Technically speaking, Part IV

When we last left this series, I was planning on changing the location of the router and fiber modem.  Instead, I chose to run my Cat 6 cable to the middle of the house, except in this configuration, I changed the wireless repeater to an access point.  This way, the router, and modem can stay in place, be hard-wired to the computers and the access point will do the heavy lifting in terms of extending the wireless signal to the rest of the house.  I also reset and reprogrammed the repeater to the upstairs bedrooms, and everything seems to be working the way it’s supposed to.

The big test was this past week when we were on vacation.  Before we walked out the door last Saturday I checked, re-checked, and then re-re-checked the system, to make sure there weren’t any drop-outs or signal loss or degradation.  The cobbled-together system worked like a champ.  Our security cameras stayed connected, all the smart bulbs and smart plugs stayed in contact with the router and the router itself, being that it’s connected to the cloud, was accessible to me even on the other side of the state through both my laptop and cellphone.

Even so, while we were on vacation, we stayed in a place that had a more advanced version of a home network.  It’s from Netgear and it’s called Orbi.  In the house, (which is on 2 floors), there was the actual router, and two physical satellites installed on the walls (the outer walls, though it might have been the correct placement for the building) which by my estimation bathed the house in high-speed wifi coverage (what’s now being called WIFI6 or .   The few times I checked the speed on my phone, I was getting throughput in the 650-700 Mbps range, which was more than sufficient for doing things that I needed to at the time, and anyone else using the wifi signal/coverage would have been able to do the same.  As far as I could tell, there was no signal drop, and everything that needed to be connected to the system stayed connected.  Unfortunately, it’s not an inexpensive system, and outlaying $400-$1200 for more advanced wifi coverage for me isn’t an option.

As of right now, my own system is working just fine.   As a matter of fact, it’s working better than I’d anticipated.  Honestly, I’d tried this method once before, purchasing a dedicated access point and installing it in the house about midway, but it didn’t work.  Though as I recall at the time I attempted to do it wirelessly and that seemed to be where things fell apart.  Instead of taking the system a step further and hard-wiring the AP to the router, I gave up.  I went back to just using wireless repeaters, and degrading my signal through the piggy-back system, and making do.

Technically speaking Part III

Now that I have the router up and running, it’s now time to decide where the best place to put it.  Since we moved into the house, the router and modem have been in close proximity to the main computers here.  That is, in the addition off the main house in the back of the property.  For whatever reason, it’s really been the place that we spend the majority of our time, year in and out.  Which is weird sometimes, considering it’s a 3 1/2 bedroom house, on two stories.  We don’t have children, so 2 1/2 of the bedrooms have become de-facto storage space.

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D-Link DIR-868L router

Getting back to the issue though, our WiFi setup has been incredibly wrong since the beginning.  If you consider how WiFi works through a router, the antennas send out a signal in all directions, as long as you have them pointed in the correct configuration.  The old D-Link router I had for the past 6 years had an omni-directional antenna, in that it was encased inside the housing and wasn’t visible. 

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TP-Link Archer A8 router

 

Most routers have the ubiquitous 3-4 (or nowadays more) antennas and most people (me included…yes guilty) leave them in the standard up position without even considering that they can be directed where you want your WiFi signals to go.  By all that I understand, generally you want your router to be in the middle of the action, where you spend the majority of your time, so that you can get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of WiFi coverage.  Otherwise, you’re going to have to invest in things like Access Points, repeaters, even possibly a second router to adequately cover your house and property.  Of course, it’s not as simple as that (it never is, right?) because in most instances you don’t just have a router, you have to consider where your modem is, whether it’s fiber, cable or even DSL (I’m guessing satellite is probably similar, but I’ve never had a satellite Internet downlink).

In my case, the modem sits next to the router.  When we upgraded to fiber 4-5 years ago, the installer asked where to put the modem.  At the time, I had thought probably it would have been a better option to put it in the middle of the house, near the west facing exit door, but our computers are here in the addition, where the router would be.  The house was built in the 19th century (1838), so it wasn’t designed with electricity in mind, let alone hi-speed Internet connections.  Consequently, when the house was wired sometime in the 1950’s (I’m guessing based on the age of some of the outlets) there wasn’t a lot of thought put in to where those outlets needed to go.  So it was very haphazard.  Over the last 20 years we’ve been upgrading outlets as needed, because the very idea of re-wiring this house might end up costing us more than the property is valued at.  Too, to do a proper re-wiring, one needs full access to walls and such, to pull wire.  So we’d have to basically demo the interior to a degree that makes my eyes water.  Most people’s houses it wouldn’t be an issue because drywall isn’t all that expensive.  Plaster on the other hand?  Double your price estimate.  Or triple it.  There aren’t many qualified plasterers these days.  Believe me, I know.

As of right now, my plan is to put the modem and router more central to the middle of the house and run either Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable back to the addition to a switch so both of the desktops can be hardwired to the router.  Hopefully that will assist with the remainder of the house being covered by both the low speed WiFi (2.4 ghz) and the higher 5 ghz connection.  After I’ve had it connected and running for awhile, I’ll give another update.

