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.

 

Change of the Guard

It was time.  Say adios to Odin & Loki and say hello to Calvin & Hobbes.

Ok, I realize that doesn’t make much sense when put like that, but here’s what it means.

Typically (almost) every year I change the passwords and SSIDs to my wireless router access.  On the current router there are two options; 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz.  For the past two years, we’ve had Odin & Loki.  (I was going through my Marvel phase).  Before that was Amadeus & Poughkeepsie [2018], then Hephaestus & Ares [2015], and finally my Harry Potter phase of Dumbledore & Severus_Snape [2013].  Prior to that I had a different router, and I don’t remember what the SSIDs were.  This year I was looking for a duo that was whimsical, and I didn’t want to get bogged down in minutae so I went with the venerable Calvin & Hobbes. [I could have gone with Opus & Binkley, but Wattersons’s duo came to mind first.  Maybe in 2021.]

Of course, when I change the SSIDs, since so many of the tech we have are dependent on the info being correct, I had to go through the house and change everything that connected to the router manually in order for it all to continue to work as it should.  For example; as soon as I changed things, the cameras on the outside of the house went offline, the lamp upstairs as well as the lights in the living and dining room stayed on, and didn’t turn off when they were programmed to.  Tablets, phones, my tv in the den and both Roku boxes went offline and needed to be updated to the new SSIDs.

When updating things of this nature, I tend to ‘beef up’ the security on them as well.  When I first started password protecting myself online, passwords were pretty simple.  Nowadays one has to be aware of dictionary based attacks, and keeping track of 500+ passwords is impossible.  Especially when you have to try to remember nonsensical strings of letters, numbers and special characters.  tabby#0645 is a lot easier to remember than something like JsWnY=4m&hz}Lv}.  Sure the second one is way more secure, but there’s nothing to link it to in your brain to remember what the heck it is.  Consequently, for the last 12 years, I’ve been using Password Depot, it has saved my bacon more than a few times, and now it’s available as an app for my phone, which allows me to access my passwords wherever I am.  Truly a game changer.

So, Calvin and Hobbes are residing in the house for the next year.  Things are locked down (in more ways than one) and we’re secure for whatever comes in the months ahead.

Oops, almost forgot.  The guest SSIDs are ‘GuestOfUs’ and ‘StrangeWomenLyingInPonds’.  If you happen to visit, ask for the passwords.