What is the guilty electronic here?
October 1, 2020 8:35 PM   Subscribe

Got a new job - yay! The job is remote and came with a new laptop. The laptop came up all set up for me as far as I know by the company’s IT dept and I had it running and wifi connected quick, but noticed it would get dropped from the WiFi frequently, whereas I’d never really noticed anything like that with my old job’s laptop I had just been using the day before.

Further observations:
1. Over the weeks I started tracking the drops and for a week, they were occurring like clockwork at 46 minutes after every hour. This week it’s more like 54 minutes after the hour and not as regular.
2. Usually the computer just reconnects itself within a minute or two, but the times when I Hit the ‘troubleshoot thenetwork connection » it says the network adaptor had to be reset.
3. With all this info, my IT departments first turned off the power save setting on the WiFi device in the computer and made sure I had up to date driver. When that didn’t solve Anything, they sent me a new identical laptop.
4. Today I had both laptops going as well as my old laptop and all three disconnected together...
5. I really don’t remember my other computer doing this, and I did keep it logged into a vpn via the internet connection all the time, without having to reconnect. Along those lines, all our tv comes in via Netflix and prime, and we have no problems. I leave my animal crossing island open all day with rare problems, way less than once a day.
6. Based on the fact that both laptops and my old laptop disconnect together I fear that my IT department will wash their hands of me and blame this on my ISP and modem. I did check that the modem dhcp (?) lease expires only once a week.
7. The laptop is very locked down so I doubt I could try any fixes, but I can look at stuff.

My job currently involves a lot of Webex videos and working in docs in parallel with others on Microsoft 365 and Teams, so these frequent drops are a bummer, even though they only last a minute or two. What do you think is wrong? Any tips for what to tell/expect from the IT department or the cable company depending on where you think the problem lies?

Background and specs:The relevant devices that are giving me the agita are two yoga L13 thinkpads (new laptops), thé old one is a dell, the happy tv is a Roku, and there’s the switch. We have assorted other things connecting to the internet via WiFi also with no issues (iphone se, Mac mini, lots of smart switches.). The modem is whatever xfinity was handing out in 2016.
posted by Tandem Affinity to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sideways solution: Can you run a network cable from your access point to your work laptop? We've started using a wire when zooming, and it works so much better.
posted by fritley at 8:47 PM on October 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'd start by getting an Ethernet cable and wiring direct from the new laptop to your router. If that fixes the problem, it's the WIFI, if not, it's the router/modem/ISP.

I'm betting it's the WIFI. I'd suggest getting something like a Ubiquiti wireless access point, and attaching that to the router (needs a bit of configuration). From what I can tell, the whole consumer WiFi access point space is a cesspit of bad hardware and bad software, with very few exceptions. The Ubiquiti stuff has been the closest to dead reliable I've had in over a decade of screwing with it.
posted by wotsac at 9:15 PM on October 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah check it with a cable direct from the modem. "lots of smart switches" also seems like an avenue to pursue.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:06 PM on October 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

After trying the network cable route, I'd try shutting off everything else that's using the wifi except one of the laptops and seeing if that fixes anything. It might be two devices using the same internal IP address. (This shouldn't happen with dynamic DHCP, but maybe some of them are set to static IP.)

Fwiw, I also had weird wifi connection issues when my neighbors were using the same wifi channel as my wifi router.
posted by gakiko at 10:40 PM on October 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Did you start all three at about the same time? How often does it refresh the router-assigned network address? The dynamic host-configuation protocol (DHCP, here it's hyphenated to show it dynamically configures hosts) sets a timeout for the address it gives your device, and devices renew their lease to a specific internet address when the timeout expires. This shouldn't cause problems in the seconds it takes to refresh the configuration -- but should is where mistaken assumptions live.
posted by k3ninho at 1:35 AM on October 2, 2020

As others suggest, a wired connection will always be better than a wireless connection for multiple reasons. If it's impractical to run a wire from the router to the laptop then look into Powerline Ethernet. Powerline Ethernet uses household electrical wiring to send network traffic. I've had good luck with it and no trouble on numerous online meetings, gaming, etc.
posted by Awfki at 4:22 AM on October 2, 2020

Update the laptop Wifi drivers from the manufacturer site, if possible.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:14 AM on October 2, 2020

Your wifi can use one of two channels/speed: 5GHz and 2.5GHz. The faster one (6GHz) is a little less reliable -- but in your case, it might be preferable to try it out.

What brand & model wifi router do you have? Does it let you choose between 5 and 2.4, or are they invisibly published as one single wireless network?

