What follows is a follow-up question from a reader. I hope my answer helps others out there!
Dear Keystone Jack,
I am sure you have probably encountered someone like me before. I was born even before TV and FM radio were common so you know I am pretty well overwhelmed at times by computer technology. Having said that I would like to give you this scenario:
My wife and I live in a almost new apartment complex in the DFW area. The whole property has basically been wired for fiber-optics by ATT. My dilemma is this, originally we bought the ATT Uverse TV, internet, and landline phone. Because of finances had to downgrade to only the 3mbps wireless signal.
We have a hardwired desktop PC which hooks to an Ethernet cable coming from a wall socket right by the desktop unit. We also have a wireless ACER laptop. Both computers always work really good and we have always been satisfied with that part.
Recently we were given a wireless ready Blu-ray player. We use it mostly to view movies from Netflix. Sometimes the speed gets low enough that it has to reload and sometimes if we are streaming from a web site like for instance our church service, the laptop just plain does not have a good enough signal to keep playing. The desktop being hardwired never has that problem.
Our modem/router, a ‘2wire’ brand is in a closet in a special ATT box built in the wall enclosure away from our living room area where our electronics are all used. I am thinking probably the problem is that our 3mbps product is just too slow for all we are trying to run. I had thought about trying to put in an extra router but when I read all the changes that have to be made I got lost in all the geek jargon. Would you have any suggestions that I might could do myself or is it the 3mbps problem?
This is a great opportunity for some home network trouble-shooting. Let’s start first with the desktop computer. You mentioned that it is hardwired directly into the wall. We can run a speed test on this computer and get a pretty good idea if ATT is giving you what you’re paying for.
Sit down to your desktop computer and open your web browser. You need to go to a web site called SpeedTest. Their address is www.speedtest.net. This web site provides a free service. Any time a site offers a free service you’re going to be dealing with advertising. Unfortunately, the advertising on this site makes it a little difficult to find the actual speed test. All of the ads on this site look a lot like they’re going to test the speed for you. The part you want is in the middle and looks like a laptop. In that area, click on “Begin Test”.
Speed test does several things during this test. First, it selects the test server that is the most directly connected to you (this is not important to you). Second, it does what is called a Ping Test (this also is not very important to you). The third test is the Download Test. This is the most important to you. In this test, it downloads (receives) a little test file and measures how long it takes. It will show you the progress on a ‘speedometer’. The last test is the Upload Test. It uploads (sends) a little file and measures how long it takes.
Once the tests are done, it gives you a report (it also gives you some more ads). You want to look at the top of the ‘laptop’ you’ll see your results. You’ll see your Ping results (we’re not worried about that yet). Next item is the Download Speed (this is what we’re most concerned with). The farthest to the right is your Upload Speed. Your upload speed will probably be less than one fourth of your download speed. This is normal.
Let’s look at that Download Speed. It is measured in Mbps. That’s MegaBits Per Second. We don’t really care at this point what Mbps means. We know that you are paying for 3Mbps. Usually an internet company will sell you a certain rating. This means that they will provide to you a speed that is limited to that rating. Most of the time you can expect about two thirds of that rated speed. They won’t consider speed to be a problem until your speed is below one half of that rated speed.
You mentioned in your question that you didn’t seem to notice any problems when using this desktop computer. I suspect that your speed test results on the desktop will be 1.5Mbps or above (probably 2.5Mbps or better). If this is true, then ATT is off the hook, so to speak. If your speed is below 1.5, check it again each day for a few days. See the section later in the article on Wireless Security, then call ATT to complain if you’re getting half of your rated speed or less. I can tell you from personal experience that you can typically watch Netflix at 1.5Mbps without much problem.
OK. We’ll assume that your speed test came out OK on the Desktop machine. Let’s test the laptop now. Start with the laptop in the living room. If possible, test it sitting next to the Blu-Ray player since it isn’t easy to test the Blu-Ray player’s speed. So, go to SpeedTest.net with your laptop and run the test. Run it 2 or 3 times. Is the speed significantly lower than what you saw on the desktop computer? If so, we have a wireless (WiFi) problem. If not, you may have a wireless security problem or an issue that I can’t solve in this article.
