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you and your home network - router and device limits
children of dune - leto 1
seperis
While talking about smart home stuff in comments in another post, I realized that during my adventures in turning my home into its own surveillance state just so I can voice control everything and live like a Star Trek character, there are things I learned that are probably useful to everyone but not exactly easy to discover or like, realize were a thing. As we now live in the age of 'many devices and home wifi', it's possible this is one of the things you didn't know or didn't realize was a thing or even why it may or may not be important.

This one is my favorite. It just doesn't come up enough or easily (or at all) when discussing internet/router problems when you are desperately googling after the internet provider has confirmed many times it's you, not them and you kind of have to believe them at this point.

Problem:

My router/wifi keeps dropping some devices/throws devices off/internet is fine though/restart fixes then all goes to hell again fairly soon/help?

Condition question: Do you have at least eight devices that could connect to your wifi at the same time?

Before you answer: Laptop, TV, kindle, tablet, Roku/FireTV, phone: that's six without thinking too hard. Playstation, X-Box, Switch, Alexa? We're at ten right now and the danger zone begins at seven.

Danger zone? For what? Yeah.



Answer:

It may or may not be anywhere in the documentation for your router, but there's a hard hard hard limit to number of devices your router is cool with being on wifi at the same time. The number of wifi devices your router will tolerate can be as low as eight. Mine was a robust sixteen.

(Note: Generally--and I use this loosely--it does not seem to apply to devices hooked up to an ethernet port, so ignore anything wired for now.)

To find out the answer to this question that honest to God why does it exist, google your router name plus 'how many wifi devices can connect to this at the same time?' To be fair, home routers weren't created with smart lightbulbs in mind but still, this literally blew my mind when it took so damn much work to even discover this question existed. Also, the answer is kind of important as we're at the point where having upward of eight devices on wifi is pretty common.

Solution:

You need another router OR an additional router OR do both.

1.) Easy but maybe expensive: google for one with best or no limits that's compatible with how you get internet, go to literally anywhere routers are sold, buy it. Golden.

2.) Requires some tech work on the backend but cheap: google cheap routers with high device limit, google which of these has AP capability and again, compatible with how you get internet, make a short list, buy whichever is cheapest, bring home, do the AP thing. Golden

3.) Hard mode: google cheap routers with high device limits and compatible with how you internet, check if there's DD-WRT firmware for it, buy the cheapest that does, bring home and flash it with DD_WRT and have the no lie coolest fucking router interface ever that does shit I can't even pronounce. Then make it an AP super easily.

Recommended: honestly? Two. You can do one and two if you want to upgrade your router anyway and then you can use the old router as an AP.

(Three is optional and so much fun but only if you're super into that kind of thing. Yes, I've done it, it wasn't hard and I felt so goddamn sketchy doing it, like people in black were going to come up behind me and kill me, it was great.)

Number two--making your router an AP--is not nearly as terrifying as it sounds. AP is Access Point, which means you connect New Router to an ethernet port on your original router that is connected to the internet (Internet Router), and allow Internet Router to control everything.

When I say 'some tech work', I mean 'not what you're used to'. In a router that has the ability to be AP, you just select 'AP' in setup and follow directions. That's literally it.

More On Multi-Routering

In general, I recommend having a second router as AP for expanding your wifi coverage. There are now literal AP devices you can buy as well, and you can do that, too, but having a second router also means if your first router explodes or dies, you can switch the second router from AP mode to regular mode and sub it in until you can afford to buy a new router.

Another benefit: more ethernet ports.

Sometimes, when you turn a router into an AP, you lose one of those because you don't hook the ethernet cable into the internet slot on the router but one of the four to eight regular ones (it depends on the router) but that leaves you with a minimum of three extra to do with what you will. Anything you can move from wifi to LAN (ethernet) lessens wifi traffic overall and therefore faster.

Just for context: I have 1G (gigabyte) and even so, I have two switches in addition to three routers (one Internet Router, two APs), because I wanted everything that could be on the LAN to be on the LAN whether it had wifi capability or not. Basically, anything with high data needs should be wired if possible; my laptop and Child's laptops are literally the only things that are 'could but not'.

Another benefit: lowered overall wifi congestion

This is going to be incredibly simplified and elided because honestly, unless you're super into the details of networks, there's no reason to care other than the results.

On your router in the wireless section is a setting that asks you to either pick a channel for your wifi or let your router do it automatically. It picks the one the fewest other routers are using at that time but there aren't that many channels, as in, there are eleven. Everything using the 2.4 MHz range aka almost everything fits into eleven. Fucking. Channels. Yeah.

Now, whichever channel is picked by the router--let's go with 6, right in the middle--is not a hard 'only 6' but a midpoint to a five channel range. 6 is the strongest, but the range is two up and two down with diminishing strength, so includes Channels 5 and 4 (weakest) and Channels 7 and 8 (weakest). If Channel 1 is selected, you have no down but only up (2, 3) and Channel 11 has only down (10, 9).

