Home Network Upgrades

The How and Why?

Simple. The wireless signal that the Home Hub 4 was transmitting was so pitiful that by nighttime you could barely connect to a website. The included 5 GHz band was only accessible if you are in the same room, therefore useless. The integrated modem and router design only adds insult to injury when you the unit lacks a bridge mode that would allow it to function only as a modem.

Fix it, Fix it, Fix it!

I try to look for the bright side in these situations. In this case it means news toys! This also presented an opportunity to branch out and research my options with regards to using Open Source router firmware. I already had some experience with dd-WRT since Energy Plant’s router already uses a Buffalo skinned version. All I had to do was to find a router and modem that were both capable and not complete ripoffs. Having used TP-Link in a recent network installation I researched what routers would be dd-WRT compatible and if they would indeed be stable. The router I chose is the TP-Link TL-WDR3600 and runs a stable dd-WRT build – v24-sp2 (03/25/13) std. The modem I chose was the D-Link DSL-320B ADSL2+ Modem because of its clear support for bridged mode operation and BT’s network.

Infrastructure

Up to this point the living room was set up with a 10 meter phone line extension cable running along the wall from the main socket. My first order of business was to remove this cable, replace it with plastic conduit, and run new CAT6 cable. I did run the phone line extension in the conduit so that our phone could use. The DSL modem would now be located next to main phone socket and with the Ethernet cable running to the router. I placed the router in several locations and tested for signal strength and concluded that it sends out the best signal when placed on the other side of the room from the modem.

I made sure to setup an appointment with BT and to have them send out an engineer since the Signal to Noise ratio the modem was reading on the download stream was up to 15.1 dB, well above the BT default of 6.1dB. It was time for line reset. The engineer was also kind enough to replace the main phone socket from a model that dates back to Margaret Thatcher.

The end result was nothing more than doubling our Internet speed and dragging it out of the deteriorated depths of 6.8 Mbps, when in fact we averaging 14.5 Mbps just weeks earlier.

TP-Link WDR-3600

The Antenna placement took some trial and error in order to make it work for everyone part of the house since there aren't many places for it to go.

D Link DSL-320B Modem

Here it is in all of its simplistic and lightweight glory. So light in fact that the cables can easily pull it off the cabinet. Nothing a little double sided tape can't fix.


Setting up dd-WRT

Uploading the firmware was extremely easy since there was already a build that was compiled for this model of router. Hardware choice is always a smart way of making these kinds of projects easier. The initial setup was straight forward. The details that deserve attention are making sure that the antenna gains are set to the amplitude specified by the manufacturer, channel width, channel number, and PPPoE settings. The first four settings ensure that you are transmitting the strongest signal that is appropriate for your needs. The PPPoE settings authenticate your connection to your ISP since the modem is in bridge mode. While not a system setting antenna positioning make a big difference in how your signal is transmitted. I tested positions during the course of a week with multiple devices and users prior to settling on this placement. I also chose to make use of Google’s public DNS servers since I got sick of looking at BT’s redirect page when I entered the wrong address.

In my case I set the channel width on the 2.4 GHz channel since I wanted to have good range for the farthest parts of the house. Limiting it to a speed of 144 Mbps was not a major trade of since even at an effective rate of 77 Mbps it is still order of magnitude higher than our best possible Internet speed.

On the other hand I had much more ambitious plans for the 5 GHz band. My goal was to use this channel for the few devices in the house that support it. I wanted to take advantage of the cleaner spectrum and to guarantee a higher throughput for computer since I do stream files from my computer to other devices. My computer is directly above the router on the floor above giving the signal two possible paths: through the floor, or up and around the stair case. My resulting speeds have been:

  • RX Rate: 300 Mbps
  • TX Rate: 60 Mbbps

Subjectively these speeds have been enough to stream WAVE audio files across the network and easily handle document workloads. By far the best part of this new network is that it does not bog down under heavy load and that we can actually use both networks anywhere in the house

As luck would have it I have been asked to run some coaxial cable to the upstairs. I will take advantage of the situation by also running a CAT 6 cable since I plan on installing a network renderer and media server in the living room the near future. I cannot just leave a spare Intel 3770K and 77 series motherboard sitting in my closet.

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