Home Networking

Recently a lot of network troubleshooting had to be done at the place a bunch of people, including myself rent. For years internet had been running through an Internet Service Provider’s modem with router and wireless capabilities.

Living together with five other people we reinforced the WiFi and LAN capabilities by adding an additional AccessPoint to our network.

After more than eight years of loyal service my Apple Airport Extreme died a week or so ago. Aware that newer updated network equipment is available on the market I consulted with the others on what would be best for all of us.

The following review is a short journey through issue recognition and decision making processes in order to reveal methods which might provide useful in dealing with similar circumstances / responsibilities. By no means are the writings intended as truth. Just a mere example of prioritisation of factors and how to follow through on them.

In order to structure the information, I have devised the following sections. Feel free to scan / skip through the section.

  1. Factors of importance
  2. Matching factors with goals
  3. Shared responsibilities
  4. Redesigning the network
  5. Notes on redesigning and keeping it simple

1. FACTORS OF IMPORTANCE

Very important from the get go I recognised that people have different wishes. By no means am I all-knowing, I don’t know much about their online behaviour or their needs in term of multi-device connectivity.

The apartments we all rent are known isolation chambers. So taking structural factors into account such as isolation, room distances, location of the incoming DSL line and chosen power groups were important, especially key when redesigning the network.

Directly related is the amount of neighbours also using wireless solutions. Living in one of Amsterdam’s many central places we knew the amount of wireless sources would and should be off the charts. Also with Schiphol-Airport just around the corner radar systems are in permanently in effect.

Before analysing the performance of our just collapsed network I set the lingo-bar. Everybody involved comes from a different background and carries different knowledge regarding Networking in general. By working experience I carry the most knowledge about networking in house. Due to this factor, I kinda became our in-house ‘Admin’. I felt it was important to use the right words and lingo when discussing issues. I really needed to know what the other meant rather than assuming on a general networking term he or she linked to an issue. So knowing what hardware, OS versions and exact accounts of what happened were key to uncover true issues.

In analysing the previous network’s performance I asked all involved about their experiences in connection to both stability and speed. I checked for the brands, types, version of hardware & software used to connect to the network. Finally I asked about possible future wishes regarding the network.

In short the analyzation came up with the following results:

  • Internet connection is lost too often while the network remains up.
  • The wireless signal is weak. Both speed and stability are frequently an issue.
  • A mix of Personal Computers, Mobile Devices and Gaming Consoles are being used.
  • Personal Computers include different ages both Hardware and Software Macs, MacBook Pro’s, PC Computers and PC Laptops.
  • Mobile Devices include iOS and Android devices such as phones and tablets.
  • Popular Online Services enjoyed are Cloud Solutions, Data Transfer websites, Streaming websites (such as Netflix and Youtube), Gaming related services.

2. MATCHING FACTORS WITH GOALS

There are many ways to structure the result of a matching. I firmly believe it is a personal choice how one layers its information. In my personal case I always love to use a very basic, short and logical build-up. For instance in this particular matching I won’t start directly with factor / goal matching at networking level. First our personal ‘needs & wants’ carry more weight.

  • Needs & Wants

Connection possibilities for Personal Computers and Mobile Devices to the local network and Internet. Wireless as primary connectivity source and alternatively Gigabit LAN for Power Users.

Modern streaming & gaming services stable over WiFi.

  • Environment

As mentioned earlier our establishment knows quite the isolation being used. Since all the involved apartments are on the top floor, heavy structural beams are being used to support the roof above us and the staircase beneath us. Multiple walls have been added later on top of the design to create rooms and a lot of wiring is just behind the wall.

The amount of wireless network around us is huge. Commercial networks, governmental networks, neighbours with personal wireless solutions and even Radar Systems.

To this end the network must be accessible through LAN for everyone involved.

  • Floorplans

Combined with the floor plans we got a pretty good feel about how our new network would look like in terms of infrastructure. Where would cables need to be run, holes drilled, power outlets extended and so on.

Power-wise we were good. In the hallway where also the incoming DSL-outlet is located we found a Power-group with barely anything connected to the group itself. The location of the incoming DSL-line was unfavourable though. All the way at one end of the house we knew the solution had to come from multiple devices. The distances were too long to clear with a single piece of hardware.

With this information and these decisions in mind everybody’s understanding developed and we were all on the same page regarding forthcoming sessions.

3. SHARED RESPONSIBILITIES

So, with another step completed I felt the need to involve the others even further. With redesign of the network pending I wanted to prevent being left with complains but no concrete information and blame for all the purchased hardware.

The funding of the new hardware had to be from the collective account and done by an other. The previous network was kept alive for years with some of my redundant networking devices. The new network had to be in the physical ownership of the house and not a person.

I naturally agreed to stay on as the in-house ‘Admin’ but I refuse to be solely responsible for the network. To that end I agreed with everyone involved that I could not be blamed neither seen as the real ‘administrator’ of the network. If I wasn’t not at home, that automatically implied I’m occupied and not in a time-frame to tackle any home networking issues, even through remote management.