As you can imagine, routers like big ranges so auto means everyone is going there first and then move when it hits critical and yeah. Which is why around sevenish in the evening, you see a sudden bandwidth drop because everyone's logged into their email, netflix, and Fortnite (time depends on where you are or google for your area's known nightmare hours).

You cannot get around this unless you decide to exclusively use the 5 MHz range (routers with 'n' in the letter combination) which has like, ten times the number of channels and not a lot of competition, so awesome. There are drawbacks, however, one of which is many devices cannot connect to 5 MHz, and another is the physical range of your wifi--as in, how physically far your device can be from the router--is much smaller and the drop is a little steeper. A third is it makes two networks in your home and that could be a problem but that's like another entry entirely on networks.

Back to our issue.

There is not a way to get around the limited number of channels (11. Fucking. Channels) or sheer amount of traffic and if you're in an apartment complex, interesting. To see it yourself, download WifiAnalyzer while your phone is connected to your wifi. Default is access points which is a list, interesting whatever now click on the three bars to the top left and select Channel Graph. For extra fun, do it around 7ish in the evening.

Welcome to hell and you're welcome.

So eleven channels, your router can only access a range of five max, and two of those are gonna be weak at best and non-existent at worst: whee.

But, there's something we can do: change the odds. You do this by increasing the number of routers and therefore number of ranges available to your devices and thus, the beauty of APs is revealed.

Three router example (as I have three routers and doesn't require me to think much):

In each router, for that question 'do you want the router to handle the channel', you instead pick a different hard number for each router so all channels are covered and my routers will never even by accident be on the same channel.

Mine:
Internet Router: 6 (Range: Channels 4 to 8)
Access Point Router 1: 1 (Range: Channels 1 to 3)
Access Point Router 2: 11 (Range: Channels 9 to 11)

Now your network has all the channels and your devices will be spread out among them.

Note: Why would overlap (any of my routers being on the same channel at the same time) be a problem? Pretty much for similar reasons as having more than one router; to spread the load out (sort of), except why? What's the difference between one router that handles sixty of my wifi devices on one channel range and three who handle about twenty each on the same channel range?

From sheer curiosity, I read everything that I could even pretend to understand and I get the theory but not the applicability to home networks. Or rather, I have yet to work out 'but how much does this actually practically matter?' outside a business or enterprise-level situation.

Honestly, the only reason I haven't tested it yet is the same reason I have three routers: 1.) the amount of traffic on any given channel at any given time is variable, and 2.) the number of devices on any given router is variable.

As in, all my APs use the same SSID (broadcast name) and password as Internet Router. Any given device selects for signal strength, so when it connects to a router, that's generally the one physically closest (therefore strongest), and my placement of AP routers assured every device had a router in range that is strong so in general, I can guess by location where something is connecting. That said, if I restart one router, all devices that were on that router will migrate to the next strongest and the process of moving back depends on when they next decide to check. Even a drop in internet speed can make this happen if one router drops speed faster than the others and the devices flee.

Controlling for one isn't possible without risk of many many many felonies on the off-chance I survived the mob that came after me when they realize I killed all internet in a five mile radius because I didn't understand why my channels couldn't overlap, and either way I'd never have time to actually finish testing so what's the point. Controlling for two is very possible albeit even thinking up a theoretical plan to do it causes uncontrollable full-body flinching because the first step is literally nuking my entire router set up and like, I can't do it like...no.

You have to understand: my network didn't just happen; it was precisely and lovingly designed from the ground up. It has an entire Excel workbook where everything is very precisely and lovingly documented. Every device in my network has its very own assigned internal IP address that is within an IP range that is associated with that kind of device and/or manufacturer and all devices are spreadsheeted with their official (box) name, type, manufacturer, router name that I gave them after long and careful consideration, MAC address, and if it's wifi or LAN (if a device is capable of both, it gets two separate entries each with its own IP). Each router and switch has a chart detailing exactly what device is connected to which port and the max speed. For devices that are on a hub, which means they don't have their own IP address but are part of the Hub's IP, there's another sheet for that with their device ids and/or z-wave/zigbee. There's a log to document what I've added and removed and changed.

That this sounds frankly unhealthy and somewhat alarming (perhaps super alarming, I don't know your life) isn't the point; the point (I think?) is that whatever unholy relationship I have with my network (and frankly, Excel) is very likely saving me from some kind of felony and/or mob-related murder/mutilation situation. Also helpful: I don't know how to kill the internet in a five mile radius but that's a pretty minor issue overall.

To return from that somewhat (very?) unsettling aside on my feels about my network, multiple routers holding different ranges means increased odds that at any given point, at least one router is using a channel that has few others competing for bandwidth and your wifi devices will usually migrate to the strongest. This method, however, has no effect on anything on the LAN (wired).



We'll now return to me packing for Escapade provided the dryer is done.

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