Do You Need Faster Ethernet at Home?

Introduction

Do you need faster Ethernet at home? The obvious answer is that it “it depends”. In this case, it depends on several factors. First, just to be clear, I am not specifically talking about the actual internet bandwidth from your internet service provider (ISP) here. Instead, I am talking about the bandwidth and capacity of your internal network at home, whether it is wired, wireless or a mixture of the two.

So, what does it depend on? Here are a few important factors:

  • Do you have any internal centralized storage such as a network attached storage (NAS) unit or a file server?
  • Do you need or want to regularly move or copy very large files between different devices?
  • Do you need or want to do client machine backups to central internal storage (like a NAS) or to the cloud?
  • Do you have many people or devices using your internal network?
  • Do you have or want very high bandwidth internet service?
  • Do you have any existing wired ethernet infrastructure?
  • Are you willing and able to upgrade your wired or wireless network at home?

Depending on the answers these questions, you may need (or at least want) faster Ethernet at home, especially for some parts of your internal network.

Basic Home Network

A fairly typical basic home network setup in the United States with internet service from a cable provider usually includes several items. You will have a cable modem and a Wi-Fi router. These could be separate units or a combination modem/Wi-Fi router.

I think it is better to have separate units, since you can replace or upgrade them at different times as your needs change. These two units could be leased from your ISP (which is a bad idea, financially) or you might have purchased them yourself.

If you have leased equipment, it is more likely to be a combo unit. One advantage of leased equipment from your ISP is that the leased equipment is the responsibility of your ISP, so they are supposed to support it. This may or may not be a good thing.

If you live in an apartment or in an older or smaller house, that might be all you have, except for whatever client devices are using your network. Usually, the cable modem is connected to the outside world with an RG6 coax cable. If you have a separate Wi-Fi router, it will be connected to the cable modem with an RJ-45 Ethernet patch cable.

Do You Need Faster Ethernet at Home?
RJ-45 Ethernet Patch Cable

Internet Performance

For this very basic home network, you have several common potential bottlenecks that can affect your network performance. First is the bandwidth and latency that your ISP actually delivers to your home. This will depend on the internet plan you are paying for and the actual performance that your ISP achieves in real life. Your measured performance can vary at different times of day and days of the week, often depending on the overall internet traffic in your neighborhood.

You can use free tools like Speedtest from Okla to measure the performance from your ISP. You should run this test from a client device that has a wired Ethernet connection to your Wi-Fi router to take your Wi-Fi performance out of the test.

Do You Need Faster Ethernet at Home?
Speedtest Result

This test shows your total available external download and upload bandwidth along with your average latency. This total external bandwidth capacity is shared across all the devices in your home. One key concept here is the difference between megabits per second (Mbps) and megabytes per second (MBps). There are eight bits per byte, so 589.33 Mbps is only 73.67 MBps.

The second potential bottleneck is your cable modem and Wi-Fi router. You might have an older DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem or a newer DOCSIS 3.1 model. Older cable modems with older versions of DOCSIS and/or fewer channels can limit your external bandwidth below what your ISP can deliver.

The next bottleneck is what sort of Ethernet ports you have on your cable modem and Wi-Fi router. Most current cable modems only have one 1.0 Gbps (Gigabit Ethernet) port that connects to a Gigabit Ethernet WAN port on your Wi-Fi router. If you are lucky enough to have an internet plan that has greater than 1000 Mbps of bandwidth, you could be throttled by the Gigabit Ethernet ports on your modem and router.

Do You Need Faster Ethernet at Home?
Motorola MB8611 Cable Modem with 2.5 Gbps port

Newer high-end cable modems and routers will have one or more “multi-gig” Ethernet ports available. Multi-gig just means greater than 1 Gbps, usually 2.5 Gbps for consumer equipment. If you decide to upgrade to multi-gig internet service from your ISP, you need to make sure your cable modem and router are not limited to 1 Gbps. You will also need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem.

You also need to consider whether you have any multi-gig LAN ports on your Wi-Fi router, in case you have any wired client devices with multi-gig LAN ports. Some high-end routers have 10 Gbps LAN ports.

Finally, if you are using Wi-Fi, it makes a big difference what sort of Wi-Fi equipment you have. What Wi-Fi version is your router (along with how many bands and antennas) and what Wi-Fi version are your client devices? Which radio band you are using (2.5 GHz or 5 GHz), how far you are away from the router, and whether you are separated by walls is also very important for throughput performance.

Do You Need Faster Ethernet at Home?
NETGEAR Nighthawk RAXE500 Wi-Fi 6E Router

Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) has been around long enough that it is pretty mature and has become more affordable. The newer Wi-Fi 6E standard uses a new 6 GHz band for even better performance under some conditions. Wi-Fi 7 is already on the horizon, probably showing up in 2023.