For some here, internet is a must. I can understand that, but then I am not being payed to keep it running 24/7. Neither, will the network consist out of my hardware, thus rendering responsibility out of the equation.

Another important responsibility is to remind everyone to call out on time when connectivity problems occur. Do not walk around in silence, say something. Since we all use different hardware, software versions and live at different sections of the house all user experiences will be truly unique. I cannot sense your connection is being reset five times a day. Neither will I be checking the logs if nobody reports issues. We could all agree on this fairly easy luckily.

For me personally it meant I was going to share full access to the network’s configuration with at least two other people. But all these conditions felt good.

4. REDESIGNING THE NETWORK

At the Internet-side of the network, directly connected to the incoming DSL-line is an ISP provided Arcadyan VGV7519. Main feature of this combined modem and router is that it includes wireless internet. 2,4 GHz / 300 Mbps, 13 Channels with support for 2,4GHz b/g/n. In wired terms the device offers four Gigabit LAN ports.

In short I could conclude that the Arcadyan was something we could deal with. However being outdated it was better not to assign it a primary role in the network.

Arcadyan VGV7519

  • Modem enabled
  • Router function with DHCP enabled
  • Firewall enabled
  • Wireless disabled

Based on these design options you might note the role of the Arcadyan in the new network. Its goal is to pass on the internet connection to merely any other device in the local network. The choice for this rests primarily in the fact that there are newer devices on the market with more up-to-date software running all the known services. Following up the Arcadyan does not carry onboard support to create a 5GHz network. Joining and or even extending this Wireless network is not beneficial to us.

Fritz!Box 4040

One of guys living here got tipped by a well-informed networking enthusiast about the Fritz!Box 4040 in particular. I was really glad with the suggestion. I also felt this was a step in the right direction regarding the whole ‘shared responsibilities’ story. I noticed the rest of the people involved valued the outsider’s opinion and so the device was ordered.

  • Internet through WAN Port. Source, Arcadyan VGV7519
  • Router function with DHCP enabled
  • Firewall disabled
  • Wireless enabled (2,4 GHz and 5 GHz)

For now it is a choice to have the Fritz! use its own DHCP. In my theory the software is far more up-to-date than the Arcadyan. Also the Fritz!Box 4040 is meant to be the primary networking device for both users as well as hardware to connect to the Local Area Network. Physically I designed the Arcadyan to remain unconnected with clients or hardware as much as possible.

This design choice has one more benefit if I’m correct. Unauthorised access from across the internet onto our network is easy to trace. Since the only device responsible for a two-way check of all traffic to and from the internet is the Arcadyan VGV7519. This means structured and clean logs. Checking logs between the Fritz!Box and Arcadyan should be a breeze.

Recognising all connected clients behind the Fritz!Box as the Fritz!Box itself means I can consult the Arcadyan logs for internet related problems. The Fritz!Box logs will be filled with specific and individual client data. These logs I can use to resolve problems with Fritz!Box enabled services, network configuration and tuning.

5. NOTES ON REDESIGNING AND KEEPING IT SIMPLE

With years of working experience in Personal Computers and Networking I never intended to achieve this Network Transformation in one day. Without having kept track I can safely say from the day our network broke down to the day the hardware came in and got configured at least a week had passed.

Living together with a total of six people in one big house doesn’t help producing a cure on short notice. At the same time everybody has a job, friends to see, bills to pays and so on. Not everybody found the absence of internet disturbing. Others had no reason to live inside the house if Internet wasn’t present.

I personally used the time in between to calmly proceed with my other hobbies and interests. Occasionally I would check if the redesign was still holding up with the ongoing conversations and decision making. It felt all good and natural.

Having made the preparations I learned through working experience I decided not to over-design the new network. From recent working experiences with Wireless Solutions directly I have learned how over-designing can lead to false expectations, redundantly used hardware and thus money wasted.

After two round of talking I managed to convince everyone involved that we would start out with one Fritz!Box 4040. Installed and configured we would check factors such as network stability, uptime and speed first and foremost.

So said, so done. The first two days went by without a problem. Everybody reported an active and stable connection. A few days later however multiple different connection errors followed within minutes after each other. The wireless network temporarily lost its 5 GHz. The WiFi signal was also accidentally disabled physically and internet connection was lost. All in all, no internet connection for 20 minutes. No wireless connectivity for 10 minutes.

Yesterday I checked our house’ WhatsApp group and learned that since, at least two people are having stability and speed issues for a few days now. So you can imagine how happy I am that the network is in its fundamental and skinned down state. Less factors, devices, services and possibilities will have to be dealt with in order to isolate the factors which are causing these multitude of complains.

In my next post under the category ‘Networking’ I will be sharing how I took on the mentioned stability and speed issues. Also I will demonstrate the usage of logs which both devices produce. Slowly and per user I’m going to try and build a reliable Local Area Network with internet attached to it.

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