eight bits. A bit can either be a one or a zero. Using our example “A” from above, it's ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) code is 65. The actual binary representation of the letter “A” is 01000001. Again, Bytes are made up of 8 bits. What is half a Byte (4 bits) called? A “nibble,” which proves that there is humor in computers.

Network Device Speeds - bits and Bytes

There are bigger numbers than those listed here, but we won't concern ourselves with them in this article. These numbers aren't the thousands, millions and billions you're used to. They're actually powers of two (binary 1 or 0). With that said, it's perfectly fine to think of Kilobytes as being 1,000, Megabytes being 1,000,000, Gigabytes being 1,000,000,000 and Terabytes being 1,000,000,000,000. Thinking that way, you actually get more Bytes for your buck.

See what I did there? Whenever I referred to a Byte, I capitalized the word. It's not grammatically correct, but I want you to start thinking of Bytes as starting with a capital “B” and bits starting with a lower case “b.” This is important when discussing wired or wireless network speed.

Mbs Versus MBs
When someone writes “100Mbs”, they're talking about bits. 100MBs is a measurement in Bytes.

100Mbs = 100 x 1,048,576 bits per second or rounded down, it's 12 Megabytes per second
100MBs = 100 * 1,048,576 Bytes per second or eight times faster than 100Mbs

Adapter Type Max. Distance Max. Speed
Bluetooth 30 feet 3Mbs
802.11a 50 feet 54Mbs
802.11b 100 feet 11Mbs
802.11g 100 feet 54Mbs
802.11n 50 feet 300Mbs
802.11ac 100 feet 1,300Mbs
500 Powerline 1,000 feet 500Mbs

Theoretical Network Maximums

Just about every engineer hates talking about the maximum distance an 802.11 wireless signal will reliably travel. The reason is because it can change depending on factors that are out of our control (for example, walls and what they're made of). Here's a table of the theoretical maximums.

I specifically called Powerline, “500 Powerline,” to make sure you knew what I was talking about. There are also Powerline adapters that operate at 200Mbs and 1Gbs.

Ethernet

With Ethernet cable you'll enjoy 10Mbs with the cheapest equipment. Typical homes have installed or will install 100Mbs Ethernet. Of course, you can achieve much greater speed, but with great speed comes great price. 1Gbs Ethernet starts moving into the uncomfortable zone price-wise.

Your Data Won't Move That Fast Or That Far

The distances and speeds listed in the table above are theoretical maximums. I can't over-emphasize how theoretical those maximums are. It's not uncommon to get half the speed at only half the distance. If you find someone getting close to the maximum speed at close to the maximum distance, keep them close for they have been truly given the luck.

It might appear that the product manufacturers are lying to you. They're really not. They are giving you the numbers they recorded in a lab that was set up perfectly. In the network world, “maximum” is what you might get under the best of conditions – Conditions you can't achieve in your home. Even though you won't get the maximum speed or distance, the numbers are useful when you get around to comparing products.

When Devices Work At Different Speeds

Powerline speeds and distances are dependent on the quality of your electrical wiring. Old wiring is equal to much slower speeds.

One last point needs mentioning. Usually the maxim, “You're as strong as your weakest link,” holds true. For example, if you connect a 10Mbs Ethernet port on your HTPC (Home Theater Computer) to a 10/100Mbs port on your router, the maximum speed will only be 10Mbs. In the world of networking we deal with devices on the end points, but we also deal with distance. So, if your HTPC's 100Mbs Ethernet port is connected to a 500Mbs powerline device and at the other end you have a 500Mbs powerline device connected to a 100Mbs port on your router, you will receive some benefit from the faster powerline devices.

It works like this – Your router is going to give your powerline device data at 100Mbs. Then the powerline device will send the data across the house to the receiving powerline device at a much faster rate. I won't say 500Mbs – That's a theoretical maximum. The receiving powerline device will send the data at 100Mbs to your HTPC. The data doesn't move from start to finish at 500Mbs, but it moves faster than at 100Mbs.

A caveat needs to be discussed here. Powerline speeds and distances are dependent on the quality of your electrical wiring. Old wiring is equal to much slower speeds. Also, always plug a powerline device into the wall. They don't work with surge protectors.

A Real World Example

In my house, my family room home theater is about 70 feet, as the crow flies, from my router in the office. In between the end points are three walls and metal from an oven, range hood and refrigerator. When I first set up the home theater, I went wireless. I was within maximum distance and I didn't want to string wires. It worked, but I could detect some speed problems. I next installed a couple of powerline adapters – one in the family room and one in the office. The speed was noticeably faster than what WiFi delivered and I got it all going without having to run Ethernet cable.

In Conclusion

So there you have it. Numbers you can compare products with and when you talk to us or another home theater installer, everyone will talk the same language.

Images by Steve Cooper


Steve Cooper

About Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper is an applications software developer who also builds custom home media solutions. His interests include reading, music & movies, guitar, woodworking and motor racing.
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