Interconnecting Ethernet switches over a Wifi Mesh?

Jon Weaver

Distinguished Member
I have just moved into a 10 year old house and one of the things I really liked about it was the fact that it was Ethernet wired.. Or atleast I believe it was.

In the cupboard there are 6 cables sticking out of the wall with RJ45s terminated in the end.. And in 6 of the rooms there is an Ethernet faceplate.

So you would think they are connected? I did. But apparently not... I have used my Ethernet tester and of the 6x8 wires, not a single one is connected.. So there is a break somewhere and I don't know how to find it... I hoped there might be a patch panel somewhere, but 4 weeks on, I know every mm of the house and there isn't one.

All I know is that the RJ45 sockets are wired to something.. And the cables sticking out of the wall have RJ45 plugs.. But they are not connected.

I spoke to the previous owner and apparantly "the Developers never game back to finish the job".. But I think that was the installation of a switch/router and not the cabling itself.. But now there is zero chance of getting any help other than to bump into a neighbour who might know more about it.. I have seen 2 neighbours so far and they just went "wifi".

Problem is, I need/want a good Gigabit network and am trying to find the best way to do it.

I started wtih a cable down the stairs which worked, but it was dangerous.. I then dug out some home plugs which solved my problem.. But I am getting about 20mbs and random amount of lag, so I need to change.

I then bought some 1GB Powerline adaptors from eBay for £20 as a test.. And they are better.. But I am only getting 50mbs.

So my last throw of the dice is a Wifi mesh network. And this brings me to my question.. Obviously a mesh networks primary function is wifi.. But am I right in thinking that I can use the Ethernet connections too as a 'LAN'?

I could plug in a switch into on in my office and another in my living room and then wired devices will communicate over Wifi?

I realise that to get high-speed backhaul I will need to spend a bit of money, so I have been looking at the new TP-Link X50s which appear to be pretty good performance for under £300.. My other option is to get a set of TP-Link M4s which won't give 1GBs, but should give a few 100MBs for a lot less.

Before i do too much research into what models to get, can I just confirm that my understanding of a Wifi Mesh is correct and whether it can be used for this application.?

Thanks in advance for your help

Jon
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
There is no useful definition of what "mesh" means. So to know whether any given product can avail onward connection to other wired devices, you would need to check the specifications.

If you want reliable high speed data networking, then the best option by far is to get out the drill and install some UTP cabling. If you have just moved in to a property and have yet to decorate to your taste, then perhaps now is the time to consider it.

UTP cabling can be utilised for other purposes as well as ethernet data network,, so don't "just assume" that a cable with an RJ45 plug/socket on it is going to work for ethernet - it could have been put in for telephones for example.

Tracing cables can be a real misery if the installer hasn't labelled them or left behind a plan or patching schedule. "In the business" we'd use a "cable finder" which is a device that puts an audio frequency on the line at one end then there's a "wand" that squeaks when you touch to/near the the cable under test. However, such things are probably not worth the expense for a one off DIY exploration. You you might have a look to see if there one going cheap (no pun intended) or second hand on eBay etc. and see if it's money you are prepared to spend with no certainty of whether it'll help you out.

A cheaper option is the "battery and light bulb" continuity test which is pretty much what the cheap 10GBP (or thereabouts) cable testers do. Note that such devices are "just" testing electrical continuity, they are not in any sense testing that "ethernet" works - that required devices that can synthesize actual ethernet data - though there are devices that do that that only cost a few tens GBP.

You might try having a look in the loft if you haven't already done so - it's a popular route for running cables in domestic scenarios.

(And forget about HomePlugs - due to the huge protocol overheads they have, you would have to be looking at HomePlugs with at least 4gbps Link Rate over perfectly "clean" mains to even stand a chance of getting the equivalent of a single 1gbps full-duplex ethernet link.)
 
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Jon Weaver

Distinguished Member
There is no useful definition of what "mesh" means. So to know whether any given product can avail onward connection to other wired devices, you would need to check the specifications.

If you want reliable high speed data networking, then the best option by far is to get out the drill and install some UTP cabling. If you have just moved in to a property and have yet to decorate to your taste, then perhaps now is the time to consider it.

UTP cabling can be utilised for other purposes as well as ethernet data network,, so don't "just assume" that a cable with an RJ45 plug/socket on it is going to work for ethernet - it could have been put in for telephones for example.

Tracing cables can be a real misery if the installer hasn't labelled them or left behind a plan or patching schedule. "In the business" we'd use a "cable finder" which is a device that puts an audio frequency on the line at one end then there's a "wand" that squeaks when you touch to/near the the cable under test. However, such things are probably not worth the expense for a one off DIY exploration. You you might have a look to see if there one going cheap (no pun intended) or second hand on eBay etc. and see if it's money you are prepared to spend with no certainty of whether it'll help you out.

