It wasn’t too long ago that specialized IT personnel were required to set up and install networks in our homes and offices.
Nowadays, everyone wants to have multiple devices on their home internet connection, so we’ve had to become the IT guys. We have routers and switches and other arcane networking devices in our homes that we’re expected to understand and manage on our own.
The integration of IoT devices into our homes has only complicated the matter even more. Smart homes have dozens of devices connected to the same network, and it can be hard to manage all of them efficiently.
In order to properly configure the network for maximum efficiency, it would probably be a good idea to employ the use of a network switch.
Still, you may find yourself asking the following question:
Do I need a managed switch for my smart home network?
Routers vs Switches
A router is a device that routes packets from one network to multiple devices. For example, if a laptop makes a request for a website, it goes through the router.
The router, after receiving the request, routes the packets from the website to the laptop’s internal address. That’s a basic example of how routers operate in a nutshell.
Switches, on the other hand, aren’t capable of doing any routing themselves, meaning they still need a router to operate. However, switches can be used to create sub-networks in your main home or office network.
You can hook up different devices to different switches in your network, and your router can determine the sub-network to which it should be prioritizing packets.
Take a VoIP (Voice over IP) telephone, for instance. It would be a good idea to prioritize packets for a VoIP phone, as the information needs to be traveling in real-time. Any network disruptions can quickly become quite annoying if you’re trying to talk to someone on the phone.
Conversely, it doesn’t really matter what order or how fast packets arrive to your laptop after it makes a website request – obviously, the page should load in a timely manner, but the information needed to build a web page isn’t needed in real time in the same way as a phone call. In this scenario, you could use a network switch to prioritize packets to VoIP telephones, and other devices on your network that require uninterrupted information in real time.
Managed vs Unmanaged Switches
Switches connect Ethernet IP devices and forward information between them. A managed switch is designed to communicate across multiple networks, while simultaneously providing built-in network security and improving the network’s bandwidth by properly prioritizing packet requests.
A managed switch – as opposed to an unmanaged switch – has more software on it that allows the user to have more control over their network. For example, you can use a managed switch to run network protocols like the SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), which you can use to control the LAN to create VLANs (Virtual Local Area Networks).
In addition, managed switches provide network status, diagnostics, and data prioritization. With a managed switch, unauthorized devices cannot be connected to the network, thus preventing malicious threats.
Nevertheless, most people living in a traditional home probably don’t need a managed switch for their home or office network. If you’re buying a network switch simply to prioritize packets to real-time devices such as VoIP phones, there are other options out there.
Many advanced routers today have a built-in capability called QoS (Quality of Service) which automatically prioritizes devices on the network to ensure the best overall user experience (video and voice calls are prioritized over website requests.)
Managed Switches for Smart Home Networks
Managed switches are great for connecting many different devices to a network, such as IP cameras and wireless access points, all without affecting the network’s performance.
In most instances, typical homeowners probably won’t need to make use of a network switch, especially a managed switch.
Smart homeowners, contrarily, will definitely need to make use of a managed switch, preferably a managed PoE switch.
Smart homes have dozens of devices connected to the network, from traditional computers and mobile phones to the lights in the kitchen and the refrigerator.
Many smart homes make use of devices such as the Amazon Alexa to control temperature and lighting with voice commands. Some smart homes will even turn the lights on/off automatically, after you’ve opened or closed the door to a room.
With so many devices on the network all communicating with one another, it would be best to use a managed PoE switch to configure the network. With a managed PoE switch, you can properly configure the network without sacrificing bandwidth, and you can power every device on the network with a single PoE cable.
If you have security cameras in and around your home, you could employ the use of one network switch to manage the network of security devices, and another switch to take care of all other devices, such as VoIP phones, televisions, lights, the thermostat, computers, phones, etc.
Managed PoE Switches at Play in a Smart Home
Although a managed switch is unnecessary in a traditional home network, it is vital for a smart home network. Without a managed switch – preferably one with PoE capabilities – it would be darn near impossible to properly configure a smart home network.
Especially when considering the number of devices on a smart home network, using a managed PoE switch is the only way to guarantee the performance and configuration capabilities required for a smart home.