Home Network Diagrams

Common designs for home networks offer both pros and cons

Many different home network layouts work just fine, but most are variations on a basic set of common designs. This gallery contains network diagrams for wireless, wired, and hybrid home networks. Each network diagram includes a description of the pros and cons of that particular layout as well as tips for building it.

Wireless Router Network Diagram

Wireless Home Network Diagram Featuring Wi-Fi Router

All devices connecting to a wireless router must possess a working network adapter. Connecting the router to a broadband modem that has one or more built-in adapters enables wireless sharing of a high-speed internet connection.

Wireless routers technically allow dozens of computers to connect over Wi-Fi links. Nearly any residential wireless router will have no trouble supporting the number of wireless devices found in typical homes. However, if all Wi-Fi computers attempt to use the network at the same time, slowdowns in performance should be expected.

Many (but not all) wireless network routers also allow up to four wired devices to be connected using an Ethernet cable. When first installing this kind of home network, one computer should be cabled to the wireless router temporarily to allow initial configuration of the wireless features. Employing Ethernet connections after that is optional. Using permanent Ethernet connections make sense when the computer, printer or other device lacks Wi-Fi capability or cannot receive an adequate wireless radio signal from the router.

Optional Components

Networking the router for internet access, printers, game consoles, and other entertainment devices is not required for the rest of the home network to function.

Limitations

The Wi-Fi portion of the network will function only to the limit of the wireless router's range. The range of Wi-Fi equipment varies depending on many factors including the architecture of your home and any potential sources of radio interference.

If the wireless router does not support enough Ethernet connections for your needs, add a secondary device like a network switch to expand the wired portion of the layout.

Ethernet Router Network Diagram

Wired Home Network Diagram Featuring Ethernet Router

This diagram illustrates the use of a wired network router as the central device of a home network.

Key Considerations

Many (but not all) wired network routers allow up to four devices to be connected using Ethernet cables. All devices connecting to an Ethernet router must possess a working Ethernet network adapter.

Optional Components

Networking the router for internet access, printers, game consoles, and other entertainment devices is not required for the rest of the home network to function.

Limitations

If the Ethernet router does not support enough Ethernet connections, add a secondary device like a network switch to expand the layout.

Hybrid Ethernet Router and Wireless Access Point Network Diagram

Hybrid Home Network Diagram Featuring Wired Router and Wireless Access Point

This diagram illustrates ​the use of a hybrid wired network router / wireless access point home network.

Key Considerations

Most (but not all) wired network routers allow up to four devices to be connected with an Ethernet cable. A wireless access point consumes one of these available ports, but it then enables many (dozens of) Wi-Fi devices to join the network.

Nearly any home network wireless access point will have no problem supporting the number of wireless devices there. However, if all Wi-Fi computers attempt to use the network at the same time, performance slowdowns can result.

All devices connecting to an Ethernet router must possess a working Ethernet network adapter. All devices connecting a wireless access point must possess a working Wi-Fi network adapter.

Optional Components

Networking of internet access, printers, game consoles, and other entertainment devices is not required for either the router or access point to function.

You can choose which devices to connect to the router and which to the wireless access point. Additional network adapters may be needed to convert some Ethernet devices, particularly printers and game consoles, to work wirelessly.

Limitations

The Wi-Fi portion of the network will function only to the limit of the wireless access point's range. The range of Wi-Fi equipment varies depending on many factors including layout of the home and any radio interference that may be present.

If the wireless router does not support enough Ethernet connections, add a secondary device like a network switch to expand the wired portion of the layout.

Direct Connection Network Diagram

Wired Home Network Diagram Featuring Direct Connection

This diagram illustrates direct connection without a router or other central device on the home network.

Key Considerations

Direct connection can be achieved with several different types of cabling. Ethernet cabling is the most common, but even simpler (slower) alternatives including RS-232 serial cable and parallel cables will work.

Direct Connection is common for game consoles to support two-player network gaming (e.g., Xbox System Link).

Optional Components

Connecting to the internet requires that one computer to possess two network adapters — one to support the internet connection and one to support the second computer. Additionally, internet connection sharing software must be installed to allow the second computer internet access. If internet connectivity is not necessary, these things can be omitted from this layout.

Limitations

Direct connection works only for a single pair of computers or devices. Additional devices cannot join such a network, although other pairs can be connected separately as shown above.

Ad Hoc Wireless Network Diagram

Wireless Home Network Diagram Featuring Ad Hoc Wi-Fi Connections

This diagram illustrates the use of a so-called ad-hoc wireless setup in a home network.

Key Considerations

Using ad-hoc Wi-Fi mode eliminates the need for a network router or access point in a wireless home network. With ad-hoc wireless, you can network computers together as needed without remaining within reach of one central location. Most people use ad-hoc Wi-Fi only in temporary situations to avoid potential security problems.

