Want To Network Your Smart Home But All You Have Is Coax?
October 31, 2022
As Debbie and I continue the planning for our new home build, she is focusing on design and aesthetics of the project. My responsibilities are the technical needs to support a smart home, short and long term. As this is a ‘greenfield build,’ meaning all new from the ground up, we have the luxury of building in everything we want and need.
We’ve built homes before but have bought existing homes far more often. Though we loved the existing homes as much they all had limitations around technology we accepted. But always with the intention of upgrading to meet our needs. Our kids were quite often pressed into service helping me run Ethernet and coax cabling, wall mounting TVs and installing smart bulbs. If you’re interested in running your own Ethernet cabling, take a look at my recent post ‘What Do I Need to Install My Own Ethernet Cabling?’
One of the wiring elements we ran into frequently in existing homes was coax cabling already in place for TVs, over the air antennas and cable modems. Surprisingly, Debbie and I continue to run into this in model or spec homes we’ve visited to get design and construction ideas or in evaluating builders’ work. Even more surprisingly the coax is not run to optimize aesthetics — as in terminating behind a TV wall mount in favor of standard height from the floor, exposing cables. And a conspicuous lack of Ethernet cabling or in questionable locations.
It’s shocking how little attention to detail is applied when doing right makes such a more positive impact on the general look and feel of a home. This is a pet peeve of mine if you can’t tell. I’m a big fan of connecting everything possible to cabling to lighten the load on Wifi. For more details on my thoughts around that check out my previous post ‘Wired vs Wifi: Skip Wifi in Favor of Ethernet Where You Can.’ Wifi is a great invention, but a poor substitute for a proper high-speed hard-wired network.
As I mentioned above, we frequently found coax in place in existing homes and ran Ethernet cabling where we could expand the network to support Wifi, entertainment and computer connectivity. But not everybody has those skills or has a small army of free labor to run wires through their attic. If this is you, you’re in luck, because now your coax cabling can be converted to Ethernet for high-speed connectivity across your home.
Since the late 1980s, it’s been pretty common to run coaxial cable to nearly every room in the house in new construction. But if you’re wanting Ethernet, ripping out all the coax can be messy and expensive. Thankfully, now you don’t have to. Coaxial cable can easily be converted to serve as your data network. You can consider every coaxial drop in your house a potential future Ethernet drop, no cutting up drywall or cable pulling required. The secret is MoCA, the coaxial data network standard named after the Multimedia over Coax Alliance.
Setting up a MoCA network in your home is pretty straightforward, but it’s good to know what you’re getting into. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of MoCA before this because it certainly doesn’t enjoy the widespread recognition networking standards like Wifi and Ethernet do. If you’d like to take a deep dive into MoCA specifications and installation best practices, check out this publication from MoCA, the MoCA Technology Installation Best Practices for a Home Network.
Surprisingly, MoCA has been around a while. Just like there are different versions of other networking standards like Ethernet and Wifi, there are different versions of MoCA. While there are still older MoCA adapters on the market, I’d recommend you build in some future flexibility and jump straight to buying MoCA 2.5 adapters. MoCA 2.5 offers a host of improvements in terms of speed and easier setup. On paper, MoCA 2.5 supports 2.5Gbps transfer, but practically, wiring quality and conditions vary greatly. You can expect around 1Gbps connections between network devices (and up to what your internet provider delivers otherwise).
Luckily, MoCA adapters are interchangeable, just like Ethernet devices. And MoCA 2.5 is backward compatible all the way to MoCA 1.1 in case you run across a really good deal on older gear. Ideally, however, you’ll want to use current generation hardware to take advantage of all the improvements to the standards over the years. If you mix old MoCA hardware with brand new MoCA hardware however, you can probably expect some lackluster performance on your network. While newer MoCA hardware won’t default to old speeds across the whole network just because an older device is present, everyone connected to the old MoCA adapter will underperform by comparison.
Besides being fairly easy to set up, MoCA offers a secure connection. Since version MoCA 2.1, it has supported encryption and enhanced privacy measures. And you can add a cheap line filter to the coax leaving your home to effectively block the MoCA signal from leaving, ensuring only someone with physical access to your home could access your MoCA network.
It’s ideal to use unused or ‘dark’ coax to eliminate any chance of interference or problems. It is not a requirement, however, and MoCA can co-exist with other services that use your home’s coaxial cable. The important thing to understand is that what matters is what frequency the other things on the coaxial infrastructure are using. The MoCA standard uses 1125MHz to 1625Mhz. As long as nothing else in your home uses that frequency range, you’re fine.
As most TVs are connected to home coax, whether or not MoCA works with your existing TV service depends on what kind of TV service you have. But this only applies to people who are using antennas and cable or satellite service. If you get all your TV through streaming services (even if that streaming service is your ‘cable’ company) MoCA won’t disrupt your TV.
If you use an over-the-air antenna for TV reception or a traditional cable setup, you’re fine as those services use a sub-1125Mhz frequency range. But other services can be problematic — using satellite TV services like Dish Network, Direct TV, or similar providers, the frequency range conflicts with the range used by MoCA. ATT U-verse TV also conflicts with the same range. And if you have any sort of traditional multi-room DVR system in your home, you may find it conflicts with the MoCA network.
If you have fiber, or any other non-cable delivered internet, you’re in good shape. But if you are one of millions who get internet access through their local cable company, there could be problems. Typically, you shouldn’t have issues with combining a cable modem and a MoCA home network deployment. While there is some overlap between some of the frequencies used by cable modems using the DOCSIS 3.1 standard, the overlap is irrelevant because the communication is happening between the cable company and the cable modem, not throughout the house.
