Wifi sucks and How to fix

Do you experience periodic internet dropouts or wifi devices slow or not working sometimes, the only solution being to wait it out or unplug and replug in your router? There is a better way.

This is a fix it and explanation guide for why your wifi internet sucks.  I have a lot of CenturyLink specific advice, but the wifi fixes are for everyone.

My story:
When CenturyLink’s wifi router was in command of my network, I would have to power cycle on a weekly basis, sometimes multiple times a day. Even when the internet light was on, several of my devices wouldn’t connect. Later on, I traced the issue to a rogue android wifi device that was changing its MAC address daily, combined with the CenturyLink router’s default setting to reserve IP addresses forever. Once full, new devices have to fight for ip addresses, kicking each other off. What a nightmare.

In March 2018, I tossed my CenturyLink provided wifi router and replaced with my own. Ever since, I have not had to power cycle the router once.

Here is my current setup (more info later):
CenturyLink ONT (converts fiber to ethernet)
Router: https://amzn.to/2R4dCNq
Two Access Points: https://amzn.to/2LsW7AQ

===========================

What is the main reason my internet breaks?
Wifi and Routing are both important and intensive tasks. The wifi router combo device sometimes can’t keep up with all its duties and drops important messages. Not a big deal, devices will just try again, with the addition of some lag. However, sometimes the message that is dropped is an important system message from CenturyLink. At which point, your router will stop working entirely. You can either wait until the next time that system message is broadcast, minutes to hours later, or you can power cycle and force the system update.

Why does my wifi drop out?
This can be complicated. Wifi interference, compatibility, and coverage are the common culprits. Your modem broadcasts two wifi networks. A faster 5Ghz wifi and an longer range 2.4Ghz wifi. When walking around your home, your device may be trying to switch between these two networks. The switchover takes time, and your device will appear to freeze up for a few seconds.  Switchover issues are always the device’s fault, not your wifi network, but you can take steps to minimize.  Start by moving your wifi router to a high center location in your home. The corner of your basement is the worst choice.

===========================

Solutions that really work

Change wifi channel from default – this is the main fix for apartment dwellers. Your wifi using neighbors are crowding the default wifi channels. Get yourself a wifi analyzer app for your phone. The app will tell you what wifi channels are congested and which are unused. Change your wifi channel to an unused one. If you want to be nice to your neighbors, you can also turn down the antenna power. Bonus points, if you convince your interfering neighbor to do the same.

Move your wifi router to a common location.  High up on a shelf between your bedroom and livingroom / kitchen is a good choice.  The default location most installers choose is right next to the ONT in the basement.  That is the worst location for wifi coverage.  The other corner of your home will have poor coverage.  Outside you will have poor coverage.  Moving your wifi router to the 1st or 2nd floor will do wonders.  If that is not enough, and you are considering an wifi repeater or extender, don’t.  Check out the hardware recommendations below.

Dust off and ventilate your router – Your router is a little computer. It generates heat and collects dust. After 2-4 years, the dust will cover the heat sinks inside the router and it will overheat and crash. Spray the router with canned air or use a vacuum on the vents, clear out some of the dust.  Other causes of overheating are from burying the router in a cabinet. A router requires open air to cool itself.

New hardware – I cover new hardware in the next section below. The reason that new hardware works better than a wifi router from CenturyLink is that you are separating the intensive tasks of routing and wifi management to multiple devices. Each with its own powerful unshared resources. When a critical system message comes in, it is not dropped. Your network has resources to spare.
What do I mean by resources? Internet bandwidth, router cpu cycles, router memory, router throughput and buffers.

Replace the ONT battery backup with a regular wall power plug. – This is an odd one that is cropping up in Platteville. The ONT is the device inside your home that converts the fiber wire to ethernet. Some fiber installers used a battery backup on the ONT, which is only required for phone service. These battery backups will eventually stop working and need replacement. At which point, your ONT will receive unstable power and require frequent power cycles to keep online.  You can call CenturyLink to fix, or you can try to fix yourself. The battery backup can be removed and replaced with a generic wall plug that won’t wear out. Make sure to check voltage and polarity markings on the ONT.

Hard reset your router to factory settings. – This is a last ditch effort to get your router back to working like it did on day one. After a factory restore, to reconnect to the internet you will need to enter your CenturyLink network username and password. This is not printed on your router’s sticker and is not your web account. You will have to ask CenturyLink support to provide it to you. Use the online chat for speedier help, also allows you to copy and paste.

============================

New Hardware

Ok, so the above solutions don’t cost any money. A new router / access point will cost you in the range of $100 – $500. My recommendation costs $140 for a new router and single wifi access point. Plus whatever you pay for added cables and an extra $80 for a second wifi access point to improve coverage (overkill). You can find these cheaper if you buy used or wait for a sale.

Reasons to buy your own router:

  • You have a price lock, but the router rental fee keeps increasing each year
  • You experience internet dropouts more often than you would like
  • Your wifi speed is slow, even in the same room

Reasons not to buy your own router:

  • You will need some basic networking experience. PM me if you get stuck, I can walk you through most setups. YouTube is also a good resource.
  • You already own your CenturyLink router and do not pay rental fees. You may still benefit from keeping the router, disabling wifi and adding your own access point.
  • This guide is for fiber customers, if you have DSL PM me. I can get you the model numbers you need. RadioShack also carries DSL routers for CenturyLink.

