The Complex & Surprising Anatomy of a Home Network

Months before we started working on our book - Network Your Computers & Devices Step by Step - we tried to understand just how complex home networks are and which are the most common challenges people face when working with them. Even though we increased our knowledge on the topic through the comments we received on the site and few small surveys, we never got as close as we wanted to truly grasping the whole picture. In order to change this, we decided to start a study called The Anatomy of a Home Network. After running the study on several web locations, for a few weeks, we finally got closer to our goal. If you are curios to know just how complex home networks are, read on to find out.

Method of ‘Research’

The research was done using a Google Forms Survey, which included the following questions:

  • How many computers do you have in your home network? - By computers we mean: desktops, laptops, netbooks, servers, etc.
  • Which operating systems are you using in your home network? - Select all that apply.
  • What kind of device connects your home to the Internet? - Select only one answer.
  • What other devices interact with at least one of the computers in your home? - Interaction through the network or through direct connection - Select all that apply.
  • What kind of security solutions are you using to protect the computers on your network? - Select all that apply.
  • Which are your main sources of frustration when working with the home network? - Select all that apply.
  • Which is the most annoying networking problem you encountered so far? - Free form text input, used as inspiration for future articles on our website, not for statistical purposes.

The survey was run from March 7 to March 31, on several web locations:

We analyzed each response individually and eliminated any duplicates. We ended up with a total of 685 valid entries which participated in the final results analysis.

The Number of Computers in the Average Home Network - 4

The first thing we wanted to answer is: how many computers do people have in their home networks? If we look at the home networks from our editorial team, the average is around 2 computers/person. But we are not exactly representative of the “average" family & the “average" home network. Or are we? Let’s see what our results say.

The pie-chart below shows some surprising results: most home networks have more than 5 computers (27,74%) or 4 computers (21,31%). The average is of 4,13 computers per home network. Summing up the results, it means that the 685 home networks participating in our study, have a total of at least 2832 computers (26+2*91+3*130+4*146+5*102+6*190).

To put things into perspective, we looked also at the data from the US Census Bureau. The bureau says that, according to their latest data, the average size of a US family is of 3,19 people. This means that, in an average home, a regular family has 3 members which use a total of 4 computers in their home network.

The question that immediately came to mind, after seeing these results was: if the average number of computers per home network is 4, then what is the split between desktops, notebooks, netbooks and mini PCs? Unfortunately we did not ask this specific question in our survey. However, this is not that hard to find out. If you look at the trends in PC unit sales in the US, you can figure this out with reasonable accuracy: in an average home, a regular family 3 members which use a total of 4 computers in their home network: 1 desktop, 2 laptops and 1 netbook or mini PC.

Operating Systems Used in the Average Home Network - Windows 7 Dominates

Next, we wanted to know which operating systems are used in a home network. Participants were asked to select all the operating systems used in their home network. As you can see from the results, Windows 7 tops the chart - it is used in 90% of home networks.

If we combine these results with the previous question and the latest market share split between operating systems it means that, in each home network, there is at least 1 computer with Windows 7 installed and the others can be any mix of all operating systems, with Windows XP having the highest chances of being used. However, Linux, Windows Vista and Mac OS X are also likely to show up in the mix.

An interesting observation is that, unlike the official market share statistics which give Linux only a 0.7% market share, when it comes to home networks, Linux is used more widely: in 30% of home networks. This means that, if people have a home network, they are more likely to use Linux on at least one computer than the ones who don’t have a home network.

Under Other operating systems used in a home network, we have a mix of old operating systems such as Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003 and “niche" operating systems like MorphOS, Google Chrome OS or BSD-based operating systems.

Connecting the Home Network to the Internet

Our next question was abound finding out through which device people connect their home networks to the Internet. The results surprised us: apparently most people connect their homes to the Internet via a router they purchased personally (65% of home networks). Only 32% let their Internet Service Provide (ISP) decide for them and provide a router. We think this a wise choice and we hope more and more people will choose to purchase their own, newer & better devices. Unfortunately ISPs tend to use older and/or cheaper network hardware which are, often times, incompatible with newer technologies and operating systems.

