Extend Your LAN Without Fiber

In this day and age nearly any Local Area Network is run over twisted pair Ethernet cabling or over fiber.  Fiber is used for the backbone and the longer distances while Cat 5e or Cat 6 cabling runs to the end users desks as distances of 300 feet or less.

There are, however, times when it would be nice to have another option for connecting distances greater than 300 feet where fiber is cost prohibitive and the throughput requirements are a bit less.  For instance, I recently worked with a client who had two buildings connected with a copper telephone cable between two buildings about 900 feet apart.   Obviously the quality and the distance of the copper cabling is not up to par for carrying Ethernet.  It is, however, up the requirements for DSL.  The solution; a DSL network extender.

Another client had a similar situation but had no cabling in place.  Each site did have a few POTS lines, however.  I contacted the phone company and after quite a bit of persuading they provisioned a wire pair between the two sites.  This is what most phone companies call a “dry pair”.  The distance totaled around 1100 feet.  Again, the DSL Ethernet extenders took care of this network connectivity need.

There are a lot of factors to consider before leveraging an alternative technology outside of the more typical fiber or cabled Ethernet network.  First, cost is typically the largest factor.  Since the two instances above where small clients with no desire to pay thousands for managed switches, fiber cabling and the optics to light it the DSL network extender route seems like a fairly decent route to take.

The existing infrastructure or lack of is also a big consideration.  If there is no physical pathway to pull a fiber cable through the only choice is to dig, mount overhead on poles or do without.  No option is an inexpensive one but if telephone cabling is already buried and tying the buildings together the network extender again makes a less expensive solution as well as a quicker solution.

As with anything a cost break is always accompanied with a few downfalls.  The downfall of a DSL network extender is the throughput capabilities.  DSL, as you may know, is not as fast as Ethernet.   It is also not symmetrical in the amount of upstream and downstream traffic that can traverse the link.  When less throughput is available you obviously will have bottlenecks if a bunch of users try to access the link at the same time.  Typically a solution like this is only going to work well when only a few users are located on the far side of the link.

There are a few different DSL network extenders to choose from.  I won’t talk about all of them but I will mention the StarTech.com VDSL network extender kit.  You can get them directly at starttech.com or for a few bucks less from amazon.    The devices are simple to setup and get working.   This particular setup will allow you to connect a pair of switches over a distance, a pair of hosts, or a host to s switch.  The setup even preserves VLAN tags.

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I hope you found this information useful.  Please feel free to comment or question below.

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