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Adventures in Networking (I)


These days, people say that every story is a COVID-19 story, and my recent adventures have been no exception.

Right around the time we locked down in March, we changed our ISP (Internet Service Provider), and (probably more significantly) the location of our ISP-provided device (modem/router/wifi).

Previously, we had the ISP box in the back of the house on the upper floor, and had decent wifi signal in the back of the house, which is where the bulk of our device usage was focused. Pre-COVID-19, WFH (Work From Home) was an occasional thing, and our main family computer was at the back of the house.

Once the lockdown started, though, we were trying to figure out how to manage everyone working/studying from home, and our front rooms (main and second floor) became the “office” locations. This worked reasonably well, but signal in the back of the house deteriorated significantly. On top of this, one of our computers had some very odd connectivity issues with Wifi, and kept dropping connections even though it was less than 10 feet from the ISP box. (As a temporary measure, I moved this machine right next to the ISP box, which worked)

We now had about 5 computers and about a dozen wireless devices connecting, and my son’s PS4 was in the back of the house, with lousy connectivity, resulting in near-continuous complaints. (Did I mention that we do NOT have ethernet wiring?)

Side note: One of the reasons I decided on a stream-of-consciousness approach to this blogging exercise is that much of what I have been doing lately only makes sense in context. A big part of life is figuring out a general direction, then adjusting your course as needed.

Back to the story - I’ve been a big fan of Troy Hunt (of Have I Been Pwned (https://haveibeenpwned.com/) fame, and a regular listener to his weekly podcast. I’ve been toying with the idea of updating my ISP box with network hardware that I could manage for some time. (Some of Mr. Hunt’s story can be found in several of his blog posts, including https://www.troyhunt.com/ubiquiti-all-the-things-how-i-finally-fixed-my-dodgy-wifi/) Not having a networking background, I started researching options and asking colleagues / friends for their opinions.

#TIL a bit about ethernet over power-line, mesh networks, and design of wired (home) networks. To provide brief, and over-simplified overviews:

  • Ethernet over power-line (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power-line_communication) allows you to use your electrical wiring to extend your network. Instead of requiring ethernet cabling, you plug one unit in one electrical outlet, and the other in another electrical outlet and can establish a network connection.

  • Mesh network “Wifi pods” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesh_networking) are offered by my ISP, and are units which are plugged into electrical outlets. They connect to the main Wifi, and extend the signal to other parts of the house.

  • Wired network (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethernet) provides a number of big benefits, around stability, speed, security, and so on, but depend on wiring my house doesn’t currently have.

After some debate, I decided to give the Wifi pods provided by my ISP a go. We got them after a few days, and they worked reasonably well. We managed to get significant improvements in performance upstairs, but still struggled to get decent signal in the back of the house. While we tried the Wifi pods, I continued reading/researching options, and kept coming back to the conclusion that the “right” solution was a wired network.


So... what now?

To be continued...

Cheers!

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