Just use wired

    •     hardware

Michael Snoyman’s blog post about his new home network setup reminded me of my own networking woes. After years of using Wi-Fi in hostel rooms and rented flats, I was getting fed up with unpredictable performance, glitches, and the constant troubleshooting. Finally, a recent move gave me an opportunity to turn this frustration into some action, and fix the situation for good—until another move, at least. Here’s how that went.

The day I moved in, this place only had an Ethernet cable coming from ISP. With the flat in a bit of a mess, and no real plan of what’s going where, I simply went out and bought a TP-LINK WR741ND, to spread that Ethernet to all my wired and wireless devices. WR741ND is a cheap-ish home router: a single WAN port, 100 Mbit 4-port switch, 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. It got me the Internet I craved, but soon it also got me angry.

This flat is shaped like an L, so despite putting router at the very center —that is, at the bend of the L—I still had dead spots. It was particularly bad in the kitchen: I often listen to random YouTube chatter while I cook, but the kitchen is at the tip of the L, insulated from the router by two walls. Signal was never good there.

To add insult to injury, this flat is surrounded by other flats in every dimension, and the 2.4 GHz spectrum here is like a bazaar on a Sunday morning: crowded beyond any hope of a quiet spot somewhere.

The final nail in WR741ND’s coffin was its performance. When family members used Wi-Fi in the evening, with someone streaming something on a TV, and someone else watching YouTube on their tablet, it was pretty much guaranteed that I’ll get lags on IRC, or the router will just clam up and require a hard reset. That only happened once in a while, so totally a first-world problem, but it was none the less frustrating.

All of that made me purchase TP-LINK Archer C60, also known as AC13501. This device is a bit more expensive than the previous one, but it has a number of useful features to show for it:

Now, this almost solved my problems. The Wi-Fi on tablets and phones became stellar: I could now watch YouTube from any corner of the flat, for example. However, the situation with laptops and the TV hasn’t improved as much as I hoped for. These devices are on the desks, close to the walls; the TV is basically surrounded by a wooden closet full of stuff. With the router flat against one of the walls, the signal had to travel in weird paths, or even bounce around to get to the TV. Not a great situation, and it reflected in Wi-Fi performance.

So I finally gave in, took a tape-measure, and figured out where I’d lay the cables. A few weeks later, I spent a weekend moving furniture around and putting all that cabling into the baseboard (which luckily had channels just for that!) Using the old trusty WR741ND as a switch for the room at the other tip of the L, I now had a wired “backhaul” which spread the Ethernet throughout the house, plus Wi-Fi for phones and tablets.

This solved my problems so thoroughly that I honestly didn’t think about it again up until Michael’s post dropped in my lap. With stable, reliable Ethernet for immobile devices, and 5 GHz Wi-Fi for everything else, it’s a bliss. The only networking problems I have these days are with Windows machines, which sometimes get confused and require a reboot to come back to their senses.

Use wired, folks, if at all possible. It’s a bit more work than Wi-Fi, but if you aren’t staying in that place for a single night, Ethernet is well worth the effort.

  1. Update 11.02.2020: AC<number> is not a model name, it’s just a marketing term for throughput.↩︎

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