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May 23rd 2014 2:29 pm

Help me improve my home network situation

Nine times out of ten I can rely on just using wireless for my networking needs, but there are a lot of times that I could use a more solid connection. Currently I'm trying to make this possible using MoCa, which is built into FiOS router hardware, to give some areas a dedicate wiring connection. Here's the downfall: each adapter is $100 and the speeds are roughly 100Mbps/6-9MB/s which isn't bad in most cases, but the problem comes that it can at times fully saturate the network.

I also have tried powerline adapters to see if they would work better, and they work the same. The circuit limitations of the technology really comes into play when trying to use them. In most cases I need them to be pretty far apart, which puts them out of range of the circuit loop. They're best fit for inside the same room where you know you wont go off the circuit.

So, you're probably thinking "just wire the house." And I completely agree, except I don't own my property And even though the wiring process would not be that bad, I am not about to wire the house for someone else and potentially not have it after a year.

My thinking is to look into Wireless AC because of the speeds possible, even while it's still in draft. The problem here is that the overhead can be just as high as MoCA, but the benefit is that I can more easily take it with me if I ever move to a non-FiOS neighborhood. The biggest hurdle would be the adapters for the two laptops we have in the house, and as far as I can tell there aren't many for OSX.

So wonderful users of Engadget, what should I do here? Has anyone fully moved to AC and had it be worth it, and have you been on OSX? Is there something I can do to fix my MoCA situation (yes I made sure there weren't a ton of splitters)?

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14 replies

My Situation was similar and heres how I overcame it...

My FiOS Router is in my home office and it does NOT run my WiFi it is just the gateway and only my vonage phone adapter and Netgear router are plugged into it. I have a Netgear WNDR3700 Router and a 8 port Netgear Gigabit switch and everything I can wire into the Netgear router and switch I have which means our 2 office desktops; my Windows 7 Machine and my Wifes OS X Mavericks Hackintosh, 3 WD MyBook Live hard drives and our Epson Artisan 837 All in One The Netgear WNDR3700 handles wifi traffic for our phones and tablets and assorted laptops.

Our house is long and narrow and the office is at one end and the living room at the other and to get Internet to our PS3 and xBox 360 in the living room I have a Netgear range extender that synced up to the main router with a push of the WPS buttons giving us very awesome coverage thru out our home. The xBox isnt wireless but the little Netgear range expander has an ethernet port on the side which the xBox is plugged into and we get pretty decent speeds thru out the house (wired connections getting full benefit of the 70/35 Mbs FiOS connection and around 20 to 30Mbs over the WiFi and about 15 to 20 Mbs over the Range expander).

Like you I don't own the home although my landlord wouldn't have cared if I ran Cat 6 cables thru the attic but Im too lazy and the range expander was alot easier and cheaper

Here is the link to the range expander: www.amazon.com­/NETGEAR­-N300­-Wi­-Fi­-Range­-Extender­/d...
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Have you checked ebay? The ECB2200 units that Verizon used to use can be significantly under $100 if you poke around. I was just talking to a co-worker about this the other day, and he got his hands on ten of them for about $50.

It doesn't speed things up, but it certainly reduces the sting!
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I guess the first question is, what the heck are you doing that requires so much bandwidth?
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Here's the thing, I don't use that much bandwidth. But if I'm copying up a 2-4GB file the whole network just gets flooded, and my unRaid box is unresponsive. I'm wondering how much of this is the network and how much is unRaid.
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Actually, that probably means you have crap switches in the mix. Since every device on the network is on the same IP block, the traffic won't go back to the router unless that is in the path from A to B. If everything is wired back to your router, then the switch in the router is the weak link. To prevent the traffic to your unRaid box killing the rest of the network, I would try putting a decent switch, Trendnet ought to be good enough, between the router and the rest of the network. That way the unRaid traffic won't touch the router at all and only traffic to the web will go through the uplink from the switch to the router. It might sound like choking down all your web-bound traffic through a single interface would slow things down, but remember that it all gets choked to a single interface on the way out the router anyway. This way, the router only has to route web traffic and not waste resources on local traffic.
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I have to use the Actiontec router provided by FiOS. I could do some trickery to use my own hardware, but it can lead to issues with other devices. Now that I'm using WMC for TV I may look into again. I'd much rather not route stuff through the router, and let it lead into a gigabit switch (even if it's just a layer 3 Netgear dumb switch).
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This reply plus the other you just posted lead me to make the following suggestion...
1. Buy a decent gigabit switch for all your physical connections and unlink that to the router.
2. Buy one or more Ubiquiti Unifi Pro AC access points for your wifi needs and connect those to the gigabit switch.
3. Put a homemade Faraday cage over your router to nullify its wifi entirely.