A cheaper option is the "battery and light bulb" continuity test which is pretty much what the cheap 10GBP (or thereabouts) cable testers do. Note that such devices are "just" testing electrical continuity, they are not in any sense testing that "ethernet" works - that required devices that can synthesize actual ethernet data - though there are devices that do that that only cost a few tens GBP.

You might try having a look in the loft if you haven't already done so - it's a popular route for running cables in domestic scenarios.

Believe me, UTP is the way I want to go. Over the last 20 years I installed it room to room as I needed it.. And I use it for various things from phones, to LAN to HDMI.

In the new house I believed I had UTP.. There were 6 terminated cables.. and 6 terminated sockets.. But its one of lifes mysteries as to why they are not connected... And believe me has caused by a ton of disappointment and stress.

I am happy to invest in a tester.. The one I was looking at will show the "length" of the cable too so that might help.. But I didn't think that the "wand" would have the sensitivity to detect the cables throught the walls and certainly not the ceilings/floors..

My nephew is an AV fitter and has a tester so he is going to bring it round.. We will be able to tell the length of the cable for sure.. But I am not convinced we will be able to trace them.

Installing cable would be possible.. But it will make such a mess of an immaculate house.. This is why I started to wonder whether in 2022, it was just better to move with the times and try a Wifi mesh.

And my question was whether I understand the technology correctly and that you can use the "mesh" to interconnect cabled devices? So would a computer plugged into a station be able to talk to another computer plugged into a different station if the mesh was only interconnected by Wifi.. I believe yes.. But there isn't a specific specification which says this.

thats why I was going to go for a Wifi6/AX3000 type, which has fast "back haul" bandwidth, so the mesh would create a network which had cable like speeds.

I still havn't given up trying to find the route of the UTP.. But I need to fix my network now as I can't keep running on 20mbs and a mesh just seems a quick/easy (but expensive) solution to my problem.

Jon

Edit: Oh yes.. Cables are not in the loft.. I know that space intimately.. There are about 20 coaxs.. But no UTP.. They went well overboard when they built the house putting 5 Coaxes in each room... Telephones are wired to each room. But for some reason have done something very odd with the UTP.. And I still can't help thinking there is a patch panel hidden away somewhere.
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
I am happy to invest in a tester.. The one I was looking at will show the "length" of the cable too so that might help.. But I didn't think that the "wand" would have the sensitivity to detect the cables throught the walls and certainly not the ceilings/floors..

It's a bit of a gamble - some of the tone generators I've used have started squeaking (quietly) when I'm a foot or so away, even with a bit if "structure" in the way, but it's a bit hit and miss. Generally you have to be pretty close to, if not actually touching the cable under test to "find" it. But I've gotten lucky and tracked a few that disappeared into some walls in the past. It's a forlorn hope though. If I could get a tone generator and wand for (say) 20 GBP I might give it a go, but I wouldn't want to spend say 50-60-70 GBP and upwards on something where I'm not sure it'll be much help.

And my question was whether I understand the technology correctly and that you can use the "mesh" to interconnect cabled devices? So would a computer plugged into a station be able to talk to another computer plugged into a different station if the mesh was only interconnected by Wifi.. I believe yes.. But there isn't a specific specification which says this.
Generally workstations on a LAN don't "care" how data gets to them - each station only needs to "know" how to talk through it's network interfaces. So in the simple use case, usually pretty much anything can talk to anything else anywhere on the network.

For example, in big enterprise network Wi-FI clients talking to one AP can talk to Wi-Fi clients talking to any other AP irrespective of, and without any knowledge of, how the AP's establish their "backhaul" link to the rest of the network infrastructure. (Over the years, I've used wires, Wi-Fi and even lasers!)

But to repeat, it is by no means universal that a "mesh" node will facilitate clients connected to their ethenet ports (if they even have them, some don't.) You need to check the specification. In some devices, an AP's ethernet port is (only) there to facilitate a wired backhaul link and not an onward "bridge" to other devices upstream of the node. Don't presume anything just because it calls itself "mesh" system. Generally I council to assume that a "thing" cannot do something unless it explicitly states that it can.

thats why I was going to go for a Wifi6/AX3000 type, which has fast "back haul" bandwidth, so the mesh would create a network which had cable like speeds.

I still havn't given up trying to find the route of the UTP.. But I need to fix my network now as I can't keep running on 20mbs and a mesh just seems a quick/easy (but expensive) solution to my problem.

I smile a little at the idea of mesh technology being "moving with the times," as an enterprise scale system I was deploying 20 odd years ago had a feature that it could form (what they called) "mesh" links to any AP's that we couldn't get cables to (though in that system we had to manually configure what talked to what - it didn't work it out for itself as contemporary SOHO offerings tend to.)

