The Route of all my Problems
Maybe ‘all’ of my problems is a slight exaggeration but we’d been gradually having various home network issues here. Our home computer network isn’t that complicated but it is convenient to have it all up and running as it should do. We have a broadband connection wired from the phone line to a Belkin router. I then have two computers connected to this via Ethernet, my iMac and the weather station PC that is running 24 hours a day. We then have a wireless network that allows my iPad, Morgans iPod, Anna’s laptop PC and the Nintendo Wii to connect to it and access the interent. Nothing too weird there.
However for some time now we’d had a number of issues with it. These issues had kind of crept up on us, were a little temperamental and we had pretty much got used to them as they gradually got worse.
First, DHCP from the server had stopped working. The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is a network protocol that is used to configure network devices so that they can communicate on a network. Whenever a device tries to connect to a network via the router the router automatically issues it with an IP address and sets up a few other configuration settings too. This had stopped working but we’d managed to get around it by manually assigning IP addresses to our devices and manually setting the router IP address, Subnet Mask and DNS settings too within each device.
We got to learnt he IP addresses fairly well and once entered manually into the devices they were stored on the device so we only had to enter them now and then if we reset the device or reset the network settings within the device. It did mean that we had to remember which IP addresses we had assigned so as not to have duplicates and it also meant that it was difficult for visitors to the house to connect to the network but when it first started happening we worked around it and had been living and happily using the network without DHCP for quite some time.
Flaky Broadband Connection
Our Broadband has never been great. For a start it is slow, we get around 1.8Mbps download speed at the best of times, usually much less and upload speeds top out at around 350kbps. This has always been put down to the fact that we live in the middle of nowhere and are at the end of the line. We also lose connection fairly regularly. Again the frequency with which we lose connection had been increasing gradually so we had got used to it. I’d assumed it was a fairly normal issue for everyone and thought nothing of it.
Whenever the Internet access was lost I’d reboot the router and within a couple of minutes we be up and running again. Not a huge problem except for the weather station. The weather station PC is up and running 24 hours a day and uploads live weather data from the weather station in the garden to my Borth and Ynyslas Weather Station website every minute – allowing people to access live weather data whenever they want. Of course, it can only do this if there is an Internet connection. Every time the Internet connection dropped the data would stop uploading and people who rely on it would get frustrated. You could guarantee that if we went away for the weekend the broadband connection would be lost within half an hour of me leaving the house and the weather data would no longer be up to date on the website.
It wasn’t until talking with others though that I realised that recently I’d been doing this several times a day – at least twice a day but frequently it was much more often than that. Apparently this isn’t normal and most people rarely lose Internet connection.
No Home Sharing
The final problem appeared when I tired to use Home Sharing. Home Sharing is an Apple feature that allows you to share the content of your iTunes library over the local network. This means that I can have all of my music and videos stored on my iMac and as long as my iMac is switched on and running iTunes and I have Home Sharing enabled my other devices should be able to access and play my media.
Using Home Sharing I’m able to play all of my music and videos on my iPad, on the iPod or on the Laptop but don’t have to use up valuable storage space on these devices as it is all stored on the iMacs Hard Drive. I don’t actually use this feature much but with Christmas approaching and the decorations about to go up I tried to use it to stream my Christmas playlist to my iPad so that we could play Christmas Carols in the house whilst putting up the tree. Needless to say it wouldn’t work.
I did come up with a few workarounds – If I created an ad hoc computer to computer network from my iMac and connected the iPad to that then Home sharing would work. Essentially my iMac was becoming a wireless router broadcasting a wireless signal that my iPad could connect to. I was therefore by-passing the router and the Home Sharing would now work. The fact that I was by-passing the router however meant that when the iPad was connected to this ad hoc network it couldn’t access the Internet.
Time for another workaround to solve this. I could set up Internet Sharing on the iMac so that any device connected to its ad hoc network could share its Internet connection. This wasn’t ideal for a number of reasons. First it only allowed WEP security on the Internet sharing not WPA2 so wasn’t very secure. Second it meant that the iMac had to be on in order for the iPad to connect to the Internet and third it was just one workaround too far.
I was now using Internet sharing over an ad hoc network with manually assigned IP addresses on a broadband connection that needed constant resetting. Something was wrong and it was time I sorted it.
An alternative Router
I swapped the router and changed it for an old one I had in the cupboard, another Belkin router. I couldn’t quite remember why I’d stopped using this one but there had to be a reason. However, at first it seemed to work. I plugged it in, set it up and tried to connect devices to it. They all connected fine, DHCP was working and IP addresses were automatically assigned. This Wifi networking is easy with DHCP, no more entering loads of IP addresses manually, just enter the WPA2 password and we were up and running.
Home Sharing worked as well – sometimes. But then after an hour or so, the laptop wouldn’t connect. Well, it would connect to the network but only with ‘limited access’ – It was connected to the Wi-Fi network but not the Internet. I rebooted the router, rebooted the laptop, changed settings but all with no joy. Then the same happened with the iPod, and the Wii. The iPad seemed OK, but the other devices could no longer access the Internet. I’d had enough and went to bed.
Strangely the next day all devices connected OK again, but only for an hour or so and then gradually one by one they lost Internet access despite the fact that my connection was still up. We fiddled with this for a few days but eventually gave up with that router and went back to the previous one which once again meant manually assigning IP addresses etc. to all of our devices. It was driving me mad so it was now time for a third router.
A Netgear Router
I didn’t want to buy a third router as I wasn’t sure if it was the router at fault, especially having already tried two, but fortunately my Dad had a spare Netgear router that he wasn’t using so whilst we were visiting last weekend we picked it up. Once back home I plugged it in, got to grips with the configuration settings of the router and tried it out. All devices connected to it fine with DHCP working flawlessy. It was just a matter of selecting the new network and entering the WPA password – easy, just as it should be.
Home Sharing worked and whats more my iPad and Morgans iPod started showing up and backing up and syncing properly over the Wifi network – I’d forgotten that that had never really worked properly before. It was just as Apple advertise – it ‘just worked’.
The Nintendo Wii, laptop and Kindle all connected and everything seemed fine. What’s more, without inviting disaster, I’m pleased to say that it has now been up and running for 107 hours and has been connected to the Internet all that time without once dropping connection.
I don’t know what was wrong with the other routers but I think they are due for a trip to the dustbin. It may not be a huge deal in the grand scheme of things as there are much more important things in life than wireless networks, but these devices that rely on such a network are expensive, they are supposed to be fun and they are supposed to enhance you life not make it a source of constant annoyance. The new router seems so far to have restored things to the way they should be and things are so much more fun that way. I can now use and even play on my devices rather than spend all my time trying to configure them to work properly.
Unfortunately our broadband speeds are still slow, but I don’t think there’s anything I (or any router) can do about that. I can’t say for sure what was wrong with the other routers but I don’t think I’ll be buying one from Belkin again!