I’ve always recommended using network cables to extend a (Wi-Fi) home network. I still do.
However, when running new wires is impossible, MoCA, where available, is the second-best alternative. In ideal conditions — fairly easy to achieve — it can deliver a real Gigabit or even 2.5Gbps network connection, equivalent to the entry-level of Multi-Gig. And faster speeds are possible in the future.
You’ll find out in simple terms what MoCA is in this post and tips on building a successful wired network with it. This connection standard is not as straightforward in real life as in principle.
Dong’s note: Since the post on Powerline, I’ve gotten many requests to write about MoCA. This post results from my extensive trial with the MoCA 2.5 standard in multiple homes over a year.
MoCA: Simple yet complicated
Short for Multimedia over Coax Alliance, MoCA is another way to build a computer network by leveraging existing infrastructure. It’s similar to Powerline networking, which turns a home’s electrical wiring into network cables.
In MoCA’s case, the existing infrastructure is the coaxial cable, or coax, originally laid to deliver TV signals.
You can think of MoCA as the local area network (LAN) side of coaxial wiring. On the other side — the wide area network (WAN) — we have Cable Internet (as opposed to Fiber-optic, which requires new wiring completely).
MoCA vs Powerline
Both standards deliver Ethernet data signals by leveraging existing wiring. MoCA uses coax cables, whereas Powerline uses electrical wires.
Powerline is ubiquitous — it’s available in all homes with electricity. MoCA is only available in those built with Cable TV in mind — new and modern homes don’t use legacy coax cables anymore.
MoCA is reliable and can sustain at true Gigabit or multi-Gigabit in full duplex.
Powerline is greatly susceptible to interference, wiring, breakers, etc., and always half-duplex — it generally can replace only Fast Ethernet (100Mbps) in bandwidth needs.
Like Powerline, MoCA has undergone a few revisions since MoCA 1.0 was first introduced in 2006. MoCA is initially also Haf-Duplex, meaning data can travel one way at a time.
However, starting MoCA 2.5, first introduced in 2016 and became widely available a few years later, the standard features a Full-Duplex and, with that, becomes a true replacement for network cables.
A MoCA connection generally uses channels to deliver data signals. Each channel functions at a certain frequency, and the higher, the faster the data speed.
The initial standards (MoCA 1.0 and 1.1) use a single channel and caps at 175Mbps or 100Mbps in real-world applications. Starting with MoCA 2.0, the standard can bond two or more channels into one for higher bandwidth. MoCA 2.5 can bond up to 5 channels to deliver 2.5Gbps.
It’s important to note that using MoCA 2.5 doesn’t automatically give you the standard’s high speeds — 1.5Gbps, 2Gbps, or 2.5Gbps. That also depends on the network port of the hardware. Specifically, a MoCA 2.5 adapter with a Gigabit LAN port will deliver 1Gbps at most.
Considering the support for Full-Duplex, if you start with MoCA today, MoCA 2.5 is the way to go.
MoCA standards in brief
The table below summarizes the existing MoCA standards.
|Max Channel Width||Max Sustained Data Rate||Max Nodes||Duplex||Network Port||Advanced Features|
|MoCA 2.0||1 or 2||100MHz||500Mbps, or
|MoCA 2.1||1 or 2||100MHz||500Mbps, or
MoCA Protected Setup (MPS)
Network Wid Beacon Power
|MoCA 2.5||3, 4, or 5||100MHz||1.5Gbps,
|Same as MoCA 2.1|
Newer MoCA standards are backward compatible with the older ones. Additionally, adapters from different vendors are slated to work with one another.
In reality, it’s best to use adapters of the same standard from the same vendor.
If you have to mix adapters, use adapters from the same vendors (different standards) or the same standard (different vendors). In my experience, mixing adapters of different MoCA standards and vendors can be problematic.
And in some situations, using the same adapters throughout can still be hit or miss due to requirements in wiring and hardware setup.
How to set up a MoCA network: Principle vs reality
In principle, MoCA is quite simple and is similar to Powerline.
The objective is to turn the existing coax wiring into network cables. We do that by adding MoCA adapters at different coax jacks around the home.
