Whining About Wireless

I’ll tell you a story about my own experience. You won’t learn anything and there’s not a happy ending, but perhaps it will give you a little perspective on why I’m not urging you to ditch your wires and set up wireless everywhere.

I’ve had a wireless access point at the global headquarters of Bruceb Consulting for a long time. When my wife and I got our matching Vostro V13 laptops last year, we started to rely on wireless more than ever, so maybe we just began to notice a problem that had existed for a long time. Maybe it was new.

At random times, every 10 or 20 or 30 minutes, the Internet connection would go dead for all the connected devices. The wireless connection would appear to stay connected – the notebooks gave no visible indication that the wireless network had dropped, but no Internet traffic flowed. It didn’t happen all the time, just often enough to drive us completely nuts.

Thus began an exercise which has now been going on for more than a year and still continues.

Troubleshooting began with rebooting the laptops. That restored the connection but it wasn’t a good answer, for obvious reasons. After a while I started power-cycling the wireless access point – which would also restore the connection, but also didn’t feel like it ought to be necessary.

When I give you the list of things I’ve done, you have to understand I’ve proceeded one step at a time, with hope in my heart and a theory prepared to explain why each step was the right answer.

  • Replace the wireless access point. There was no change. This nearly destroyed me all by itself, since it was so clear that this was going to fix the problem and I could complain about cheap consumer hardware.
  • Move the WAP to a different location.
  • Change all the cables.
  • Change the type of wireless security from WPA to WEP to none.
  • Replace the network switch connecting everything in the house.
  • Change the level of Internet service at Bruceb Manor, which among other things re-set our Comcast circuit.
  • Get a new Comcast Business Class gateway/router and take the SonicWall firewall appliance out of the network.
  • Move the WAP cable from the switch to the new router. Eventually I brought the WAP in and connected it directly to the switch with a short cable. It’s connected now directly to the router.

At this point months have gone by and the sequence continues: use laptops; random interval; Internet traffic stops flowing. After a while we had learned that disconnecting from the wireless network and immediately reconnecting was enough to start Internet traffic again.

  • Move DNS from the server to the Comcast router.
  • Move DHCP from the server to the Comcast router.
  • Blame Comcast. Well, I’d like to, but our wired connections are rock solid and continuous. I don’t have any evidence or any theory that lets me blame Comcast.
  • Replace the laptop. It really felt for a while like it was my Vostro that was disrupting the connection for everyone. I was very depressed to have the same thing happen with my Vostro lying cold and unplugged on the shelf.
  • Blame Microsoft Security Essentials, which was an interesting theory until the same thing started happening with the new iPad.

You have in mind that I’m researching each move, trying to come up with some theory to explain this? Do you see that by any rational understanding of simple networks, this just can’t be happening? I’ve replaced literally every single component of our home network by this time.

  • Buy a second new WAP, this one a nice TRENDnet 450 Mbps Wireless N Access Point TEW-690AP that I’m quite fond of.
  • Turn off WinHTTP AutoProxy on the server after reading a post somewhere that blamed it for causing server CPU spikes or headaches or warts or something, I don’t know, jeez, I was desperate.

Recently I noticed an odd coincidence – the dropouts seemed to be happening right on the half-hour. I started scouring event logs for anything scheduled on the half-hour – at last! A clue!

Nothing. It was specifically not at times that the backup program ran or shadow copies were generated on the server. Since the connection had dropped at 1:30pm today, I sat with my laptop at 2:28pm, running ping tests continuously. They ran flawlessly, of course, until I set it disgustedly aside at 2:33pm.

It’s the kind of problem that you call on me to solve. You have a reasonable expectation that a wireless router or access point ought to provide you with a reliable Internet connection in your office or home. You’re absolutely right! Most people have reliable wireless networks. It’s not rocket science, or at least it’s not supposed to be.

When there are problems, though, they can be incredibly elusive. I’m thinking of inviting a rocket scientist over to Castle Bruceb. I think he’ll be baffled too.

Keep this in mind when you describe a simple problem and you hear me make the little noise like I’m choking and I refuse to make promises. My Internet connection probably went down right when you asked.

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