Wireless woes and fatherly foes.
July 22, 2007 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Why does low level wireless traffic apparently strangle my home network?

We use a Linksys WRT54G wireless router with the DD-WRT firmware. It's located in the basement, and I use my laptop from the second floor. I am generally the only person who actually uses the wireless, though my sister occasionally uses another laptop but not for anything intensive. (Usually just looking up game walkthroughs.) Yes, it's less than ideal for me to be placed 2 floors above the router, but since our cable modem is installed in the basement, as are all the other computers (they use wired ethernet), I don't think it can really be moved.

My dad complains that I'm choking the network, when I'm not really doing much of anything. I play WoW, but I am pretty sure it doesn't use that much bandwidth. I was able to connect from a shared ADSL line in Europe and play, so I don't think it's that bandwidth intensive. That's the only potentially bandwidth intensive thing I do. Mostly I just browse news sites and maybe will watch a youtube video once a day.

His specific complaints include that "the wireless light on the router is blinking like crazy." He was also complaining last night that he couldn't stream a movie to view across the network while I was playing WoW, and claimed he has done it before without a problem. His silly ideas about using the network as such aside, he generally turns the wireless off on me because he thinks I'm choking the network. I personally think it's his computer, because I never seem to have any problems when he's complaining about slow network performance.

Aside from my laptop and his computer, there are several other computers (all WinXP, with the exception of mine, which unfortunately has Vista) on the network. As far as I am aware, they are all scanned for spyware and such on a fairly regular basis, and they all have Windows Firewall on.

So, do you have any thoughts as to what the problem might be? Is it the distance from the router to my computer? Is it DD-WRT (which I originally installed to help mitigate this issue)? Something else? If you need more details, I can certainly provide them. I'm just tired of clashing with my dad over this.
posted by liesbyomission to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
As a fellow DD-WRT user, I would do some quick tests recreating the situations that your father is complaining about. There's a page in DD-WRT where you can see the network load on the device (router ip Also run a few speed test to see if its a problem of consistency in bandwidth here

I also used to play WoW, and it never had a profound effect on other net traffic, and I have multiple machines. I could see there being interference if one of your machines was running bit torrent.
posted by ronmexico at 2:31 PM on July 22, 2007

For what it's worth, the activity light on my router (Also a WRT54G running DD-WRT) blinks like a madman whenever I do anything on the network. That in and of itself is a very poor gauge of its use.

It may be that the total capacity of your wireless network is reduced due to interference with neighbors. You might do a site survey to see what other channels are in use nearby and switch to whatever channel is farthest from the channels others are using.

Unfortunately, there's only (almost) 3 truly separate channels (1, 6, and 11, but even then, they step on each other's toes to some degree) in 2.4GHz.

Presumably all your devices are 802.11g and set to be that way. Just to eliminate any possible confusion, you might force the router to g only.

Also, if he's trying to stream HD movies, any small amount of traffic is going to blow that right out of the water. In my experience, 802.11g is only good for 10-15Mbps reliably. Sometimes you can get better speed, but there's no guarantee.

Oh and the references I see bear out the argument that WoW uses hardly any bandwidth. Probably no more than 100Kbps. That should have essentially no effect on his ability to stream a movie, unless it's sending thousands of packets per second, which I doubt.
posted by wierdo at 2:59 PM on July 22, 2007

Best answer: You might be filling up the NAT table somehow, which would result in glacially slow performance regardless of bandwidth usage. See the best answer for this question.
posted by Brian James at 3:01 PM on July 22, 2007

Use NetStumbler to scan for wireless networks ("SSIDs") in your vicinity.

Specifically, look for networks which have strong signal, which also have the same channel assignment as your wireless router.

If there is overlap, change the channel assignment on your router, or boost the power (if that option is available).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:03 PM on July 22, 2007

If QOS is turned on it could be prioritizing your wireless/gaming traffic over his, and you may also be exceeding the number of allowed ports on the router (depending on how WoW behaves); try increasing this value under the Administration tab.
posted by bizwank at 3:06 PM on July 22, 2007

WoW hardly uses any bandwidth at all. It works over dialup, for chrissake. That's not causing the problem.

Two things that could be your problem: if you're using WEP encryption, that can be broken almost immediately, and you may have a bandwidth leech stealing your wireless. Be sure to use WPA2/AES encryption, and use a long, complex password. (after all, you only have to type it once per machine.)

The second possibility is that your machine may have been compromised with a spam or DDOS virus, and that you are indeed sucking up all the bandwidth without knowing it.

There could be other explanations too, but those are the first things I'd try to eliminate.
posted by Malor at 3:25 PM on July 22, 2007

I'd do two things.

