Home Networking Outdoors
Wireless connections and components bring home networks outside.
outdoor networking
A laptop and a strong wireless connection are all that’s required to work outdoors. Photo: System and installation by Communications & Entertainment, Atlanta, Ga.
June 15, 2007 by Gordon van Zuiden

It’s a beautiful summer evening, and you’re hosting a barbecue on your backyard deck. Wouldn’t it be great to add some gentle background music to your entertainment experience? Sure, except that your sound system is in your family room and nowhere near the back deck. On another beautiful sunny day, you find yourself cooped up in your home office. You’d love to finish up your email by the pool, but how? And when you venture too far from the cordless phone base station, you lose the signal.

It may be time to extend your investment in home-based technologies to the outside. The challenge, of course, is that inside the home you can connect most of your electronics with wires; outside, you must rely largely on wireless technologies (unless you plan on hiring a professional installer).

Outdoor Music Solution
Want music on that back deck or patio? One nice solution is Sonos’ whole-house audio system. Sonos allows you to install one of its amplifier players and wirelessly connect it to another player inside the home, which in turn is attached to the home network. You simply plug the Sonos amplifier into an outlet at the deck and connect the amp to a couple of stereo speakers that you place around the perimeter. Once you turn on the Sonos, it will look for music to play from a hard drive on a computer (or an iPod) in the home or from any number of Internet radio stations.

With the wireless Sonos controller, you can easily scroll through and select the music you want to play. If someone stands up to make a speech, simply hit the mute button and then unmute the music when the presentation is complete.   

This is an ideal solution that leverages the audio investment you’ve already made in your home. If you have music you’ve ripped to a hard drive and have a high-speed Internet connection, you can easily extend your music collection to your backyard.

Outdoor Web Access
Yes, you can finish that email correspondence or PowerPoint presentation on a lounge chair by the pool. Thanks to new wireless products offered by companies such as Linksys, Belkin and Apple, you can extend the range of your laptop’s wireless connection by more than twice what previous wireless access points could provide. A new standard called 802.11n—which is backward compatible with the older wireless-b and -g standards—allows you to stay connected at distances far greater than before.

If you have a wireless access point based on the older b and g standards, you can add or replace this access point with one of the newer 802.11n devices and enjoy the extended range and data throughput. And don’t forget: If you’ve added a printer to your home network, you can read and reply to your email as well as send your messages to be printed at your office printer, all from the convenience of your lounge chair. Working at home has never been more comfortable.

Boost Phone Range
If you have a standard wireless phone system, you’ve probably noticed that as soon as you get more than 50 to 100 feet away from the base station, the sound quality quickly diminishes.

Addressing this requires a phone system that has multiple cell stations to repeat and amplify the signal. Panasonic’s Model 848 phone system is one of the few residential setups that allows you to install cell station repeaters. They’re perfect for homes of greater than 5,000 square feet or that have large backyards. These systems ensure that wherever you walk around your property you will always have a strong signal, because you’ll always be within relatively close range of one of the cell stations.

With these wireless electronics enhancements to your home, you can enjoy today’s convenient technologies in the great outdoors. And by this time next year, look to connect a wireless television to your home’s cable or satellite services. The outdoor home theater experience has only just begun.

Gordon van Zuiden is the founder and president of cyberManor:

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