Now, assuming that your laptop got slower speeds than your desktop did, let’s look at potential problems. The most likely is a weak wireless signal strength. To test this theory, carry your laptop to the closet where you said ATT has placed your wireless router/modem. Is this a metal box with a metal cover or metal door? If so, shame on ATT. They should know better. A metal box around a wireless device is better known as an RF Shield (Radio Frequency Shield)! It’s the same principle used to contain X-Ray and MRI scanning systems in hospitals. If there is a metal door or cover, remove it.
While standing in or near the closet with your laptop in-hand, run the speed test again. If the speed test improved, your problem is that your wireless signal is not making it to the living room. Your goal is to try to improve that signal. The best way to do that is to remove obstacles. If possible, pull the wireless router/modem out of the metal box and set it on a nearby shelf. If that is not possible, you may need to call ATT and tell them that their installation is not acceptable. If they won’t help you, you may be forced to call in some help.
What you may need is a wireless repeater. It is a device that picks up the wireless signal from your wireless router/modem and repeats it so that you get a larger area of coverage. It should be about $100-$200 installed.
Let’s talk about Wireless Security. If your wireless is unsecured and you’re getting slow speeds, that typically means that your neighbor is getting free internet access. Once you secure your wireless, test your speeds again. If they improve, keep an eye out. You should see the ATT guy showing up at your neighbor’s apartment to hook up internet access for them.
OK, we’re about to go deep down the rabbit hole. First, sit down to your desktop computer. Go to the Start menu and select Run. If you don’t see Run in the menu just hold the Windows key while you press the R key. This will bring up a small window with a cursor. Type the 3 letters “cmd” into the box. Press Return. This will bring up a black box with a few cryptic words and another cursor. Now type “ipconfig” and hit Return. This will bring up a bunch of unfamiliar information. We’re looking for the words “Default Gateway” (you might need to scroll up to see it). There will be a series of numbers beside it. It will be something like 192.168.1.1 or 10.10.10.1 with periods in-between each number. Write this number down. This is the address of your Wireless Router/Modem.
Open your web browser and type the number into the address bar (including the periods). Press Return. You should now see a log in screen (it’s possible that your router/modem has no login, if so skip to the next step). Most Routers have a default username of admin and a default password of admin. However, yours appears to have the username http and the password should be just left blank. I got that information at the following web page: http://cirt.net/passwords
Once you have logged in you should see either a row of categorical tabs across the top, or along the left side. We’re looking for either Wireless or Security. Look for Encryption or Security or something like that. There should be a pop-up list. The default setting should be something like None. You want to set it to WPA or WPA PSK. Below that should be a place for the Password or PreShared Key (PSK). Enter something that is easy for you to remember, but difficult for your neighbors to discover (your cell phone number without any dashes is usually a good choice). Remember what you type in here. You should probably write it down. You’ll need it later.
Once you’ve entered it, you will probably have a series of “OK”s and “Apply”s to make sure that the settings you make are accepted on your way out. Once you are confident that the router has applied your settings, you can close the browser window. Your Router may reboot as it changes the settings. Give it a few minutes to do its thing.
Grab the laptop. If you were successful, your laptop will no longer have internet access (your neighbor’s laptop won’t either). Now it’s time to enter that password that you wrote down earlier. Your laptop should complain that the wireless access point is requiring a passcode (or passkey, or password). Enter in what you wrote down earlier. Your laptop should happily join the wireless network while your neighbor unhappily calls ATT. You will need to enter that passkey into the Blu-Ray player too. It should be a pretty easy process to walk through.
As a side note, you mentioned in your question the possibility of ‘adding another router’ to your network. This would be a mistake. Think of it like adding another wife. It sounds like a good idea at the time, but if you really think it through, it’s doomed to failure. Both are going to want control of the environment. Neither will recognize the authority (or even the presence) of the other. It will get ugly really fast! You’ll find yourself sleeping on the corner of a rooftop.