The whole "mesh" thing is a bit of the latest nonsense-du-jour being used to sell managed fleets of Wi-Fi AP's which can often use WiI-Fi backhaul links into the SOHO market. Don't the marketing BS fool you into thinking this is some "magic" new Wi-Fi woo-woo, it's been around for a long time!

The Wi-Fi the "mesh" systems use to create their backhaul links between themselves is exactly the same Wi-Fi as is used to talk to client devices - same power levels, same signalling paradigms, same protocols, etc. and it suffers all the same problems. Not least that in Wi-Fi "only one thing at a time can transmit" which mean that the backhaul transmission could be competing with client<-->AP transmissions for the available "air time" - which can hit the throughput. especially if the network is busy, low speed, or signalling conditions are poor.

Some (but by no means all) newer systems try to alleviate this somewhat by using different radio channels for the mesh links and the client access, allowing both to occur concurrently (though there is still air time competition within each channel,) but the frequency spectrum available is finite and eventually we will always run out of available channels. Again, to know if your intended mesh solution offers this, (sometimes it's called "tri-band" - though that sometimes has other meaning) check the specs.

Deep, innit.
 
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Jon Weaver

Distinguished Member
It's a bit of a gamble - some of the tone generators I've used have started squeaking (quietly) when I'm a foot or so away, even with a bit if "structure" in the way, but it's a bit hit and miss. Generally you have to be pretty close to, if not actually touching the cable under test to "find" it. But I've gotten lucky and tracked a few that disappeared into some walls in the past. It's a forlorn hope though. If I could get a tone generator and wand for (say) 20 GBP I might give it a go, but I wouldn't want to spend say 50-60-70 GBP and upwards on something where I'm not sure it'll be much help.


Generally workstations on a LAN don't "care" how data gets to them - each station only needs to "know" how to talk through it's network interfaces. So in the simple use case, usually pretty much anything can talk to anything else anywhere on the network.

For example, in big enterprise network Wi-FI clients talking to one AP can talk to Wi-Fi clients talking to any other AP irrespective of, and without any knowledge of, how the AP's establish their "backhaul" link to the rest of the network infrastructure. (Over the years, I've used wires, Wi-Fi and even lasers!)

But to repeat, it is by no means universal that a "mesh" node will facilitate clients connected to their ethenet ports (if they even have them, some don't.) You need to check the specification. In some devices, an AP's ethernet port is (only) there to facilitate a wired backhaul link and not an onward "bridge" to other devices upstream of the node. Don't presume anything just because it calls itself "mesh" system. Generally I council to assume that a "thing" cannot do something unless it explicitly states that it can.



I smile a little at the idea of mesh technology being "moving with the times," as an enterprise scale system I was deploying 20 odd years ago had a feature that it could form (what they called) "mesh" links to any AP's that we couldn't get cables to (though in that system we had to manually configure what talked to what - it didn't work it out for itself as contemporary SOHO offerings tend to.)

The whole "mesh" thing is a bit of the latest nonsense-du-jour being used to sell managed fleets of Wi-Fi AP's which can often use WiI-Fi backhaul links into the SOHO market. Don't the marketing BS fool you into thinking this is some "magic" new Wi-Fi woo-woo, it's been around for a long time!

Believe me, I know that a "mesh" network is nothing modern or exciting.. But it has got a whole lot easier over the years and just dont' have the time any more to play around with config.. i just want something I can take out of the box and it will work first time.

I would still love to get the UTP in the house traced out, but I just can't imagine there is an easy solution and just wonder if a few £100 spent on a mesh network might just take the pressure off until I have more time to poke around.

When I take this into context with the other purchases I have been making, its a tiny amount of money in the big picture... And I am certainly going to need to extend the Wifi anyway, once I get outdoors as there is no way the standard Wifi is going to work in the garage or beyond.
 

Jon Weaver

Distinguished Member
Just to close this off, I managed to fix my Ethernet in the end.. The solution was staggeringly obvious.. They absolutely ****ed up the the RJ45 connectors.. All of them.

Out of 6 connectors each with 8 wires (48 in total), I only had continuity on 3 pairs...

2 of the connectors were just wrong with the wires not push all the way in and a couple of missing wires as will which had been cut off... And the other 4 just needed a bit of extra pressure in the tool.

Once I did this, my el-cheapo tester showed continuity on all 4 pairs and it all magically worked.

So after a month of writing this off, assuming something complex was involved (ie a hidden patch panel), it turned out my gut feel was right and the cables WERE point to point after all...

So now I have UTP all over the house and with a handful of switches have can now distribute the network where I want..

So if I am to buy a "mesh" I will only do it to extend the wifi, and will pick up a cheap TP-Link M4 which should do what I want.. No need now to buy something with massive backhaul bandwidth as I can do everything i need via UTP.

Thanks for your help and giving me a place to think. my problem through.

Jon
 

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