 

Technically Speaking Part II

This is the conclusion of the saga I started back last month with my TP-Link router…

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m no newbie when it comes to computers, computer systems and the like.  I remember (vividly) a time when connecting to a computer network took way more than just flipping a switch.  Plug-and-play just didn’t exist in the 1980s.  Hell, personal computers were in their infancy at the time I was in high school. A TRaSh-80 was something you got at a Radio Shack.  Needless to say, I thought I was equal to the task of figuring this out.  Apparently, nothing could be further from the truth.

After having worked on different solutions, for many days I was rewarded with failure after failure.  Giving up after the fifth or sixth go-round of shutting off the new router, then the modem, then powering one on and then the other (and vice-versa) I posted a cry for help on the router manufacturer’s help forum.  There ensued a spirited conversation with a couple of tech-heads, but the solution remained elusive.  Although in the end, at least one hit on the right idea, even if it was sort of backwards when he suggested it.

I ordered a replacement from Amazon, thinking the router I had was defective.  Amazon was very obliging and sent me one in a couple of days.  Being wary of failure, I put off trying it out for about three weeks.  I’m an ace procrastinator when I have the opportunity.  I definitely put that to good use, even though I should not have.  This week I’ve been on vacation and many opportunities to work on this presented themselves.  But like some other things I’ve been meaning to do, it was put off time and again.

Until yesterday morning.  It just so happened that my wife had a dentist appointment in the afternoon, and I’d successfully discovered a manual for the fiber modem that I have.  Of course it’s not so easy as you’d think since it’s written in Portuguese.  Still, it had pictures, so with my basic understanding of a bit of Italian and Spanish, I pieced together how to disconnect the fiber line from the modem, having hit upon the idea it might be keeping power to the modem even after having disconnected the power cord.  After a little pulling and squeezing, I was finally able to remove the cable without breaking it.  The manual for the modem said to wait at least five minutes for the modem to ‘forget’ the MAC address of the old router.  Just to be sure, I waited eight minutes.  Put everything back together, powered things up and crossed my fingers.  Green light!  Success!  I fixed…oh damn.  It went back to Orange.  And stayed there.  Checking the web browser, setting up the router for the umpteenth time, I determined it still wasn’t connecting to the internet.

The time had come.  Cracked open the new router, saved the packing material and put the other one into the new box for shipping back to Amazon.  Connected it to the modem, turned it on and….bupkus.  It didn’t connect.  Again.  But even with this failure I discovered it wasn’t the router, it was something else.  Apparently at my ISP there was a breakdown in communication.  So I called their helpline and talked to one of the customer service reps.  I was all prepared to explain everything that I did when she mentioned that she needed to open an IT support ticket.  For what purpose I inquired.  So one of their techs could erase the MAC address of the old router from their system, thereby allowing the new router to communicate with them.  I asked how long it was going to take.  Just a few minutes she replied, but they had to call me back.  So I was going to be offline for awhile.  Unless I wished to reconnect the old router while I waited.  Thinking that was going to be more trouble than it was worth, I told my wife we were going to be offline for the time being, if she needed to connect to the ‘Net I could create a hot-spot on my phone and she could connect to that.  She said she was ‘good’ she could wait.

Less than 30 minutes later the phone rang.  George was on the line, ready to help.  I explained in basic detail what the problem was, even admitting that I’d dismantled the modem I had been provided four years ago, having been extra careful not to damage it.  I even lamented over the fact that the fiber modems they provide for their customers are nearly impossible to troubleshoot, as they don’t have easily accessible operating manuals.  Unless you’re ok reading Portuguese.  He apparently was unaware of it, but as I had apparently reassembled the modem correctly, he was able to see that it was online, but the router wasn’t powered up as he wasn’t seeing it operating from his end.  I have to be honest, when he said that it was a little creepy, that even though he was a good 12-15 miles away, he was able to see whether or not the modem was connected on my end, and the router wasn’t transmitting.  When you think about it of course it makes sense, they’d have to be able to see the hardware from their end in order to be able to better troubleshoot.

George asked for the MAC address of the old router.  I read it off to him, he confirmed that was the one that was listed in his system.  He asked for the new router’s address.  I provided that as well, he swapped out the addresses in his terminal and asked me to reconnect the router to the modem and power it up.  Voila!  The light turned green and stayed that way.  I went to the web browser, set up the router through it and it connected to the Internet as if it had been doing it all the while.  Damn.  I thanked George, he asked if there was anything else he could help with.  I said no, getting the router connected was my concern and that was now accomplished.  He wished me a good day, said if there was any further issues to give them a call and terminated the connection.

All for the want of a horseshoe nail.  Or a phone call.

My only lament is I sent back to Amazon a perfectly good router that wasn’t broken.  And that I spent a month troubleshooting and procrastinating when that phone call could have easily been made.  Damn it.