First, I'd play wired just to 'see' if it made a difference.

And then I'd go through every single machine making sure that they were virus/p2p/scumware free. I bet one of the other machines is helping choke the network...
posted by filmgeek at 4:02 PM on July 22, 2007

A few thoughts.

1. Do a speedtest. How much real bandwidth do you have?

2. Perhaps the router is taxed doing wireless and wired and error correction and QoS and encryption who knows what else. Might want to try the stock firmware again. Did you up the transmit power? THat causes heat. Heat can stall the little cpu in there.

3. WoW does use bandwidth. A 40 person raid will tax an ISDN line. So if you have little bandwidth to spare, then WoW might be the tipping point.

4. Confirmation bias. Your dad's internet connection is crappy at various time and when he does bother to look, you are on the wireless. Its a coincidence, but he doesnt understand that.

5. You or someone is running bitotorrent.

I suspect the following reason mostly:

6. If you run WoW you ARE running bittorrent. WoW's patcher is a bittorrent client. WHen it runs it will pound your network. Maybe this is when your dad complains.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:06 PM on July 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the very interesting and informative answers. It hadn't occurred to me that upping the transmit power (which I do quite a bit in order for the signal to reach 2 floors up) would heat up the router, which my dad sometimes keeps under a pile of papers. I'll fix that.

-I'm sure there's no overlap from neighboring wireless networks. (We live in a standalone house with a good distance between us and the neighbors.)

-There's plenty of bandwidth to be had (6400 kb/s down, 1400 kb/s up).

-We only have 802.11g devices, so I'll set it to g only.

-He was attempting to stream a movie from one computer to another via the wired network.

-I've increased the size of the NAT table as per the other thread, and I'm hoping that helps.

-QoS is off.

-We do use WEP, mostly because when I was using Linux WPA2 didn't play nicely with bcm43xx at the time. I know it can be broken easily, but I never see any other clients besides the ones there should be when scanning with ettercap. Also, they'd have to be sitting in my driveway or something to be leeching, which isn't happening.

-I know the WoW updater uses BT, but AFAIK the updater only runs when there's a patch, and that's not all the time.

-My dad does run torrents at times, so it could very well be a NAT table issue.

Hopefully this will help solve the problem.
posted by liesbyomission at 12:46 AM on July 23, 2007

What, you're the only one on wireless, and everything else is wired?

It ain't you. Well, it ain't your network equipment anyway.

Ten packets a second will make the router blink like crazy, but take less than 1% of your available bandwidth (assuming small packets). Anyway, even if you tried to take up all the bandwidth, you couldn't -- you're on wireless, with *maybe* 2Mbit effective, while he's on wired.

There is an off-chance that if he's got some other wireless devices, you're slowing them down (the router needs to slow down to get packets to you, since you're far away). But I don't think that's what's going on here.

Look, your dad is pissed that you're spending all your time in your room playing some useless video game instead of spending time with the family. You came all the way back from Europe for this? He cuts the net, you come downstairs, he tells you why you have to stick around. If it was any more Pavlovian steak would need to be involved.

(ObMefi: Eponysterical.)
posted by effugas at 1:26 AM on July 23, 2007

Response by poster: Er, effugas, I think you're reading into my question a bit too much, given the rather sparse details about my personal life in my actual question. I was asking a technical question, not a personal one. Hence "computers & internet" and not "human relations."

I live in the US. I took a trip to Europe earlier in the summer with my family and once out of curiosity logged in there to see if it worked, and it did. The mention of that was merely anecdotal evidence to the idea that the game doesn't use much bandwidth.
posted by liesbyomission at 2:26 AM on July 23, 2007


Lemme put it this way. If it wasn't for the blinking light, he literally wouldn't even know you were playing. But you can make sure -- run some bandwidth tests downstairs while you play WoW upstairs. See if it affects the bandwidth at all, playing vs. not playing.

Anyway, I do computer security; it's more common than you think that it's actually a human problem.
posted by effugas at 3:58 AM on July 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, Brian James! Changing the IP filter settings seems to have done the trick.
posted by liesbyomission at 1:54 PM on July 23, 2007

It might be that your connection, 2 floors up, is using up a lot more of the spectrum.

The further you are away from the AP, the lower your data rate is. Since only 1 person can transmit at a time, your connection is probably taking up a lot of time--reducing his throughput. So, while your connection might not take much bandwidth at the IP layer, your connection might be using up a LOT of the wireless capacity.

If you move closer, does his speed improve?

Also, if you have cordless phones or other wireless devices, they use up some of that capacity as well.
posted by wflanagan at 12:48 PM on July 24, 2007

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