Optional Components

Networking an ad-hoc layout for Internet access, printers, or game consoles and other entertainment devices is not required for the rest of the home network to function.

Limitations

All devices connecting through ad-hoc wireless must possess a working Wi-Fi network adapter. These adapters must be configured for "ad hoc" mode instead of the more typical "infrastructure" mode.

Because of their more flexible design, ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks are also more difficult to keep secure than those using central wireless routers and access points.

Ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks support a maximum of 11 Mbps bandwidth, while other Wi-Fi networks may support 54 Mbps or higher.

Ethernet Switch (Hub) Network Diagram

Wired Home Network Diagram Featuring Ethernet Hub or Switch

This diagram illustrates ​the use of an Ethernet hub or switch on a home network.

Key Considerations

Ethernet hubs and switches allow several wired computers to network with each other. Most (but not all) Ethernet hubs and switches support up to four connections.

Optional Components

Networking of internet access, printers, or game consoles and other entertainment devices is not required for the rest of this home network layout to function.

Additional hubs and switches can be incorporated into this basic layout. Connecting hubs and switches to each other expands the total number of computers the network can support up to several dozen.

Limitations

All computers connecting to a hub or switch must possess a working Ethernet network adapter.

As shown, unlike a network router, Ethernet hubs and switches cannot interface directly to an internet connection. Instead, one computer must be designated as controlling the internet connection and all other computers access the internet through it. Internet connection sharing software can be installed on each computer for this purpose.

HomePNA and G.hn Home Network Technology

Phoneline Home Network Diagram Featuring HPNA Gateway / Router

This diagram illustrates the use G.hn home network technology.

Key Considerations

Residences have historically used three kinds of home wiring — phone lines (HomePNA devices), power lines, and coaxial cabling (for televisions and TV set-top boxes). The ability to plug devices together across these different cable types and create a whole-house wired home network is being developed by a group called the HomeGrid Forum.

HomePNA phoneline networks use the ordinary telephone wiring of a residence to carry home network communications. As with Ethernet or Wi-Fi networks, phoneline networks require each device to have a compatible phone line network adapter installed. These adapters are connected by ordinary phone wires (or sometimes CAT5 Ethernet cable) to telephone wall outlets.

Other technology sponsored by the HomeGrid Forum falls under a standard named G.hn (for Gigabit home networking). G.hn products include powerline adapters that plug into wall outlets and possess an Ethernet port for interfacing the line to a wired home network, and similar adapters that interface IPTV set-top boxes using coax to an existing broadband home network.

These technologies can be useful when you must connect wired devices between rooms, or when a home and TV set-top box are located far apart from each other and one or both of the devices does not support Wi-Fi.

Optional Components

When available, devices can use standard Ethernet or Wi-Fi connections instead of G.hn adapters.

Limitations

HomePNA phoneline networks are rarely used nowadays and this equipment is very difficult to find, primarily due to the popularity of Wi-Fi devices. G.hn technology is also still relatively new and certified products have traditionally been difficult to find.

Powerline Home Network Diagram

Powerline Home Network Diagram Featuring Powerline Router

This diagram illustrates ​the use of HomePlug equipment to build a powerline home network.

Key Considerations

Powerline networks use the ordinary electrical circuitry of a residence to carry home network communications. Available powerline equipment includes network routers, network bridges, and other adapters.

To connect to a power line network, one end of the adapter plugs into a standard electric wall outlet while the other connects to a device's network port (usually Ethernet or USB). All connected devices share the same communication circuit.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance develops technology standards supported by compatible powerline equipment.

Optional Components

Not all devices on the home network must be connected to a powerline router; hybrid networks with Ethernet or Wi-Fi devices can be joined with the powerline network. For example, a Wi-Fi powerline bridge can optionally be plugged into a wall outlet, enabling wireless devices to connect to it and in turn to the rest of the powerline network.

Limitations 

HomePlug phoneline networking remains much less popular than Wi-Fi or Ethernet alternatives. Powerline networking products will generally be more difficult to find with fewer choices of models for this reason.

Powerline networks generally do not work as reliably if devices plug into power strips or extensions cords. Connect directly to the wall outlets for best results. In homes with several circuits, all devices must connect to the same one circuit to communicate with each other.

The maximum bandwidth of a HomePlug (version 1.0) powerline network is 14 Mbps, while the newer HomePlug AV standard supports more than 100 Mbps. Poor quality electrical wiring as found in older homes can degrade the performance of a powerline network.

Two Router Home Network Diagram

Two Router Home Network - Diagram

Basic home networks typically work with just one broadband router, but adding a second router provides more options for expanding and managing the network.

Two router networks provide useful new capabilities in several situations:

  • Extending a wired network based on one Ethernet router to include Wi-Fi capability through a wireless second router.
  • Building a subnetwork within the overall home network to limit the internet access of certain devices, or to isolate their network traffic.
  • Having a working backup unit available in case one router suddenly fails to function.