Wireless Networking Does Not Work

Linksys RouterYou ever work on something for so long that you start to think someone must be playing a joke on you, or at least laughing at you? This is the exact feeling I have when dealing with wireless networking. On the one hand, not having to run wires through your house and worrying about your dog or children tripping over them is nice, I am not sure the trade off is worth it. Let us begin with a simple home wireless network router and how the labyrinth gets complicated so easily can sometimes amaze you. Immediately you are encountered with a list of concerns that you never had with wired Ethernet, such as to secure the router or not? Any technical person would tell you that you need to secure it to prevent your neighbor’s kid from downloading all sorts of naughty things, because if you do not do this, ultimately you are legally responsible for anything that gets downloaded through your $50 router! Next you have to worry about signal interference, cause you do not want your wireless router to interfere with any cordless phone or other wireless router that your neighbor may have. Did I mention your microwave hates your router too?

Say you figured out all of that stuff and you are happy with your router security and your router’s placement. Now comes the fun part, which is having to one by one connect all your devices to your router and make them all play nice with each other. First come the desktop machines, then the laptops, and if you have mixed Windows and Macs it makes it more challenging. On older Windows XP machines, you end up cursing Microsoft for making this harder than running a marathon, and on the Apple side, you wonder if Apple documents anything at all with industry terms, it is as if Apple has to rename everything to an Apple friendly name just for the sake of being different!

If you survive all of this configuration and troubleshooting, you then are confronted with your son or daughter asking you if you can fix it so their Nintendo DS and Sony PSP can access the Internet. Oh, you probably need to fix it too so that the Playstation 3 can connect too. Overall, by this time you figured out that the easiest of all was the network printer, but for whatever reason the PS3 still can’t see your printer.

Lessons Learned

I am sure the Steve Jobs digital lifestyle works, if all you have are Apple products, but in reality wireless networking is a test of patience. What you suddenly discover is that networking is too complicated for normal people to do. With every device you add to the network, the security model tends to suffer and you see that inexpensive products like the Nintendo DS just do not support the latest security methods such as WPA2 and AES. You almost need two wireless networks, a highly secure one and a very open one that has limited functionality for all those devices that cannot connect to anything secure.

Local Port Detection

This week I have been looking at how to detect TCP/IP ports on a local area network to see if an application was setup correctly. And while using ping and tracert from a DOS prompt works well for somethings, I was looking at what else I could use. For Mac OS X users, the Network Utility tool features ping and traceroute options, or you can always use a terminal window directly to ping and traceroute. To verify that you have a listening port, the command line utility netstat -a comes in handy on both Windows and Mac OS X. With this you can verify that a particular port number is listening. You can still use the website CanYouSeeMe.org, if you want to verify that your particular computer is open to the Internet, but this only works if your router is setup to forward requests for this port. In the case where you want to run a VNC or some other service for only local network connections, netstat works much better to verify that the port is in fact listening.

Another tool which Windows users might find handy is Microsoft’s PortQryUI tool. This utility reports the port status of TCP and UDP ports on a computer that you select.

Securing Wireless

This week, I planned on putting out another guide. Last time I tackled optimizing WindowsXP, this time around, I looked at how I configure my wireless router. Instead of focusing on speed, I thought it would be a good idea to cover security. This is a topic that most consumers don’t understand and while manufacturers have tried to make networking easier, the truth is that networking is quite complicated. While I’m sure my guide on Securing Wireless Networks is not at all definitive, it does cover the basic measures you need to implement to have a somewhat secure wireless network in your house.

If you do one thing, make sure you enable WPA and use a random generated password. This alone is absolutely essential.

Feel free to add any comments and let me know what you do to secure your wireless network.

Upgrade Linksys Wireless

Linksys Wireless RouterThis week, I set out to improve my wireless reception for my home network. The wireless local area network (WLAN) is powered by a Linksys WRT54GS router. This is a pretty standard wireless G router. The WRT54G router series are pretty affordable and if you have an older version of the WRT54G or WRT54GS model, you can even install a third party firmware to enable more features. If you are thinking of getting a new router, then I suggest you purchase the WRT54GL, since this is the only model that makes it easy to install third party firmware.

As always, installing a third party firmware on your Linksys router does void your warranty and Linksys will not support your router if you are running third party firmware. Do not attempt this if you do not want to void your warranty and support!

HyperWRT

Although there are a variety of different third party firmwares, I chose HyperWRT because it features a powerboosting feature and at the same time strives to stay as close as possible to the original Linksys firmware. Once installed HyperWRT looks almost identical to the Linksys interface. The main difference is the Transmit Power option found under Advanced Wireless Settings:

HyperWRT Advanced Wireless Settings

This will effectively boost the range and power of your WLAN. It is best to not boost the signal all the way to 100%, as this will make the router run hotter than normal.

TNC Antennas

Besides firmware changes the other way to boost wireless range is by using a better antenna. The WRT54G routers have TNC connectors to which the antennas connect to. You can purchase a third party antenna from sites like HyperLink Technologies, like this huge Hyper Gain 2.4 GHz 9 dBi Rubber Duck.

