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07 June 2011 @ 01:35 pm
I Can Haz Network  
One of the disadvantages of living in a 130-year-old house is in trying to adapt it to modern technology. My office is way in the back (in an old cook house that has been connected to the rest of the house with a 1950s enclosed breezeway). The incoming internet equipment is in the front of the house (so the wireless router can be on the second floor for best coverage).

ladyat's office is right next to the bedroom that contains the network equipment and router. She has no problems, nor are there many problems in the main part of the house. Wiring back to my office, though, was simply not going to be possible - and 802.11g signals don't like crossing through two exterior walls (and, due to angles, a portion of a closed-in wood shingle roof).

In Atlanta, I covered the entire house through judicious use of HPNA phone line networking, which I adored. Phone lines in newer houses are clean, the speed was comparable to what the DSL speeds were at the time, and life was good.

After moving North, however, I went to buy new equipment and HPNA was no longer being sold anywhere, even at Fry's. Seems that it wasn't as good as wireless, claimed many, and it would clog up the shelves for the Next Big Thing, which was powerline networking.

So, I went with the powerline network, and - with occasional burps and a frustrating drop in network thruput - ran that for some 4 years.

Recently, with the upgrade of The Main PC to Windows 7, the network speed cycling got unbearable. For a while before that I had been having regular drops in signal quality sufficient to knock my work system VPN offline. During the reinstall of World of Warcraft on my PC the download speed visibly cycled slowly from 200+ KBps to 0 and back - extremely annoying. Add the instability of WoW on W7 when the network flakes out to the extremely slow speeds downloading replacement software versions for everything I needed, and frustration mounted.

I pulled up the diagnostic monitor for the powerline networking and, sure enough, there was the source of the cycle - while the extension on the same physical circuit as my PC (used for my recording gear PC) was a solid 85 Mbps, the connection to the upstairs (on a different circuit on the other side of the breaker panel and thus on a different phase of the incoming power) was maxing at 35 Mbps but cycling down to 0 and back on a seemingly random time basis.

Rewiring the electrical is Not An Option. Pulling wires through the walls is likewise Out. The least preferred possible option was to run some cat5 along the outside wall and up to the second floor so that I could make a direct connection, but I hate having unprotected wires on the outside of the house (and the wiring is a pain). I'd need to get the connectors, so I hied me off to Fry's for investigation.

I got into a great techy geek conversation with a couple of the guys in the parts and networking section (I love these guys, they know their stuff and give very good suggestions) and we went over signal levels for current wireless back in the cave and the actual problem I was having.

First of all, they were amazed the powerline networking had worked successfully at all going across phases - they'd never seen anyone successful going more than from one circuit to another on the same phase. Unfortunately, that meant one of the possibilities I was checking - going to newer powerline technology - was out.

Second, HPNA (even though the newest standard (3.1) is much higher speed and competitive with wireless) was still not an option. Sigh.

They perked up when I mentioned I could see (but not use) 802.11g signals back in my office. They felt this meant 802.11n would definitely resolve the problem. After some questioning and investigation into products I accepted their word and headed home with my (expensive) prizes.

My existing router had at one time only been able to do EITHER 802.11b/g OR 802.11n. At some point, though, new firmware I had downloaded must have changed that because when I examined it to take down the existing config I found an 802.11b/g/n mode - which I promptly turned on. I then connected with an n wireless laptop and BANG - it worked with a fine enough signal to mean the experiment was likely to prove successful.

I swapped out the powerline router for an N Media Access Point (an inexpensive repeater) and got good signal, was able to connect, and had steady access speeds for the first time in (probably) years. I swapped out my old router for the new one and the signal quality went DOWN by almost 25% (who'd a thunk it - the new router has only 2 antennae rather than 3, perhaps that meant we weren't at an optimal angle), so I swapped it back. A little more tweaking later (moved the receiver to the breezeway because an outlet exists there that is on the same circuit as my office, so I could connect it using the (moved) powerline adapter) and I have a decent and stable signal.

I've ordered a directional antenna for the router so I can try to bump the signal strength further, but for now it is eminently workable.

The result - on line, with download speeds much closer to the speed of my DSL line, and a stable work environment.

For now, at least...
Current Mood: geekygeeky
Vampirdaddyvampirdaddy on June 7th, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
Maybe you can try first with a soldering-free DIY-Antenna like
a parabolic (made from cardboard and aluminium foil)
or a Yagi made from styrofoam or wood and a few pieces of wire
http://www.heise.de/netze/artikel/Die-0-Euro-Antenne-223704.html?view=print (German language only, but the image and measurements table should be sufficient).

We have an old house too (from 1928) - and as it had been converted from one-oven-per-room to central heating decades ago, we have plenty of draughts in the chimneys that could be (and now are) used for cables. For one room we used an old, decommissioned water pipe as cable tunnel. I installed structured Cat6 from a patch field in the cellar distributing the cable into various rooms, resulting in reliable Gbit/s everywehere.

Good luck!