Also, have you updated the wifi router's firmware recently? A new laptop probably has new drivers; and old wifi router (like in most of our houses!) probably could use some updating to catch up.

(Those smart switches are probably on the 2.4GHz network, and throwing out a lot of traffic.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:26 AM on October 2, 2020

Powerline Ethernet uses household electrical wiring to send network traffic.

In cases where it doesn't work, or works badly, it is probably down to the sockets the units are plugged into being on different phases. If you can't find a pair being on the same phase you may need to install a phase coupler.

The other problem they tend to have is causing extensive foul language use in ham radio operators close by.
posted by Stoneshop at 9:33 AM on October 2, 2020

Sometimes, certain WiFi devices just don't play well together even if they work with everything else. While a different router or a dedicated access point would probably fix the issue, but as others have mentioned, you may be better served by a wired connection of some sort.

If your house is wired for cable, have outlets reasonably close to the router and the place you use the laptop, and you can't run an actual Ethernet wire for whatever reason, a set of MoCA adapters are your best option. You can get old ones on eBay for super cheap that will do 100Mbps, typically under $50 a pair last I checked. If your Internet service is slower than that, there is no reason to spend more on the gigabit capable ones they sell new today unless you have other local networking needs.

I recommend MoCA over the other options that use power lines and/or phone wires because it is very reliable, the adapters are easy to install, and it is less prone to interference than the others thanks to the shielded cable.

If you have actual cable service, you may want to install a filter on the line where it comes into your house so there's no chance of the bridges linking up with a neighbor's accidentally (you can have several of them all on the same network in case you are connecting devices in several rooms), but otherwise it's just a matter of plugging them in and getting the rated speed out with no drama as long as the wiring hasn't been disconnected.
posted by wierdo at 11:58 PM on October 2, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks all - sounds like there's no 100% obvious problem and no guaranteed fix, but you've pointed to a lot of things to try. I guess I feel better that I haven't been able to figure it out...

As update and to answer some of the questions that came up -
Wired connection could be a big pain, or I would just do that and be done with it all, but I will try it for troubleshooting and maybe it would be worth the trouble just to stop worrying about this. Good primer though of ways to connect wirelessly without using "Wifi" and maybe some other things to try. There are a lot of neighbors whose wifi networks I can see, so it's possible that's causing interference.

I am using the 2.4 Ghz channel (and know to have all devices on that same channel). I've also taken off all the smart switches for now. The DHCP lease period is set to 1 week (and has been throughout this saga). We rent the router from Xfinity (I know - stupid cost, but until recently it wasn't really costing us anything) - supposedly Xfinity automatically keeps router drivers up to date and I don't see a way to check on that.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 11:37 AM on October 3, 2020

Another thing you could try is getting a router/AP like this Mikrotik that can act as a client bridge. That is the cheapest of that particular brand that has a 5GHz radio. There are others that are 2.4GHz only as low as $20. The idea being that to your PC it looks like any Ethernet connection, leaving the bridge to deal with the WiFi stuff.

There are other options, but I happen to know that the Mikrotik devices have a QuickSet setting to work as a client, allowing you to avoid the underlying manual configuration that can be somewhat confusing and I've had good luck with other Mikrotik models connecting to both Comcast and at&t gateways. All you have to do is select client bridge mode and type in the SSID and WPA key and it should just work.

Another possibility if you are using an older Comcast gateway is to have them replace the existing one with a shiny new XB6. It may well work better with your laptop than the old one does. That would probably be the first thing I'd try, as it costs nothing but your time since you are already paying for the rental.
posted by wierdo at 4:38 PM on October 4, 2020

Hmmm - so, I have had many bad experiences with "combination" modem/wifi-routers provided by my ISP. The chips overheat and start to have issues.

So much so, that I refuse to use wifi-router capabilities provided by my ISP- I buy my own (I like Asus gear - but I recommend doing research at "Small Network Builder" for reviews/comparisons) - typically somewhere in the neighbourhood of $175+ CAD will give you an amazing experience. Next, I tell my ISP to put their device into "bridge-mode", which basically turns it into a dumb modem.

We push our network hard. 4-6 laptops, multiple TV's with Roku's, 5 phones, multiple tablets - a NAS that is always busy backing things up or transferring files. Since moving to this model, 10-years ago - I have no complaints from the family - or myself.
posted by rozcakj at 9:04 AM on October 5, 2020

Response by poster: Followup - after three calls to Comcast/Xfinity (during the first two calls, they assured me, 'there had been an issue, but now we've fixed it'), they sent a technician to check on things. He spent two minutes replacing the modem - no more problems.

Moral of this problem: just keep complaining no matter what Xfinity says.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 3:06 PM on December 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

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