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We have a house that we are trying to setup for a shelter. We are trying to get hardware ethernet into every room, without pulling wire to each room.

Three downstairs rooms, including an office have CAT5 wire, so we are set there. Also we have a donated Netgear FSM7352S switch. There are 14 rooms that we want to put ethernet into, which do not have CAT5, however all but one has 22/4 CL2 wire going to boxes for telephone outlets.

I would like to put the switch where the telephone wires terminate, and use the 4 conductor wire, even if it only supports 10 mbps, or some lower speed. It will save pulling lots of wire, and if it works at all, will be very helpful.

The question is: Will it work? What is the expected performance, with less than 100 feet?

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The raw speed is fine - a single user can (except for really heavy usage) do fine with 1.5 Meg. DSL, so 10 Meg. is plenty fast for typical internet use. The problem is making it all work correctly.

First of all, 10 Meg. ethernet is a bit of a problem these days. Pretty much everything will work fine at 100 Meg. and most new stuff at 1 Gig. with automatic fallback to 100 Meg. But already a few years ago I started to find devices that simply will not work reliably, and sometimes not at all, at 10 Meg. I know that sounds a bit crazy as the actual speed realistically needed by any individual device for ordinary internet use (as opposed to traditional LAN use) is 10 Meg. or less. So problem one is that 10 Meg. may not be good enough. I have also found that a marginal network connection may work OK at 10 Meg., but with 100 Meg. port on device and 100 Meg. port on switch, it may be hard to force the network to back down to 10 Meg. and left at 100 Meg. it may be unreliable.

The second issue is the cabling. Normally you need CAT 3 cabling, 4 wires (out of 8) for 10 Meg., CAT 5 for 100 Meg., and typically Cat 5e (and using 8 wires instead of 4) for 1 Gig. So 4 wires is actually fine for 10 Meg. or 100 Meg. But I have never seen 4 wire cable with twists needed for even CAT 3 operation. CL2 refers to the outer covering of the cable, it says nothing about the quality/type of the actual wires. See if you can find any additional labels on the outside of the cables that might indicate the type of cable.

There is more likely problem. Telephone wires can be done in a "star" configuration, which is similar to typical network wiring. But that is most often the case with offices where each phone jack requires a separate home run to the phone system. In most houses with ordinary phone service, several phone jacks will be daisy-chained together. That is fine for ordinary phone service, but not for twisted pair ethernet networks.

Are there ways to make use of substandard cable? Absolutely. But typically those are for situations such as "extra telephone cables in place going about 70 ft. above a 16 ft. high ceiling and another 30 ft. above a 12 ft. ceiling" and the connection to be run is for typical internet access, not a LAN, so super high speed not needed. In that case (which my brother took care of), getting a line driver (a little black box on each end of the circuit) to make it work was worth a few hundred $ and it solved the problem. Putting line drivers or similar devices in 14 rooms that are close to each other is likely more expensive than having a "cable day" and just getting the wiring done the old fashioned way.

There are also things you can do to save time and/or money in an install of this type (as opposed to a first-class office installation):

  • Run double cables to single locations and put the drops on opposite sides of a wall to get two rooms with one run (i.e., 2x cable but only 1x labor).
  • Use additional small switches - e.g., run a cable to a spot in 1 of 4 clustered rooms, install a 5-port switch (some are less than $10) and then run short cables to the other 3 rooms.

But I admire your choice of wired ethernet. Even if you end up providing WiFi as well (which actually does make sense so people can browse on their phones without expensive data plans), there are some significant advantages to having wired network connections.

  • I appreciate your comments. However, as an example, we know that simple laptops will run gmail and other apps at 10, because we have tried it. And printers will run at 10, at least the ones that have been donated. The shelter is opening in a week, and I have what I have, and am trying to see if I can make it work. The other options, we have accomplished or are working on. The phone wires come to termination blocks, and will not have a star configuration. The twists in the 22/4 wire are probably note right for 10 MHz or so. This problem cannot be a new problem... – mongo Dec 28 '18 at 3:27
  • The issue is NOT speed of apps - even 1.5 Meg. DSL is enough for a single user to use gmail, watch YouTube, etc., so 10 Meg. is more than enough. But I have found intermittent device compatibility issues over the past several years with 10 Meg., so beware. One particular problem (I'll add this to the answer) is that 100 Meg. switch with 100 Meg. device may not autoswitch down to 10 Meg. to compensate for the line quality and instead run 100 Meg. with problems. I've also seen really strange problems over the years that ended up being poor network quality. So it may all work, but it may not. – manassehkatz Dec 28 '18 at 3:35
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    Good answer! I agree it will be very lucky if this is not daisy chained. If the wires are blue-white, blue, orange-white, orange, it is likely two pair cat 3, which will work for 10baseT if reterminated. If it's green-red-black-yellow, it's old "quad" not twisted pair, might still work if it's not daisy chained. The Netgear model in the Question is not valid but if it's a FSM I believe it will be manageable, you can force the speed to 10baseT in the management. – batsplatsterson Dec 28 '18 at 12:42
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It might work over some unspecified distance and if it works weird hard to diagnose network connectivity problems might surface. I have doubts because the existing telephone cable, as far as I can look the cable up, does not have twisted pairs and thus does not have CAT-rating. Cabling also has to be a direct run from the central location to each room without any branches. More information abut the existing cable and layout would be needed before giving anything more than a guess.

Forcing the switch to autonegotiate only 10Mbit speeds might give some more range at the expense of barely standards compliant equipment not bringing the link up.

I'd look for legacy HomePNA (1MBit) or newer xDSL equipment instead if cabling cannot be replaced. Or Ethernet over Coax if the rooms have existing coax runs.

In Finland about 10 years ago some housing cooperatives experimented running 100BASE-TX Ethernet over unused twisted pairs of MHS telephone cable successfully for multiple tens of meters. Articles are however only available in Finnish. MHS style cable might be available in other countries under some other name. This cable in question is just telephone grade and does not have a cat rating.

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