Admin Network Technologies

The IT Detective Agency: trouble with wireless at home

I don’t usually have the luxury of writing about a mystery I’ve solved right out of my own home, but there finally is one that I got got to the bottom of recently – poor WiFi performance.

The details
Considering that I deal with this stuff for a living, I have a thread-bare setup at home. After my company-issued router’s WiFi began to work unreliably, I resuscitated an old Linksys wireless router, WRK54G V2. Superficially it seemed to work. But we weren’t very demanding of it.

It eventually seemed to be the case, as visitors mentioned, that streaming videos does not work through wireless. This was hard for me to check, with my broken-down, aging equipment. I have a desktop which always freezes and crashes is you play any Youtube video. And a Netbook which kind of worked better, but its peculiarity is that its ethernet interface doesn’t work. Wirelessly, its version of Flash was too old and insecure for Firefox, and attempts to update Flash using WiFi in turn were unsuccessful.

In general the Linksys router, as I eventually realized, seemed to initially serve up large downloads ok, but then at some point during the download, things begin to crawl and you are left with a download that proceeds at 10 kbit/s or something ridiculously slow like that.

Providing mixed evidence is a Sony BlueRay player. using WiFi it could sort of manage to show a HuluPlus TV episode. You might have to be patient at times while it’s loading, but we did get through a full episode of Grey’s Anatomy recently.

After more complaints I decided enough is enough. It seemed as though my WiFi was the most likely suspect, sifting through the mixed evidence. I perhaps waited so long because who’d think they’d be dealing with two bad WiFi routers from two totally different vendors?

So hedging my bets, I didn’t go all out with a new Gbit router. I reached back in time a little and got a refurbished Cisco 1200E wireless-N router. It was only $28 from Amazon. But before buying it, I read the comments and got one idea about routers: sometimes they need to be rebooted!

This is pretty funny, really, because it is probably apparent to any homeowner, and here I am, a specialist, missing this point. You see with Cisco enterprise-class gear you almost never have to reboot to fix a problem. These things run uninterrupted for not only weeks and months at a time, years at a time is also not at all uncommon. Same for some Unix servers. So from my perspective rebooting is something for consumer devices running Microsoft OSes!

So, before rebooting the Linksys to see if that would cure it, I ran a Ping to Google’s DNS server (very easy to remember its IP) from a CDM window:

> ping -t

I didn’t preserve the output, but it wasn’t pretty. It was something like this:

Pinging with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32 time=51ms TTL=56
Reply from bytes=32 time=369ms TTL=56
Reply from bytes=32 time=51ms TTL=56
Reply from bytes=32 time=1204ms TTL=56
Reply from bytes=32 time=284ms TTL=56

51 msec – fine. But round-trip times much greater than that? That’s not right.

So I hopefully reboot the Linksys router and re-run the test on the Netbook:

Pinging with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32 time=51ms TTL=56
Reply from bytes=32 time=51ms TTL=56
Reply from bytes=32 time=51ms TTL=56
Reply from bytes=32 time=50ms TTL=56
Reply from bytes=32 time=51ms TTL=56

Much more consistent.

Try a Youtube video from Firefox. Nope, need to update Flash. Update Flash. Nope – download times out and kicks me out.

So I’ve accomplished nothing in rebooting in terms of results that matter.

That’s when I decided to check out of Amazon with that refurbished router.

Aside about Wireless-N
Given my ancient equipment, I was concerned that Wireles-N routers might not be compatible with my wireless radios, which would only support G. Is it backwards compatible? Yes. Some quick research showed that and my own experience confirmed it.

The setup of the router was pretty straightforward although it froze at some point just after I set the wireless password. It helps to have done this a zillion times before. At that point I observed what my default gateway was and hit it as a web site URL. Guessed the admin password incorrectly a zillion times, until I tried the wireless password as the admin password, and, wham – I was in and happily configuring away…

More importantly, I went to that Netbook, updated Flash. No problems. Ran a Youtube video. No problems. Ran a test (which wouldn’t even run before this). Numbers look as good as my wired connection: 6 mbit download, 0.6 mbit upload.

Last test is to see where the speed maxes out within my home network. I plan to hit my Raspberry Pi web server to test this and will provide results as soon as they are available.

Conclusion to the conclusion
So I really was cursed with two bad wireless routers. Sometimes using 10-year-old equipment is really not worth the $30 saved in deferred spending. Read product reviews on Amazon to get hints about real issues others have faced.
To be continued…

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