If that doesn't work out, you can easily resell the Ubiquiti gear on Amazon for the price you paid.
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The ubiquiti stuff is super tempting but also a big investment. I'm trying to not invest too much because I may not be living here in a year, and may not run into these issues.
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You can take the Ubiquiti stuff with you if you move and my experience with the NanoStations and UAP Pros (not AC) proves that they are worth every penny. We have one dorm on campus that has always been a problem. After trying every tweak in the book with our Aerohive units in that building, I did a test with UAP Pros by temporarily Gaff taping them to the Aerohives and moving the cables over. The student who was stress testing them was so thrilled with the improvement that I am now putting replacing the Aerohives in that building. I am even considering selling all the Aerohives to buy Ubiquiti UAP Pros for the whole campus. Maybe even the AC units, but it looks like I don't even need those.
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#1, Interference, Check the "broadcast channel" inside the
router, Useually inside the wireless settings/advanced settings. of the modem, Enter into a web browser, and you should open your modem page.
The channel is like that of the radio station, one comes in crystal
clear and 10 times louder then the others. There should be 11 to
choose from. The channel can greatly improve speeds.

#2, Spyware/adware, Run the speedtest one computer at a time,
The speeds that you pay for is for one computer. Power down
ALL other computers/phones except 1, and run your speed test.
If the speeds are bad, power that pc down, and try one of your
other computers. ( the first one may be the problem computer. )
Even though you think you are perfectly clean, as you have a
virus protection, They are useually worthless against the small
time crooks. Run at least three malware scanners, ( not counting
your virus protection). AdwCleaner, Spybot, Malwarebytes,
super antispyware, are a few free ones that work great.

#3, The location of the router, ( tv's microwaves, can cause

#4, Secure your network, Perhaps the neighbor kid has cracked
your password, which isnt hard to do with the right tools, and
now a days they can pick up the signal from a long ways away, so
dont use the excuse I dont have neighbors,, Secure your

#5, Get yourself a roll of ethernet cable, and some end clips. (
dont forget the tool to put the ends on), Also get yourself some
little nails and a hammer, Wire your house going up and
over/under the doors so they can be opened and closed without
pinching the cords. You might notice the wires the first day or so,
but if the speed is truely what you want the colored wire wont be
a bother to you, They do make white cable, ( also if you ask the
internet FST, he will probably be happy to leave you a couple
hundred feet.

#6, MOVE, to a newer house without lead paint.
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All of these are step one issues that I have gone through. I know all about trouble shooting wifi connections, I was part of a WiFi roll-out at my previous job where I had to do surveys.
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  • Make sure your router AND your PC supports 5GHz wireless.. It'll say 802.11 a/b/g/n instead of just b/g/n. 5ghz is videly less used, and so you have less interference. Most mid/high-end laptops and phones newer than 3-4 years will support it. If your PC supports AC, I can recommend Ubiquity as access-point. Don't own one, but have tried it.
  • Download inSSIder from metageek, and check channel usage on the networks in the proximity. It's an awesome program, and it's free! As ntlgnce stated before me, channels and interference is everything. Find a channel not used, or least used regardless of 5ghz or if you're stuck on 2ghz.
  • If you have the 5GHz set, and found a channel you're all alone to use, see if you can set the access point to lock on "only-N", meaning it will only use 5GHz 802.11n, for max speed.
  • Oh, and also, if you have 5ghz and not many other networks on there, see if your access points supports multichannel. Wider spectrum and higher speeds! :)
  • In inSSIder you can see how strong your network actually is. Don't trust the "bars" on your phone or computer. A very good signal is around -50 dbm. Higher numbers are weak, lower is stronger. Stronger than -30 would be like i was standing right next to you screaming instead of talking, and you wouldn't be able to understand me, higher than -80 would be me standing in the other room whispering.