You can always use your MoCA system with your broadband provider’s equipment in that the MoCA adapters are Ethernet devices and can be plugged right into your broadband modem/router. And some broadband providers have modem/router models that directly support MoCA. While not nearly as common as Wifi, Verizon and Comcast have included MoCA support on a number of their residential gateways for quite a few years now. This means that you can use the modem itself as a MoCA adapter. This means you need one less adapter which will save you a few bucks. Check your router/modem for a second coax jack, usually marked ‘MoCA’ on the case near that coax jack. Verifying through the device documentation is a good idea to see if it supports MoCA as well.
Your MoCA adapters can share the same wall jacks and any other equipment in your home as long as the other equipment in your home isn’t equipment that conflicts with the MoCA frequencies, per above. Some MoCA adapters include a passthrough connector so you can use the same wall jack without any extra hardware. Otherwise, you can use a simple splitter between the wall and the MoCA adapter and the other device, like your TV.
You can have up to 16 MoCA adapters per discrete coaxial network. That means if every coaxial cable in your home is currently connected and linked back to a central splitter, you can install 15 endpoint adapters (with the 16th adapter serving as the input) in your home.
If you have a larger need and you require more network connections than the 16 node limit allows, you could always split the coax connections at their termination point in your home to divide them between two or more networks. You’d simply need to add additional input nodes hooked up to your router instead of one.
As far as the actual coaxial cabling is concerned, the cables in your walls should work just fine. If you do have to replace any of your home’s coaxial network, like removing older signal amplifiers that aren’t compatible with MoCA or swapping out cable splitters that don’t have the right frequency range, it should be fairly easy and inexpensive.
To set up a MoCA network, you’ll need a pair of MoCA adapters — unless your particular router/modem supports MoCA, then you’ll only need a single MoCA adapter. Regarding the actual hardware, right now the best value on the market for MoCA adapters is the Motorola MM1025.
The Motorola models include a built-in passthrough mode for attached devices and a line filter. This saves you from having to buy both additional splitters and the line filter for your primary service line.
For the most part, there are typically no bells and whistles with MoCA adapters. Beyond looking for one with passthrough mode to save a few bucks on splitters, the most notable feature worth paying more for is the ability to fine-tune the frequency bands the MoCA adapters use.
Traditional TV and cable transmission happen in the sub-1000Mhz range. You’ll need to check your splitters only handle signal transmission in the range that is expected for traditional TV transmissions. Many older splitters only have a 5–800Mhz or 5–1000Mhz range because of this. You’ll want a bi-directional splitter that has a higher range, commonly available in the 5–2300Mhz and 5–2500Mhz ranges which should be more than enough for your needs. A good option as a replacement part is the BAMF 2 Way Bi-Directional MoCA Coax Splitter.
A simple splitter like this will do the trick to split a single line. To split one signal across a larger number of cables, BAMF offers a variety of models to cover you. But remember, you don’t need to configure every coax line in your home for MoAC, just the ones you intend to use MoCA on.
If you have an amplifier on your existing coaxial system and it is required for some other service used on the coaxial infrastructure, be prepared to replace it with a MoCA-friendly amplifier. If you’re not sure why there is an amplifier on your system, especially if it’s an older house, you should unplug it and trying the MoCA system without it.
These days it’s always good to think security first when it comes to the internet. So, it’d be a good idea to put a MoCA-specific filter on the coax line leaving your home. MoCA signals can travel up to 300 feet over coaxial cable and have the potential to ‘leak’ out of your home and travel down the line. If you live in a rural area with distant neighbors, this isn’t a major concern — unless your neighbors are also using MoCA adapters.
You can avoid this by splitting the coaxial line after it enters your home and feeding one line into the modem and one line into the rest of the home — with the filter in between the first splitter and the rest of your home.
Perhaps the best reason to put the filter on the line is that it doesn’t just stop your MoCA signal from leaking out of your house, it also bounces the signal back into the coaxial network and makes your MoCA network work better.
When it comes to setting up a MoCA network in your home, the planning is the key to success. I good list to work from is:
- Doing your research — I’ve always found it helpful to draw out the net as is. Document the cabling types, connections, hardware, etc.
- Buy the right hardware — Attention to detail here will save you time and frustration as many parts look alike but don’t operate the same.
- Make sure your splitters are compatible — Again, attention to detail.
- Putting the filter on your service line — A small but significant step to eliminate potential issues now and in the future.
Once you’ve ensured your TV provider is compatible with MoCA and your splitters are correct, it’s just a matter of plugging everything in. Put one MoCA adapter plugged into the coaxial cable near your modem/router. Attach it to an available Ethernet port on your network hardware.
Repeat that process, up to 15 times, around your home, plugging the other adapters into the coaxial wall plates and then connecting your Smart TV, PC, Wifi access point, etc. with an Ethernet cable. With this prep work, you should be able to deploy your MoCA network in a matter of minutes and enjoy high-speed wired connectivity anywhere your home has a cable jack.
If you’re skeptical, let me reassure you this works. In my sports technology consulting work, we run across coax cabling quite often in older stadiums and arenas — very similar scenario as a home, just different scale. If you think running Cat 6 cable is expensive post construction in your home, consider a sports venue. Using a very similar MoCA-type solution in those environments can save venue operators literally hundreds of thousands of dollars and give them the same capabilities of an Ethernet network.
Hopefully this has given all of you limited to home coaxial cabling an easy and affordable option to physically network your smart home. I’m curious if you’ve already taken advantage of technology or are considering it now. Have you found other ways to leverage your coax cabling?
Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails as we really enjoy hearing from you. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’ Until next week …
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