The right technology for your home or shed office

By Melanie Charles
November 2021
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About the author

Melanie Charles

Melanie Charles


Melanie Charles is the Marketing Manager for DrayTek UK/IRE. If you’ve an idea for a blog or a topic you’d like explored, please get in touch with us.

 

More of us are working from home than ever. Earlier this year, the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 25.9% of the working population, or 8.4 million people, had worked from home for at least part of their week in 2020, up from 12.4% in 2019. Yet finding space to work isn’t always easy, particularly when more than one of you is working, or once the school holidays roll around. It’s no wonder, then, that so many people are now setting up an outside workspace, transforming an existing shed or garden room into an office, or adding a new purpose-built outbuilding. An Aviva report in April noted that 43% of home workers expected to work from a designated home office space in the near future, while 13% were looking at working from a converted shed or outbuilding.

Of course, setting up a ‘shoffice’ involves a range of practical considerations, from staying within planning regulations to heating, light and power. However, one challenge many of us overlook is how to connect the office to the home network and, from there, the wider internet. After all, the home working revolution has been built on cloud-based tools and the ability to communicate with a team and use corporate resources. Having a reliable internet connection in place allows you to focus on getting stuff done rather than trying to troubleshoot your WiFi.

The obvious options
The ideal solution is a simple wired Ethernet connection. Most home routers now deliver gigabit Ethernet connectivity and there’s no significant degradation of speed with distance. Run an Ethernet line from your home network to your shed office underground – you can lay the cable when you tackle your mains power cabling – and you should have reliable, high-speed connectivity. Unfortunately, this isn’t always practical. You might not have a wired network spread throughout your home, and what do you do if your master phone socket or fibre connection and your router are on the other side of the house?

Going wireless is the next most obvious option, but this one has its pitfalls too. Thick exterior walls can hamper Wi-Fi connectivity, while your new shed office might lie outside your router’s range. Even new Wi-Fi 6 technology might struggle to reach your outside workspace without help. If your home office is just outside the home and close to your router you could be lucky, but you don’t want to become reliant on patchy Wi-Fi – or a signal that struggles with interference or drops out when your neighbour starts their lawnmower.

Extend the range
There are two credible alternative approaches. If you live in a strong signal area, a 4G router or micro-router could give you effective working speeds outside. You need to cost in a monthly data contract, and unless you stump up for an unlimited plan, you might find your monthly data allowance a constraint. Yet this can work, and there are even products like the DrayTek Vigor 2866Lac that can use a 4G network as the main internet connection, and switch to a second 4G network should the primary fail, thanks to a secondary 4G SIM slot.

The second option is to try a Powerline network, sending traffic between your home network and your home office using your existing mains power cabling as a conduit. This is easy to set up; just plug in one adapter next to your router and another one in your office. Connect the router to the adapter and do the same with your PC and you’re up and running. While the 1Gbit/sec to 2Gbit/sec speeds promised by the major standards are mostly theoretical – you’ll be lucky to see anything much north of 250Mbits/sec – that’s still going to be faster than your average fibre connection, so it won’t cause any serious bottlenecks.

Unfortunately, Powerline still isn’t the ideal shed office network tech. Performance degrades with distance and is affected by the quality of your mains wiring. You might not get acceptable speeds in your shed office, or you might get nothing at all. What’s more, the kit isn’t 100% reliable. Connection speeds can vary, connections can drop out, and it’s not unknown for a network connection that works one day to quit working when you need it most.

Bridge the gap
So where does that leave us? Well, if Ethernet’s not an option, 4G is too restrictive and Powerline doesn’t work for you, then your best bet is to find a way to extend your wireless network and bridge the gap between your shed office and your home.

Here you’ve got a handful of choices. First, you might try a simple Wi-Fi extender. This plugs in somewhere in your home within range of both your router and your home office, and relays wireless traffic back and forth between the two. This can work, but there are still some caveats. Most wireless extenders are simply wireless repeaters and can only send or receive traffic at any one time, resulting in a halving of network speeds as the data is relayed back and forth. What’s more, a repeater operates its own wireless network, which means you need to change networks every time you take your laptop in and out of the house.

A better option is to setup a mesh network, this is practical if the shed is likely to receive a good signal strength from the Access points in the main building, if it’s further away then see the suggestion in the next paragraph. For instance, many DrayTek Access Points and Range Extenders, from the VigorAP 802 to the VigorAP 912C, have built-in Mesh capabilities, where each access point or extender works as a node in an intelligent mesh and data is routed from one device to another – or to the central router – along the fastest, most efficient route. This can give you the range and coverage you’re looking for, but, as each node can use different radio bands to relay traffic, you don’t get the performance hit you might expect from a regular wireless extender. Plus, as the mesh operates as one seamless network, you can stay connected even as you move in and outside of the house.

And if you’re still struggling to reach your shed office, there’s one more product that might help. DrayTek’s Vigor 918RPD access point is a point-to-point access point, with a directional antenna , built for outdoor use. You can connect it to your internal network via an Ethernet connection place it on an outside wall close to your shed office. There, you’ll be able to place it so that there is clear line of site, and you could even deploy an extra one outside the shed office to help you bridge a wider gap. With high-speed 802.11ac connectivity you’ll be equipped to communicate, collaborate and get tasks done – and with a smart Web-based interface from DrayTek, it won’t be a problem to setup or manage.

Everyone’s home is different, so finding the right networking solution for your outdoor office isn’t always straightforward, but whatever the challenge, DrayTek has a solution.

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Tags

WiFi
WiFi 6
Ethernet
Wireless
4G
Access point
Range Extender
Mesh