HGA7TIf you prefer to have the antennas match your router, then you want the Linksys HGA7T antennas. These replacement antennas are exactly twice as long as the original antennas on the WRT54G router and are rated at 7dBi.

Replacing the original antennas will increase the wireless range and signal strength, depending on your location from the router. These antennas work best when you are located horizontally to the router. If your main objective is to get better wireless reception on a floor directly above from the router, you are better off installing another access point router. In my experience, the HGA7T antennas improved wireless signal by 12% when I setup my laptop one floor above the router. Overall the improvement was not overwhelmingly better, but was an improvement. Like I said these antennas work best when you and the router are on the same floor. I did experience less signal drops though and was able to use my laptop in my upstairs living room where I had been having problems staying connected before.

As for installing the new TNC antennas, all you have to do is squeeze and turn counterclockwise the antenna to remove it. If you are having trouble getting one off, squeeze tighter and pull the plastic bushing (cover) away from the router to get to the actual antenna TNC connector. Once you remove both, slide the original bushings on to the new antennas and connect them. The router will look a bit stranger with the new larger antennas, but hey looks are not what we are after, it’s a better wireless signal that we want.

Corrections:

The original HyperWRT site may no longer be up. You can still find a copy of HyperWRT Thibor, which is the last version of HyperWRT to be worked on: Thibor’s HyperWRT.

Qwest DSL Review

I originally signed up for Qwest DSL when it became available in my area many years ago. The first available package I had included 256k download speeds, and I gradually upgraded over the years to 512k, 1500k, and eventually my max which is now 3072k. I use my DSL connection primarily for web browsing and connecting to my home server. The other option in my area is MediaCom Cable, which offer high-speed cable modem access. At this time Qwest DSL is cheaper than MediaCom service, but not by much. It essentially comes down to what you prefer, either cable or DSL.

DSL Versus Cable

The general differences between DSL and Cable have really diminished over the years and now that both technologies are matured, the choice becomes one of personal preference and requirements. Qwest offers ADSL, which is in fact a more complicated technology than high speed cable. However once you figure out DSL, this difference no longer matters. With a DSL connection your TCP/IP packets are put into PPP packets which are then transmitted over an ATM connection. You then have three protocols of transmission: TCP/IP in PPP, PPP in ATM. The ATM layer adds about 10% overhead to the transmission size, so a 1024k connection is degraded into about 922k connection. This is probably the first thing to understand about actual DSL speed.

The other issue which concerns online gamers is delay. All networks have some sort of lag, and while the debate goes on as to which has less delay, Cable or DSL, the truth is that you have to try both services in your area to see which one in fact has less delay. One thing to consider about DSL is that you do not have to have Qwest as your ISP. You can choose between MSN and a variety of other ISPs, most of them being local internet service providers. I personally have always had a local ISP and have even switched ISPs. The process usually takes about four days to get done. Depending on your ISP with DSL, your network delay will vary. As of last week when I tested my lacency, the delay is equal to about 79 miliseconds for my 3072k connection.

DSL Modems & Routers

At this time, Qwest offers an excellent 2Wire router which includes wireless connections. As for going with a basic modem, I actually am using a Netopia 2240N modem in combination with a Linksys wireless router. This allows me more options and makes it easier to upgrade my wireless options in the future. If you are looking for the simple solution, then the 2Wire router from Qwest is your best option.

Changing your hardware or first installing it usually requires calling your third party ISP. They usually need to rebuild (or setup) your circuit (connection) to recognize your modem or router. Once they do that DSL is up and running. If you do not do this, the result is usually that your modem/router will connect to the ATM network (Qwest), but not be able to connect to the Internet (ISP’s network).

DSL Stability

On average DSL outages are rare. I have only had problems where my ISP has had network issues and at most the Qwest ATM connection has failed about three times. The vast majority of DSL issues will be on your end. DSL routers can get stuck and need an occasional reboot, but if configured correctly and adequately cooled, they usually can run for months without a restart.

DSL In The Future

Eventually ADSL2 will become the standard in the future. If you are replacing your DSL equipment make sure you keep ADSL2 compatibility in mind just in case Qwest rolls out ADSL2 in your area. ADSL2 can provide speeds up to 24 megabytes. The current ADSL Qwest uses now offers only up to 7 megabytes, with most customers qualifying for 3 to 5 megabyte connections. However many people would be happy with even a basic 1.5 megabyte connection, depending on your internet usage.

Netopia 2240N-VGx Review

Netopia 2240N-VGx ADSL2 ModemSince upgrading my Qwest ADSL to a higher speed, I have noticed that my old Cisco 678 router was getting pretty outdated by today’s standards. Qwest primarily uses ActionTec modems which are pretty basic and a bit unreliable, depending on whether you believe the complaints on DSLReports.com. They recently upgraded the firmware on the 701 ActionTec modems and are now offering a more user-friendly 2Wire gateway modem, but I already have a couple of wireless routers at home and with Intel pushing a new wireless standard, it is just a matter of time before a wireless router will be outdated. The undeniable solution is to get a reliable standard ADSL modem and hook it up to whatever wireless router you want. In this case the least inexpensive reliable ADSL modem that I can find was Netopia’s 2240N-VGx ADSL2 modem.

