Rewiring Your Home For VoIP

New home development is making inroads in bringing Fiber to the User (FTTU) to Americans, incorporating structured wiring and "future-proofing" residential wiring. If you live in a pre-Internet era home with standard POTS (plain old telephone service) telephone wiring, however, your options for rewiring your home for VoIP are a little different.

Regardless of the size of your home — McMansion to bungalow — homeowners with a traditional PSTN (public switched telephone network) home phone system have two basic options for rewiring for home VoIP service: Physically rewire the whole house, or make all your telephone jacks VoIP-ready IP phone jacks.

Both of these solutions for total-home VoIP service will enable you to use your VoIP telephone service with any phone and any jack. However, rewiring your home is invasive, costly, and likely requires the services of a professional. Converting your telephone jacks is non-invasive, relatively simple, totally free, and a pure DIY project that almost anyone can accomplish.

Why Rewire Your Home for VoIP at All?

If you're already using a home VoIP telephone service such as ITP, you already know that a VoIP home phone system can save you money. You are most likely using a voice over IP adapter to access your VoIP telephone service.

The downside to this current method of using an IP adapter is that, well, the whole concept of the Internet was foreign to most home builders before the late 1990s. Your residential telephone wiring system is strictly analog.

That means you're stuck with a workaround: Your phone has to be plugged into the IP adapter, which is then plugged into your router. Only the phone plugged into the adapter actually uses your VoIP telephone service.

If you want to use other phones in other rooms with your voice over IP adapter and your cost-saving home VoIP telephone service, you need still more workarounds. These include a multi-unit cordless phone system, or a set of wireless telephone jacks. These are ways to extend the reach of your VoIP home phone system.

By rewiring your home for VoIP telephone service, you'll have a complete home VoIP telephone system. Incoming calls will ring every phone, regardless of which phone is plugged into the IP phone adapter or if you've taken steps to expand your VoIP telephone system. Rewiring your home for VoIP will let you take full advantage of the benefits of your home VoIP telephone service.

Physically Rewiring

If you're forward-thinking and have cash to spare, one way to solve the problem of rewiring your home for VoIP is to physically upgrade the wiring in your house completely.

There are actually two ways to physically rewire for VoIP telephone service:

  • Install Cat5 or Cat6 wiring, and possibly use some baluns for advanced point-to-point connectivity
  • Install structured wiring, which combines coax, fiber optic, audio, video, and Ethernet cabling in one bundled cable

By physically rewiring your home with either Cat5/Cat6 wire or structured wiring, you can create a hard-wired network that offers many more benefits than just access to VoIP telephone service throughout the home.

Physically rewiring your home for VoIP offers many advantages:

  • Create VoIP-ready Ethernet ports everywhere you want
  • Network all your devices -- printer, computer, phone, etc. -- via a wired rather than wireless solution
  • Wired networks are more stable and secure than wireless networks
  • Structured wiring or Cat5 (or Cat6) with baluns allows for multiple signal types and point-to-point connectivity, not just Ethernet networking
  • Extendability (with structured wiring)
  • Consistent signal strength (with 'home run' configuration)

Installing only Cat5 or Cat6 is the simpler solution. The cabling itself is inexpensive. Plus, by using baluns, you can increase the capability of your point-to-point signal transmissions, even without installing audio or video cables. (A balun is a device that converts signals between a balanced and unbalanced line, turning a balanced signal from a twisted pair, for instance, into an unbalanced one, or an unbalanced signal from a coaxial cable into a balanced signal.)

With a balun and Cat5 cable, you can achieve something similar to the multi-signal capabilities of structured wiring. For instance, with a balun connected to a Cat5 cable, you can transform an audio or video signal by converting it (for distances up to about 300 feet). Start watching a DVD in one room, and continue watching in another. Plug your iPod into the network in one room, and listen in another room. Baluns add flexibility and extendability to your networked home.

Structured Wiring

However, if you're already opening up your walls to upgrade your home wiring system, consider structured wiring. Structured wiring is often described as future-proofing technology. Traditionally used in businesses, structured wiring is becoming more standard in newer residential housing developments.

Structured wiring bundles cables of different types together -- audio, video, Ethernet, and more. Bundles are stronger, easier to install, and more easily modified at a later date, if the right steps are taken at installation. With the appropriate bundle of cables, your home will be able to accommodate any future developments. Plus, you won't need extra connectors and signal transformers such as baluns.

