I can read out loud faster than 1 kbps
December 27, 2010 3:19 PM   Subscribe

As of a few weeks ago, my home wireless is acting weird. Dropping/slow connection. Everything worked fine until...

... a few weeks ago, maybe a month, connection speeds on two machines dropped to < 1kbps (!). Intermittently, that is, as in, right now things seem to be working just fine, in a minute they may be glacial. With signal levels doing just fine (measured by NetStumbler). Plugged in, things work like a dream, wireless, sometimes they do, but often they don't.
I can not think of an environmental change (cordless phone/microwave as before, neightbors > 20 m away), wifi channel change (11 to 6) does not kick it. That rules interference out, I would say. Just to rule that out as well, I ran every malware detection I could find -- nothing, save a few tracking cookies. Tweaked wireless card settings -- nope.
Setup: ZyXel DSL router, Conceptronic(?) 802.11g WAP, two laptops, one on XPSP3, one on Win7; both have the problem. WPA2/PSK auth, AES/CCMP encryption. Router f/w is up to date, WAP firmware I don't know how to access.
I am narrowing this down to the AP, but have no clue what to adjust. Nothing that I am aware of has changed to cause this behavior...
And yes, there are a gazillion specialized forums for this (which all seem to end up at interference). So I thought I'd ask the real experts ;-) who bother to read a question to the end.
posted by gijsvs to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I assume you have tried rebooting all the equipment?
posted by kindall at 3:20 PM on December 27, 2010

It could be that a neighbor of yours just bought a hub and is running it on the same frequency as you are.

I asked a question about this a while back, and someone recommended the program inSSIDer to find out what was going on. It runs on a computer with wifi and shows you all the hubs within reach, including what channels they are on and what signal strength they have. Truly awesome, especially for a free program.

Frankly, it's fun to watch it run.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:22 PM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

"... neightbors > 20 m away ..."

In both the U.S. and EU, WiFi signals are generally good for up to 100m, so I'm with Chocolate Pickle on this; it's most likely that one of your neighbors has recently added a wireless phone/WiFi router/wireless intercom/baby monitor that is interfering with your formerly unimpeded signal.
posted by paulsc at 3:50 PM on December 27, 2010

Intermittant trouble like that is frequently an issue with DNS. Swap out your ISP's default DNS servers for ones like Google or OpenDNS.
posted by scalefree at 4:19 PM on December 27, 2010

I agree with Chocolate Pickle's assessment, interference is most often the culprit in these situations.

I respectfully disagree with scalefree. The issue with the stopped internet is happening only when connecting wirelessly. When connecting via ethernet cable the issue disappears. You do not have a DNS issue.

To test for whether this is interference or an issue with the WAP, create an Ad-Hoc network. Ad-Hoc networks are networks directly between two computers that do not need the access point. You will want to set up file sharing as well on the computers so you have data to move to test the wireless connection. Here are instructions on how to do an Ad-Hoc on Windows XP and Windows 7. When you set up the Ad-Hoc network, use as many of the same settings you can that you had on the AP. Move the computers as far apart in your domicile as you can.

If Ad-Hoc works with the same settings, and you can move files back and forth without the network dropping out on you, try doing a hard reset on the WAP (conceptronic.net for their manuals). If that doesn't work, pick up a new access point from [insert local electronics store here] and try it out.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:27 PM on December 27, 2010

This is exactly what we were experiencing for the last 6 or 8 months. My PC is only a few feet from the Airport Express, and I rarely had a problem, but my wife a couple rooms away was intermittently unable to connect. I thought it was because of the steel beams in our walls, but then I switched from channel 4 to channel 1, and all her problems vanished. Evidently a neighbor must have been using channel 4 as well.

Have you tried any other wi-fi channels? You should have at least 11 to choose from.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 5:28 PM on December 27, 2010

Is the access point getting adequate ventilation? Heat buildup can cause problems. You might also try blowing any dust out of it.

The consumer grade access points I've used (two linksys, two netgear) have lasted 2-3 years before they start to get flakey.
posted by dws at 5:55 PM on December 27, 2010

Mr Fabulous's suggestion of testing using ad-hoc network is worth a try, as it's an easy way to check for wireless interference. Netstumbler and similar apps won't see things like wireless TV extenders, wireless burglar alarms, microwave door entry systems, baby monitors, and similar which can splatter the whole 2.4GHz ISM band and make it useless (while your signal level still looks OK).

That said, my only experience with anything by Conceptronics was an alleged "300Mbps" 2.4GHz wireless router which had absolutely abysmal signal quality - it was fine at close quarters, while a room or two away signal level was fine but throughput was down on the floor. And that was using it on a farm at least 3kms from the next nearest 2.4GHz source.
posted by Pinback at 6:11 PM on December 27, 2010

You should have at least 11 to choose from.

It isn't like that. The "channel" you choose is the center of a 5-channel (usually) band. In the US, usually you use either channel 1, channel 6, or channel 11, which represent three complete non-overlapping ranges. See Wikipedia.

It's not against the law to use others, but it's... well... bad manners.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:15 PM on December 27, 2010

...wifi channel change (11 to 6) does not kick it.

That doesn't prove anything. Channel 6 may already have been overloaded. That's why inSSIDer is handy: it shows you the real environment you're operating it. (Not totally; it doesn't show wireless phones or Bluetooth, both of which are trying to use the same frequency).

I should have mentioned Bluetooth. Did you or someone in your household just buy a wireless mouse? Or something else that uses Bluetooth?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:22 PM on December 27, 2010

Chocolate Pickle: Ah, OK. Good to know. Well, it sounds like gijsvs still has the option of trying channel 1.

(I wonder why my Airport Express was set up to use channel 4? AFAIK, it was configured that way from the start. I don't recall selecting 4 myself.)
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 6:35 PM on December 27, 2010

wifi channel change (11 to 6) does not kick it.

Try channel 1.

With signal levels doing just fine (measured by NetStumbler).

Your signal level is borderline meaningless. What matters is your signal to noise ratio, often abbreviated SNR. inssider and netstumbler should be displaying those values. What are your SNR values?

Lastly, Conceptronic is far from a reliable brand. If none of the above help I would consider going to an electronics store with a decent return policy and purchasing a Netgear or Linksys and see if the problem continues.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:04 AM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster: All, thanks for your insights -- over the past few weeks I have tried most of your suggestions, to no avail. Not entirely sure if the ad hoc connection test succeeded, I got a decent conncetion speed but then my prob was intermittent from the start. I guess it's time to change my cheap-ass WAP for a better one.
posted by gijsvs at 6:45 AM on January 31, 2011

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