Q: What’s the difference between a used car and a cable Internet salesman?
A: The used car salesman knows when he’s lying to you.
So a couple years ago we signed up for Cox cable Internet and the speed was supposed to be something rather big, like 30Mbps. The download speed from the Internet has been getting worse lately and I ran one of those typical speed tests. It kept coming back with about 6Mbps. It seemed a shame to keep paying so much money per month for a small fraction of what we’re paying for.
In some way, it’s like the cable companies are selling you bandwidth that you can never use because your computer can only consume a small fraction of what they’re selling. It’s a convenient model for them since they can oversell the same capacity to many customers. One big problem, too, is that the average cable salesperson doesn’t know the technology that well.
The Big Picture
In trying to understand what the problem was, it was important to break up the pieces to see what was failing.
- The cable modem itself
- The Ethernet-attached devices
- The wi-fi mode/type and channel
- The neighbors competing wi-fi zones and their channels in use
Although here in the states the original style of wi-fi technology has 11 channels only three of them are unobstructed to their side-channel neighbors, if you will: this only leaves channels 1, 6 and 11.
It turns out that there are over 30 zones within reach of my MacBook in my bedroom. If all of them are on the earlier 2.4GHz style of wi-fi then on average that means that 10 of them are on the same channel as mine and that’s bad news. Imagine having 10 or 30 street performers all on the same side of the street and on the same block and they’re all singing different songs, all competing for your attention. That’s what it would feel like to be a wi-fi adapter in this space.
Imagine having 30 street performers all on the same side of the street and on the same block and they’re all singing different songs, all competing for your attention.
Testing the connectivity by directly plugging into an Ethernet jack proved that the problem was definitely in the wi-fi area of all this.
Here, I list some of the ways of combatting this madness.
Block the competing signals
They have paint that you can apply to your walls which absorbs/blocks the incoming wi-fi signals from your neighbors’ devices. Unfortunately this wasn’t an option.
They have a new technology called Li-Fi which uses light to transmit/receive packets of information rather than the standard variety radio waves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in the dark so I ruled that out as an option.
Replace the cable modem router
I did consider buying the approximately $400 beefy cable modem router with tri-band wi-fi on it.
Replace the wi-fi part of the modem router with local wi-fi devices
This is the option I chose, turning off my Netgear’s wireless functionality and replacing that with two new devices from Netgear called Orbi.
Netgear now brands some devices which move the signal closer to where you are at any time. I chose the two-router version.
It took longer than I thought to install these since I have so many things which connect via wi-fi and I wanted to make sure that I documented things well for this install. But ultimately, I made the final configuration change to put the Orbi(s) into “AP mode” which meant that the original cable modem would issue out IP addresses and everything fell into place.
Testing after the install
Re-testing showed me that the Orbi was well worth the money. It’s now testing in the 30-34Mbps download range which is at least five times faster than it was before the install.
It’s now testing … at least five times faster than it was before the install.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the performance of the Orbi RBK50.