Advantages of structured wiring for your home VoIP system:

  • Easier to install than separate elements
  • Encased in hard plastic, bundled cables are stronger
  • Extendable, if an upgrade path is incorporated
  • Offer consistent signal strength
  • Use a cable switcher to re-route signals from one connection point to another
  • Less A/V equipment needed (just route the main entertainment unit's signals to monitors/speakers)
  • Eliminate booster hardware, such as baluns
  • Boosts your home valuation by as much as 2%

Structured wiring can eliminate many of the headaches of standard POTS telephone system wiring. In most residential phone wiring, the wires are daisy chained. This means that when one outlet or jack fails, all the points beyond fail as well. It also means that the signal strength degrades from point to point on the series.

With structured wiring, a 'home run' or 'star topology' plan is incorporated. From a central control box, each set of wires runs only to one jack or outlet. By radiating out like spokes on a wheel, failures are isolated and easily identified, and don't affect any other jack or outlet. Signal strength is also consistent.

Disadvantages of Physical Rewiring

However, physically rewiring your home for VoIP residential telephone wiring is not for everyone. Rewiring your home for VoIP is involved and presents some serious financial and structural challenges.

Physically altering your residential telephone wiring is:

  • Destructive -- you have to open up the walls
  • Best done in new home construction or planned remodels
  • Expensive
  • Not advisable as a DIY project -- it's best done by a professional

Creating IP Phone Jacks

Contrary to physically rewiring your home for VoIP, converting your current telephone jacks into VoIP-ready IP jacks is relatively simple. You can tackle it in a day, and you don't need an engineering degree. Best of all, it's virtually free.

Benefits of converting existing telephone jacks:

  • Simple (no special skills or tools)
  • Free
  • Fast
  • Non-invasive/non-destructive
  • No actual rewiring
  • Totally DIY (no need to call an expert)

Rewiring your home for VoIP telephone service by repurposing your telephone jacks requires access to your telco's Network Interface Device (NID). This is a grey or beige box attached to your house. It may also be called a Network Interface Unit (NIU). What you will be doing is completely disconnecting the phone line that comes in from the phone company.

Wait, Is This Legal?

Absolutely. The NID is also known as a Demarc box. It's called a Demarc box because it is the point of demarcation — it demarcates the point at which the phone line stops being the responsibility of the telephone company. On each NID is a door marked 'customer access.' That's your cue.

Tools Needed

Creating IP phone jacks is a very simple process. You will need:

  • Screwdriver
  • Wire strippers
  • Splicer/splice connectors
  • Pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Phone wires
  • VoIP adapter
  • Volt meter, if you want to be extra cautious
  • A tag with a note for the phone company

How Does This Work?

Each phone jack in your house is electrically connected to the other, and to the signal sent by the mothership (NID). By disconnecting the phone signal that's coming in from the phone company, all that's left is the electric connectivity between the telephone jacks.

The dial tone will now originate from a jack inside the house, and will be shared with all the other telephone jacks.

The Steps to Take

It isn't terribly complex, thankfully.

  • Open the NID
  • Disconnect the main lines
  • Tape them up or splice them together
  • Put a note on the disconnected wires telling the phone company not to reconnect (or you'll fry your VoIP adapter)
  • Using a phone cord, plug your VoIP adapter into a telephone jack
  • Enjoy whole-house VoIP telephone service

Caveats

Phones take power from the phone line, and if you connect more than three power-hungry phones to your phone jacks, you might actually use all the juice available. If you plan on using high-energy phones or lots of phones on your new, all-VoIP residential telephone wiring system, consider a ring booster. A ring booster can support 10-15 phones, depending on the model.

Be careful which lines you're disconnecting. If you are keeping your regular phone line or you have Internet access through DSL, cut the yellow and black wires (secondary line) and not the red and green.

If you have a security alarm, you'll need to do some additional research before embarking on this project.

DO NOT plug your VoIP adapter into a telephone jack until you've disconnected the incoming phone line at the NID. The electrical signal coming from the phone company will destroy your voice over IP adapter.

Tutorials with Photos and Schematics

The Internet is full of helpful information. There are some basic tutorials here, here and here to help you when rewiring your home for VoIP telephone service.