Netopia makes a variety of 2200 series products. These are an inexpensive line of ADSL2 compliant routers that are meant for home consumers versus their higher end business series. The 2240N is the least expensive and is available online for about $67. The 2241N adds a USB connection, and the 2246N is a basic 4 port ethernet router. There is also the 2247NWG which includes wireless features.

Purchasing the 2240N or 2241N can be quite hard, since almost every online distributor has them out of stock. Even eBay doesn’t have much in the way of Netopia 2200 series products. I had to wait about about ten days for my 2240N to be delivered. In case you are interested in purchasing either one of these single ethernet port modems, your best bet is Froogle. Do a search for Netopia 2240N or 2241N on Froogle.com. The two major retailers are Buy.com and TechDepot.com.

The 2240N Out Of The Box

Once I opened the rather plain white box what I found inside was pretty sparse. There was the 2240N modem itself, a standard AC brick powersupply, a purple telephone cable, and a yellow ethernet cable. There is a one page sheet of instructions for setting up the “gateway”, and a setup CD that most advanced users will not need.

For setup purposes, I disconnected my Powerbook from the network. Hooked up the 2240N directly to the Powerbook. I had to change Networking to DHCP and let the Powerbook get a new IP address. Following the included instructions, I then simply used Safari to access the web based interface. The Basic Setup option failed to setup my Qwest DSL connection of course.

Two things were needed for the DSL line to work. The first one is easy, once you find the advanced options, you need to change the ATM connection to Qwest’s preferred settings. Look for VPI and VCI settings. VPI needs to equal 0, and VCI should be set to 32. In my case the last thing to do was to call my 3rd party ISP. It seems that my ISP requires that the DSL line be rebuilt or essentially, reset by them in order for new equipment to be recognized. Perhaps a simple MAC Address change would have fixed it on my end, but since my ISP reset it for me in less than two minutes, I was connected and running.

I then hooked up my Linksys Wireless router to the 2240N and hooked my Powerbook back to the Linksys, changed my Network settings in Mac OS X and I was back to normal.

Cisco 678 Versus Netopia 2240N

The 2240N is actually smaller than the Cisco 678. It has bigger LEDs and while the silver case looks cooler than the charcoal 678, the 2240N still manages to look plainer for some reason. Performance wise, the 2240N does train and reset faster than the 678. Download speed does not seem have changed. Browser tests on DSLReports show no improvement, but what does appear to be different is burst speed. While downloading a large image or flash laden web page, the browser seems to get more data at once, so perhaps multiple connections are scaling better. If there is to be a significant speed improvement it will have to be from Qwest, since the 2240N is ADSL2 compliant, it should be ready for Qwest if and when they bring ADSL2 to my area.

Most routers tend to lock up in general when maxing out connections and while I’ve had the 2240N for about a week now, it has only locked up on me once. There is an actual On/Off switch, so I can simply flip the switch and the router is back to normal.

Netopia’s Web Interface

It appears that all Netopia routers have the same operating system, and so they all share the same blue and white web interface. Although Netopia tries to hide the complexity of their advanced screens behind a simple home screen layout, most users will want to access the advanced options. Netopia features two firewalls, a simple ClearSailing firewall that is enabled by default, and a more tighter firewall that locks everything out from the outside. There is both a Services option that makes it easier for average home users to allow RDP and PCAnywhere type connections, and an advanced Pinholes option to select specific ports and ranges. These features would come in handy on the 2246N and 2247N routers, but for hooking up to another router like a Linksys or Netgear, these features are less used. Although you can have a double-NAT network, gamers will probably want to avoid some of the extra security of the Netopia router if they are using a second router.

Netopia features telnet as well, so if you rather telnet into the 2240N, you can.

One thing that you will notice about modern routers, even cosumer based ones is that they now have advanced features that are disabled by default. Netopia will upgrade your router with new features for an extra fee. In some cases, $35 gets you a business class firewall. For the 2240N this is a bit over the top, but for the 2246N or 2247N, the pay-for-features might be more intriguing. Qwest’s new 2Wire modem can be upgraded with a site blocker for a monthly fee, so extra premium features are now becoming the norm.

Final Thoughts

At barely $70 the Netopia 2240N-VGx is an excellent buy. If you have a wireless router or a nice GigaEthernet switch already for your local home network, this single port ADSL2 modem is a great solution. You get more features and solid reliability that beats the equivalent ActionTec modem. However if you want to explore a single router solution, then the 2247NWG compares well with the new Qwest 2Wire gateway router. The 2Wire model is more user friendly, but the Netopia product has a more powerful interface and telnet capabilities.