Features to look for in a new router:

  • VLAN Tagging – CenturyLink needs the VLAN ID set to 201 on a replacement router
  • Gigabit – Even if you don’t pay for gigabit, you will benefit from the additional resources
  • Dual Core – You want each device to be powerful. With resources to spare running your network.
  • Smart Queue Management – Better than QoS

Features to watch out for:

  • Mesh wifi – Sounds good on paper, but if you need multiple access points you are much better off running a cable to each location and setting up your own wifi on multiple frequencies using access points. To run the mesh, each hub needs use wireless bandwidth to communicate with the other hubs. You are not running full speed.  You can get around this by running an ethernet cable to each hub.  If you are going that far, why are you paying extra for the mesh feature?
    In addition, popular mesh wifi products are not compatible with CenturyLink. The Google onhub doesn’t support VLAN Tagging.  It cannot connect directly to CenturyLink’s network. You can use onhub as mesh wifi, but you still need your CenturyLink router.
  • Wireless Repeaters / Extenders – Same as mesh.  These will do in a pinch, but will slow down your speeds and consume resources.

============================

Here is my exact setup. I use a Ubiquiti EdgeRouter-X and two Ubiquiti Ap-AC Lite access points. You do not have to duplicate my exact setup, any gigabit router that supports VLAN Tagging is compatible with CenturyLink’s fiber home network. I like Ubiquiti’s products. They sell enterprise grade networking hardware priced to compete with consumer products. The only gripe with Ubiquiti is that you need to be comfortable navigating router web setup pages. There are plenty of guides, search on youtube for some good ones. Read the manual.

Router: Ubiquiti EdgeRouter-X https://amzn.to/2ByhM6a
Access Point: Ubiquiti Ap-AC Lite https://amzn.to/2SgbrDu

I am a big fan of seperate devices for router and access point. The router can concentrate on only managing traffic on your network. The wifi access points can concentrate on only managing your wireless connections and keeping your wifi secure. Both are big jobs for these little computers.

The Ubiquiti EdgeRouter-X is a gigabit ethernet router. It is powered by a dual core cpu with 256MB of memory. It costs about $50 and does not have wifi. What it does do is log into CenturyLink’s network and create a firewall, managing the traffic on your network and through the internet. It does this very well. The EdgeRouter-X does have a setup wizard, but that will just create a firewall and connect you to the internet. To do anything else, you will have to manually configure the settings.

To replace a CenturyLink Fiber router (without PRISM TV) with the EdgeRouter-X, use the setup wizard and choose PPPOE. Enter your CenturyLink network username and password along with a VLAN of 201. I retrieved my username and password from CenturyLink online chat support in about 4 mins.
For me, after the wizard completed I could not access the internet, so I deleted the PPPOE interface then manually re-added, re-entering the same username/password CenturyLink credentials. After that, everything worked as expected. You can pm me if you have questions on how to set up.

To create a wifi network, you need to plug in access points to the ethernet router. General rule of thumb is one access point per floor. If you are clever with your placement of the access point, you can cover multiple rooms and floors with a single access point. Instead of figuring out where best to place a single access point, I just used two of the Ubiquiti Ap-AC Lite access points. One is mounted high up on the wall in the bedroom, hidden behind a painting. The second is in the basement ceiling, positioned below the living room. I configured the two access points to use four different 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz frequencies, so devices connecting to any channel will run at full speed. I turned down the power on the upstairs access point, enough that I can receive good signal from my yard but less so at my neighbor’s house.

That’s really it.

When a device connects to the network, it will jump on whichever access point is strongest. It will stay on that access point until it can’t and will attempt a switch over to the next available network.  The only time I notice my phone’s connection freezing up, indicating a switchover is in progress, is when I am driving away from the house. About a block away, the switchover from wifi to cell occurs.  If I happen to be using internet on my phone at that exact time, my iphone behaves odd for a few seconds. Not my wifi’s fault.

I am very happy with the performance of this setup. As I said in the beginning, I have had zero trouble with the router and access points. No need to power cycle anything.

After I installed my ethernet router and access points, I convinced a buddy to do the same. He gave me the same report. After almost a year of use he has seen no internet drop outs, speed issues, or bad wifi connections.

============================

Final note. Let’s talk about bufferbloat. Bufferbloat is the poor performance (lag) that comes from a router buffering too much data.

You can test your network for bufferbloat here. It works by pinging your pc while also performing a large download and upload. The increase in ping is your network’s lag under load.
http://www.dslreports.com/speedtest

The best example of bufferbloat is when person A is uploading a photo album from their phone, while person B is playing an online game. The gamer would see pings below 20ms, but then suddenly their game starts glitching as pings increase past 200ms. What is happening is the router’s buffer is getting overloaded by the cell phone. The router’s buffer is a first come first served queue, so your phone can broadcast lots of upload messages and retries filling up the queue. When the queue is full, the router will simply drop any additional messages. Your poor video game sends it’s game data on a scheduled basis, each message either gets trapped in the queue or dropped.

The common suggestion in this situation is to enable QoS (Quality of Service) settings on your router. This will give priority to the few devices you select over others. Beyond QoS, an even better solution is a feature called Smart Queue Management. Instead of giving a single device priority, your router reserves a portion of the buffer. So no single device’s traffic can crowd out others. The result is that all your devices will work at full speed.
https://www.bufferbloat.net/projects/bloat/wiki/What_can_I_do_about_Bufferbloat/

I purchased the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter-X because it had the Smart Queue Management feature.

Some technical info on the ER-X’s implementation of Smart Queue: https://kazoo.ga/edgerouter-x-smart-queue/

Tags: ,