Other methods of connecting the home network to the Internet include having a LAN Cable connected to a computer which acts as a gateway for the others, or simply using a cable modems capable of also providing wireless signal.

Devices Interacting with the Home Network - Think Diversity!

In order to understand how complex home networks are, it is important to know which types of devices people use, except computers. Looking at the results - some are just as we expected, whereas some are surprising. For example, we did not expect to see scanners being so widely used - in 56,79% of home networks, but we did expect phones to be frequently connected to home networks (in 65% of them).

The “Other" category of devices included mostly answers about mp3 players, with various flavors of iPods being mentioned very often. You might wonder why we did not include mp3 players as a separate category. The reason for this is due to the fact that, except a few models such as iPod Touch, mp3 players have a very simple interaction with the home network - it is mostly about transferring your music from one computer to the device. They are not used for anything else.
Besides mp3 players, in the “Other" category people mentioned also Network-Attached Storage (NAS) devices and musical instruments. However, the percentage of people mentioning such devices is very small.

Do People Secure their Home Networks? And HOW?

One of the most important questions in our study was about the solutions used by people to secure the computers in their home networks. Respondents were asked to select all variants that applied to the computers on their network.

As you can see, standalone antivirus software is by far the most used security solution - in 52,70% of home networks. A distant second place is occupied by firewall-only solutions (31,39%) while independent antivirus, firewall and anti-malware applications occupy third place, being used in 31,68% of home networks.

Looking at the top 3 solutions used to secure the computers on people’s home networks, I think it is safe to assume that people prefer free security solutions. And since they are generally available as “one-function" solutions (only antivirus, only firewall, only antimalware), people install them separately and combine them as they see fit.

Unfortunately, complete solutions such as full Internet Security Suites are used in only 18.69% of home networks. As expected, the new “Total" Security Suites, which offer additional features, not necessarily related to security - such as online backup - are not very popular, being used in only 5.99% of home networks.

The good news from this study is that the percentage of home networks without any security solution installed is pretty small - only 3,07%. We looked at the individual responses and most home networks with no security solution installed mostly consist of computers running Linux and Mac OS X.

What Frustrates People about their Home Networks?

Last but not least, we wanted to know which are the sources of frustration for people when working with the computers & devices on their home networks. Unfortunately, the wireless connection is at the top of the list, being mentioned by 34,74% of respondents. This also fits with our list of most-read articles, which always includes articles about wireless connections and problems related to them.
Incompatibility between diverse operating systems - a topic which we covered extensively on our website, is a close second.

Security solutions blocking networking features are also one of the main sources of frustration (this happens in 21,75% of home networks). Unfortunately many security solutions, including commercial ones from reputed vendors, create unnecessary complications. We experienced problems with our Homegroup not working well due to a security suite not being compatible with this Windows 7 feature, or an antivirus solution blocking access to a computer with Ubuntu Linux.

Other Problems with the Home Network? - ISPs DON’T Make Customers Happy!

To end the survey, we asked people to type details about their most annoying home networking problem. We analyzed all replies and they matched well with the stats from the previous question. On top of the sources mentioned there, people often shared that Internet Service Providers (ISP) are a frequent source of annoyance. Most of the complains were about the poor customer service that users received, low bandwidth and poor quality devices used by their ISPs.

Thank YOU’s & The End!

Well... that’s it with the study on the anatomy of a home network and its results. Before we go, we would like to say a big “Thank You!" to all the people who responded to our questions and to those who helped us spread the word about the study. We really appreciate it!

universal thank you note

If you have any questions or comments about the study and its results, don’t hesitate to use the comment form below. We are curios to know what you think. Do the results make sense? Did they reveal interesting information? Also, does your particular home network fit our general pattern or does it differ substantially from our results?