Quick edit: I just realized you talked about OSX. inSSIder doesn't work on OSX, but you can surely find a windows pc or android phone to test it.
If you have a MacBook from 2011 or newer, you have 5GHz. Fix your AP if you don't have 5ghz on that.
We use AC at the office network, and it's gold. Never actually tested it in terms of file copying etc, but every operation feels like I'm still on my ethernet-connected desktop, be it surfing, sharepoint online sync, dropbox sync, lync/skype-videochat etc etc. It's worth every penny if you need higher wireless speeds than the dualchannel 600mb/s you get from 802.11n
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The biggest cause of Wi-Fi woes is other wireless networks. Matters are not helped by the fact that the 2.4GHz band is split into 11 or more channels that overlap. Each channel actually transmits across 5 channels, i.e. from 2 below to 2 above. This ,means that in practice there are only 3 usable channels that are not going to affect each other. So every one should only ever set their AP (Access Point) to channel 1, 6 or 11. Of these choose the one with the lowest signal from competing wireless networks. Use something like inSSIDer to do a site survey.
If you have more than one AP ensure they are on different channels.
Some APs have an auto setting that allows the channel to be selected as 1, 6 or 11 depending on what signals it is receiving and this is often the default that the ISP's setup in their "free" wireless routers. This may work for you.
However there are many other non-Wi-Fi transmissions permitted in the 2.4GHz band which can cause wirelesss slowdown or dropped connections. Devices such as microwave ovens and set-top satellite TV boxes should be kept as far away as possible from your APs.
Other wireless technologies that operate in the 2.4GHz band include ZigBee, Bluetooth and wireless video cameras or TV senders. In the UK DECT cordless phones are 1.8GHz so never a problem but other countries use 2.4GHz and might cause issues.
Of these networks Bluetooth is frequency agile and low power so not normally a problem but ZigBee can overlap with Wi-Fi channels if not setup with care to co-exist. Unfortunately there are now many ZigBee devices (or similar 802.15.4) that are appearing for things like central heating control (BG Hive), LED lighting (Philips Hue) etc. and some conflict is almost inevitable.
Probably the worst interference is wireless video senders since they typically use a quarter of the entire 2.4GHz band as they have only 4 channels to select. If you simply must have wireless video senders choose models in the 5.8GHz band.
Another problem is the higher speeds of 802.11n since this requires the AP to be set to a wider bandwidth and this uses 40MHz channels instead of 20Mhz. This means that it effectively conflicts with 2 of the 3 usable 2.4GHz channels no matter how you set it up.
Moving to 5GHz is a great idea as it has non-overlapping channels and less interference but the downside is slightly worse range as it is more readily absorbed by walls and other objects. The new 802.11ac standard is the fastest yet but ONLY works in 5GHz band but most APs using it will also support b/g/n in the 2.4GHz at the same time provide it is a dual concurrent radio type.
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iStumbler does the same for OSX, but the issue isn't congestion of networks. I always make sure I find the least crowded channel possible. Regarding the dual-band set up, unfortunately the FiOS issued routers are single band only. They can only do legacy mode too for N, with the peak speed of N only being 130Mbps. They're incredibly under powered with regards to wireless, and incredibly messy from a management standpoint. I'd love to move entirely to D-Link as it's been my favorite UI of all devices.

Since I'm the one who mainly needs the higher speeds in the house, if I upgrade my laptop to a newer one with support for AC I may go that route.
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