In real life, even the best Wi-Fi 6E connections cannot beat an “old” 1 Gbps wired Ethernet connection for raw bandwidth performance, especially for uploads. If you mainly rely on Wi-Fi for your internal network, you probably don’t really need faster Ethernet at home. Having a multi-gig internet plan with a modern cable modem and router will let you support more active users and devices. The actual bandwidth for a single device will usually still be limited by your Wi-Fi performance, which is usually less than 1 Gbps.

Moderate Home Network

A slightly more extensive home network will rely more on wired Ethernet connections as much as possible. Newer houses and apartments often have low voltage wiring packages that include built-in wired Ethernet runs with Ethernet ports in many or all rooms.

These often have a central “home run” destination area in a basement or closet where you can have a patch panel, Ethernet switches, a NAS, etc. You will still probably have a Wi-Fi router so that you can also handle your wireless clients.

Do You Need Faster Ethernet at Home?
QNAP TS-h973AX NAS

If you have (or can retrofit) this sort of hybrid wired and wireless infrastructure, you will have a lot more potential network capability available. Having more traffic that uses your wired network will also improve your wireless network performance.

Gigabit Ethernet is Still Ubiquitous

Even in 2022, most consumer devices that have wired Ethernet connections still use 1 Gbps Ethernet ports (sometimes only 100 Mbps for consumer electronics devices). This is plenty for most normal usage, including streaming 4K video, which only requires about 25 Mbps or less.

In real life, a 1 Gbps Ethernet connection will only give you about 112 MB/sec of throughput. Given that limit, who needs more bandwidth than that? Well, I think I do! Here is why.

Do You Need Faster Ethernet at Home?

I have a hybrid wireless and wireless network at home. When we had the house built, we had CAT 6 Ethernet run to most of the major rooms. I also had four CAT 7 Ethernet lines run between the basement and my office.

We currently have a Synology DS1817+ NAS with a dual-port 10 Gbps Intel Ethernet card connected to an eight-port Netgear XS708v2 10 Gbps switch. I have a couple of client desktop machines with 10 Gbps NICs on the motherboard. We also have several other desktop machines with 2.5 Gbps NICs.

Personally, I like to store pretty large files on the NAS and move them around on the network pretty often. Being limited to 112 MB/sec feels very slow when you are moving large files. I am also planning on upgrading to a faster internet plan that is rated at 1,200 Mbps. This means that I will have to upgrade my cable modem and my router to get the full speed increase.

2.5 Gbps to the Rescue!

After many years of delay, we are finally starting to see more new devices that use 2.5 Gbps Ethernet. Most new mid-range and above DIY motherboards have 2.5 Gbps NICs on board. You can also get USB to 2.5 Gbps adapters so that older machines or laptops can get in on the fun. Many new Wi-Fi routers have 2.5 Gbps WAN and LAN ports.

Do You Need Faster Ethernet at Home?
TRENDnet TEG-S350 Switch

Some higher-end cable modems have a 2.5 Gbps port. There are also more relatively inexpensive unmanaged 2.5 Gbps switches available. One nice thing about 2.5 Gbps Ethernet is that it will work just fine on older CAT 5e Ethernet cables. Most unmanaged 2.5 Gbps switches also get by with passive cooling, so no noisy fans are required. There are also more NAS devices with 2.5 Gbps or even 10 Gbps support available.

Here are a few items that might be useful if you want to have a multi-gig network at home.

Final Words

The main point here is that if you are willing and able to have some wired Ethernet infrastructure in your home, you can pretty easily venture beyond Gigabit Ethernet for at least part of your wired network. For example, you might have a 2.5 Gbps connection between your cable modem and your Wi-Fi router and between your NAS and your primary desktop or laptop. There are relatively affordable ways to do this.

Keep in mind that your internet bandwidth from your ISP is completely different from and usually unaffected by your internal network bandwidth. The reason I say usually is that you might have a multi-gig internet plan that is bottlenecked by an older cable modem or internal Gigabit Ethernet connections. Most people don’t have that problem though.

Even if you have woefully slow (low throughput) internet service, you still could benefit in some ways from faster Ethernet at home. Improving your internal Ethernet performance won’t help your slow internet speeds, but it can still be useful for what you are doing on your internal network. With a NAS, having multi-Gigabit wired connectivity between it and some of your client computers is very helpful.

You should look at the complete path between your ISP and your various client devices to see where the bottlenecks are. Then depending on your priorities and budget, you can decide what components you might want to upgrade or reconfigure to improve performance.

If you have any questions about this post, please ask me here in the comments or on Twitter. I am pretty active on Twitter as GlennAlanBerryThanks for reading!

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