Happy Wi-Fi, Happy Life

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Since I started using my Surface Pro 3, I’ve been wondering if my home Wi-Fi setup was partly to blame for my connectivity frustrations.  In this post I share some of the lessons I’ve learned while trying to get the most out of my mobile devices and my home network.

I can remember buying my first Wi-Fi router back in 1998. I spent about $500 for a Linksys 802.11b device. Back then I was one of about 40 people in my city that had residential broadband as part of a pilot project. Since then I’ve had at least a half a dozen different access points at least three from Linksys but also others from Netgear, TrendNet, D-Link, Belkin, Asus etc.

I’ve never had any real problems with my Wi-Fi network until last few years. Probably due to the proliferation of Wi-Fi in all sorts of consumer devices creating congestion in the 2.4GHz band. Add to that my stable of Microsoft Surface devices with flakey Marvell Wi-Fi drivers and it’s a recipe for frustration with something that I had come to rely on and taken for granted for over a decade.

As my family has grown I’ve had to give up my dedicated home office space and move my networking gear into a utility room in the basement. Another side effect of a growing family is a proliferation of wireless gadgets (Six Tablets, three laptops, three MP3 players, four mobile phones, two Xboxes, three eReaders, etc. – well I guess I’m the major cause of that but let’s blame the wife and kids just a little.

So what have I done to reduce my Wi-Fi headaches?

  1. Repeater – I added a Cisco repeater on the main floor to help get signal to the far flung reaches of the estate. I’m Cisco Linksys RE100 Range Extender. I configured it to use the same SSID as by WAP. Although this works I may have created some issues for myself:
    1. When devices first connect to the network they select an access point based on signal strength. This may not be optimal as the repeater introduces some delay and selecting the base station might provide better performance even with a weaker signal.
    2. When roaming the client devices may not release the original access point at the optimal time/location when mobile. They will typically hold on to the current access point until the signal is excessively weak.
  2. SSID – I’ve been hiding (not broadcasting my) SSID for as long as I’ve had an access point that supported the feature. At one point I had even configured an old WAP as a honeypot (I stopped when the number of visible SSIDs on my street topped 2 dozen. It turns out I may have been creating some additional problems for myself. I have recently learned the SSIDs were never designed to be hidden and the security through obscurity effect is minimal if present at all. Long story short: I no longer hide my SSID.
  3. 2.4GHz vs. 5GHz – Similarly to the repeater configuration, I had been configuring both my 5GHz network and my 2.4GHz network to use the same SSID. Again, while this is supported, it can be sub-optimal. It turns out that most wireless devices do not prioritize 5GHz over 2.4GHz so it will select one network over the other based on which beacon it sees first. I now use a different SSID for each frequency.

I don’t actually use a repeater/extender anymore. Since I’ve moved to an ASUS AC1900 RT68u I’ve found that the range is more than adequate for our manse.


So what are the lessons learned?

  1. Avoid using the same SSID for a range extender and a WAP
  2. Avoid blocking the broadcast of the SSID
  3. Avoid using the same SSID for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks.

I’m not a networking expert but I know enough to get myself into trouble. I hope these tips can help you stay out of trouble and get the most out of your Surface and other wireless devices.

3 thoughts on “Happy Wi-Fi, Happy Life

    […] Home Wi-Fi Configuration – I’ve made some changes to my home network to try and work around some of the issues.  You can read about them in a separate post. […]

    PHenry said:
    February 10, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Is there a performance difference between the 2.4 and the 5GHz? I think I have both setup on my router as well but not sure which one is better?

      Colin Smith responded:
      February 10, 2015 at 1:20 pm

      No real performance difference. The difference in performance is at the protocol level (b/g/n/ac, etc.) and number of streams. 5GHz has two benefits 1) it is a less crowded part of the spectrum and 2) is less susceptible to interference so typically has more signal integrity at shorter ranges. 2.4GHz can achieve greater range but with less signal integrity as it is more susceptible to interference in a crowded part of the spectrum.

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