The rule is to get one adapter for each wired device (a.k.a MoCA node) plus one that links all of them to the network — this adapter is often called the main node (or controller node).
There are routers with built-in MoCA, such as the Asus ZenWifi Hybrid XC5. In this case, the main node adapter is no longer needed unless you want to change the standard.
MoCA Setup: The simple idea
Here are the standard steps to set up any MoCA network:
- Connect the first MoCA adapter’s network port to your router (or switch) using a network cable and its coax connector to a service jack. This adapter will work as the main node.
- Connect another MoCA adapter to another coax jack and a wired device (such as a desktop computer or a Wi-Fi Access Point).
- Plug the adapters into power.
Repeat the process from step #2 to add up to 15 additional nodes.
And that’s it! The adapters will turn the coax cables between them into the network cables to make the wired devices part of the home network. That’s the idea, anyway. And in many cases, that’s all you need to do to make things work.
But sometimes, things don’t work for reasons beyond the obvious such as a wire has been cut or disconnected.
Let’s look closer.
MoCA setup: The devil in the details
The coax wiring varies from home to home. The diagram below shows a typical wiring that will work for MoCA.
Specifically, the Cable drop enters the house at the lower left corner of the diagram.
We have two scenarios:
- If the service line is used for TV or Cable Internet, a MoCA Point-of-Entry (PoE) Filter is recommended at this entry point to keep data signals from leaking outside the home.
- If the service line is not in use, disconnect it from the Main Splitter. The coax wires now work solely for the MoCA network within the house.
After that, the Main Splitter immediately splits the line into multiple coax wires that go to different parts of the home which are further divided via more splitters.
TV signals are lenient with splitters. You can use splitters of any type, (almost) as many as needed, and cascade them however you want.
However, for MoCA to work (well), things are more restrictive. Give the diagram above another look and note that the setup only works if all of the following requirements are met:
- Behind the Main Splitter, there’s no more than one layer of additional splitters. In the diagram above, things will stop working as intended if you add one more MoCA device to Splitter 3. (In practice, this splitter should be removed or replaced by a coax coupler.) To increase the number of MoCA nodes, use large splitters, such as this 8-way splitter, instead of stacking them.
- There is no one-way coax amplifier or amplified splitter within your home. If you use an amplified splitter, replace it. (If you’re unsure, replace all splitters — they are relatively affordable.) Additionally, all splitters should have a frequency range that goes above 1,000 MHz — 1,500MHz or higher is ideal — technically, a lower frequency splitter might work, but it often doesn’t.
- You don’t use the coax cables for non-Cable TV signals like DirecTV, satellite Internet, DSL, or anything else. MoCA works best as the only application on the coax wiring and can share the same wiring simultaneously only with Cable TV and/or Cable broadband Internet.
- For the best MoCA 2.5 performance, the maximum cable length between the Main Splitter and the farthest coax jack is 300 feet (90 meters).
And that’s it. Your MoCA network should now work.
MoCA: The takeaway
MoCA, where available, is an excellent alternative to network cables. But it may have a learning curve.
Here are a few recap bullet points to better the chance of success:
- Always get adapters from the same vendor and of the same standard (MoCA 2.5 or later is recommended). Also, mind the Ethernet port. A MoCA 2.5 adapter only delivers top speeds if it has a 2.5GbE network port — many have a Gigabit port.
- Use high-frequency splitters designed for MoCA.
- To host more devices, use large splitters instead of stacking smaller ones over two layers within the home.
- Disconnect the service line at the entry point if no Cable TV or broadband is in use, or install a MoCA PoE Filter there.
The easiest and sure way to use MoCA successfully is to find the two ends of an intact coax wire and attach the adapters. And sometimes, that’s all you’d need to have a mesh system with fast wired backhauling.
If you live in a home with extensive coax wiring and want to build a MoCA-based home network, picking the correct coax splitters and stacking them correctly is the key.
Finally, nuance is the key. Just because the standard can handle up to 16 nodes doesn’t mean you want to use them all. It’s best to keep the number of nodes below five and use network cables when possible.