IT Infrastructure

Setting Out Our Requirements

Even though we moved out to the country, staying connected to the outside world is still super important to us. I work full-time from home (a nice gig I’ve had since 2017) and so does my son-in-law. So designing a flexible and upgradeable IT infrastructure for the house at WTF was something I gave a lot of thought to.

We are a pretty technology-savvy bunch. To give you an idea, here’s what is connected to our network as I was writing this:

  • 4 desktop computers
  • 3 laptops
  • 1 Network-attached Storage Device
  • 4 iPads
  • 4 phones
  • 6 SONOS speakers/devices
  • 1 Fire TV Stick
  • 1 Nintendo Switch
  • 1 printer/scanner
  • 1 IRobot vacuum
  • 1 IoT temperature monitoring system

That’s a lot of devices. So here’s what I laid out as our requirements:

  • The network needs to support at least 20 devices, probably more in the future.
  • The network should support both wired and wireless connections.
  • As far as possible, the network should be designed to allow us to change out the connectivity solution without major impact on the rest of network.

The Basic Design

Given the size of the house, designing the IT infrastructure around a mesh Wifi system made a lot of sense. However, I did not want to rely on WiFi for the backhaul on the mesh, so I designed in a number of wired ethernet ports throughout the house:

Ethernet Port Locations (blue); Rack Enclosure (red)

All cables run to the same location in the garage and are all terminated there on a 24-port patch panel in a rack enclosure (details below).

The key to the design is the double ethernet port on the east wall of my office (1OF on the diagram above). The double port allowed me to put the router in my office, running cables to and from the rack enclosure in the garage.

Wiring and Rack Enclosure

After a number of discussions with our general contractor, we decided to wall-mount the rack enclosure in the garage. I purchased a 9U unit from StarTech, which has plenty of room for expansion. I also bought a StarTech rack-mount power distribution unit with surge protection to power the various units in the enclosure. I had the enclosure mounted relatively high in the garage; it takes a ladder to do any major work inside the enclosure but it is out of the way but can easily be checked to see if things are live.

StarTech 9U Wall-Mount Rack Enclosure Installed in the Garage

I also purchased a 24-port patch panel into which I wired all of the ethernet cables from the various locations in the house (11 in total).

Ethernet Cables Terminated to the 24-Port Patch Panel

Finally, I installed a Netgear 24-port switch which ties everything together.

Router, Modem and Switch Installed and Patch Cabled

The photo shows the original TP-Link router that we had at the farm to provide Wifi during the construction phase of the house. As discussed below, I swapped it out for a more sophisticated system after we moved in.


One of our most biggest challenges in moving fulltime to WTF was the loss of high-speed connected Internet. At our condo in Port Stanley, we had a 150 Mbps cable connection from Teksavvy with unlimited data. The options at WTF are quite a bit more limited.

At the time of writing, our main Internet connection is an Xplornet 4G Satellite system running at 25 Mbps download and a 200 GB/month data cap. We had the system installed in 2017 in the workshop to support the construction of the house. In November 2020, we had Elgin Sat Services move the satellite dish moved to its own pole on the east side of the house:

An Aerial Photo of the House at White Tree Farm - April 24, 2021
The Xplornet Satellite Dish in its final position just east of the house. (Before 2021, the dish was mounted on the roof of the workshop)

All in all, the Xplornet service has proven to be adequate for our basic Internet needs. Its reliability has been good (only heavy rain and snow interrupt the connection). While the download speed is not great, our family of five finds the data cap even more restrictive; we’ve really limited our use of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime since moving.

A Typical SpeedTest.Net Result for the Xplornet 4G Satellite Internet Connection

In 2021, there are more and more options for rural internet than there was in 2017. We signed up for the Starlink beta and were expecting to retire the Xplornet service when we got it. But the Starlink beta never did open for us. In October 2021, Rogers came to us with a new wireless option: 25Mbps down, 5 Mbps up and unlimited data. We decided to go for it as we were often hitting the monthly Xplornet data cap.

A Typical SpeedTest.Net Result for the Rogers Wireless Internet Connection

We’ve only had the Rogers for a few days now but it’s a big step up in rural internet. The low ping makes web surfing feel snappy again and the unlimited data means people can return to Netflix.

Mesh Wifi and Router

I had good success with the Netgear Orbi Mesh RBK50 Wifi system at our condo in Port Stanley. It consisted of the basic router and one satellite which was plenty for our 1800 sq ft condo. I installed the same system in the new house with the router in my office on the ground floor (1OF) and the satellite in the great room on the second floor (GRT), connected via Ethernet wired connection for the backhaul. However, we almost immediately started having issues with computers and devices not staying connected to the Wifi, especially at the satellite. I wasn’t really sure whether there was a problem with the satellite or whether we were just overloading the system with 20+ devices regularly connected.

I looked into a lot of different systems including Unifi, but someone suggested looking at small business Wifi solutions, which made a lot of sense. A good deal came up on Netgear’s OrbiPro Mesh Wifi system (SRR60) at Best Buy (in the same configuration as the RBK50: one router and one satellite). I simply unplugged the RBK50 units and reconnected everything to the SRR60 units.

The OrbiPro system has worked well for except for the satellites, which keep dying every 6 to 9 months. I can still buy single satellites on Amazon but they have been out of production for some time now. In early 2024, the fourth satellite died and I finally had enough and decided to switch out the OrbiPro.

After a bit of research, I decided to go with the eero Pro 6E mesh Wifi system. Switching over took a little over 30 minutes and was pretty painless.

Network-Attached Storage

I’ve also deployed a Synology NAS on the main network. It serves a number of purposes:

  • Local backup server for a number of our computers;
  • iTunes library for my music collection.

Separate Network for Remote Working

Although I tried a couple of times to work over the Xplornet network, in the end, I decided to set up a separate connectivity solution specifically for my work computer. After looking a various options, I decided on a Rogers LTE 50 GB Mobile Internet plan with a ZTE MF279 Smart Hub; WTF sits about half way between two Rogers towers. The ZTE Smart Hub provides a ethernet port that I can connected my work computer directly to.

Other than one day where the entire Rogers network went down, I’ve found this service to be great for supporting my work from home. 50 GB per month matches my current usage well. Voice and video conferencing via Microsoft Teams works well. The results are as expected:

A Typical SpeedTest.Net Result for the Rogers LTE Internet Connection

There is also something to be said for having some redundancy in ISP’s. Although I haven’t tested it, I could easily swap the network from the Xplornet connection to the Rogers one by connecting the Rogers ZTE Smart Hub to the 3rd ethernet port in my office and swapping two cables in the rack enclosure. I also have my cell phone on the Bell network and can use it too as a personal hotspot in an emergency.

Updated: 2024-01-13