The Slow Lane

Road RunnerAbout nineteen months ago, I set up my first wireless router at home, and I remember at the time that there were only one or two other publicly broadcasted SSIDs in the general vicinity of my apartment. Today, there are at least eight or so wireless networks within range of my laptop, suggesting that broadband, in my building or in my immediately neighboring buildings anyway, has reached a significant level of pervasiveness.

One unwelcome consequence of this is that my home broadband access has gotten noticeably slower over the past six months, almost to the point of frustration. It takes two or three seconds of blank responsiveness from my browser before a page will suddenly load, a clear sign of saturated bandwidth. I was hoping that, by upgrading to an 802.11g router as I did earlier this week, I would see some performance gain — not a realistic presumption, I know, because most of the speed increase in wireless-g hardware benefits intra-network activity. Still, I hoped, but as is to be expected, no favorable results.

I never paid much attention to warnings that the performance of cable broadband pipes, by virtue of the fact that they are community shared, inevitably degrade with increased patronage. Naturally, I assign more credence to that claim now, but I think it’s also attributable to a predictable tendency to outgrow bandwidth, regardless of how much speed you have. Given 5 Mbps downstream (I’ve been at that speed for roughly five years now), before too long I’ll need 8 Mbps. And if you give me eight, I’m sure I’ll find a way to max it out before the current (and last!) Bush presidency comes to a merciful end. You can never have too much bandwidth, so to speak. It’s a natural human behavior — or, at least, a natural consumer behavior.

  1. Another possible reason for the slowdown on your end could be if your access point is open (i.e. it broadcasts its ID or there is no encryption turned on) and other users are actually connecting through your router (especially users bent on stealing internet access from you or other clueless users who don’t care which ID it connects to as long as they get their pr0n… I mean, internet access).

  2. we also switched to an 802.11g network recently and the performance of the wireless network has actually gone down since. the 802.11g signal is not as strong as 802.11b! tighter wavelength means it doesn’t go as far 🙁 we had to buy an antenna and the antenna cable is too short (what company provides only a 6ft cable for a wireless antenna?! how dumb is that?!) so it’s sitting in the middle of the floor of our hallway. i’ve tripped over it three times this week already.

  3. I know I’m not alone in the fact that hard-drive space works exactly the same way. My first windows based computer had 400Mb of drive space and now I have 140Gb of space and I’m always worrying when my available room dips beneath 10Gb.

    The explosion of storage, memory and bandwidth has erroded the attention to efficiency that software developers used to value so much.

  4. Charles: I turned on WPA and turned off SSID broadcasting almost as soon as I knew the router was working. It’s good advice. I’m very cautious about people hopping on my network for a free ride, maybe partly because when my own network was down, I immediately went looking for another to tide me over until the technician arrived. Naturally, I had my choice of about three of unsecured networks nearby.

    Gleek: I didn’t know that about the shorter wavelength of the 802.11g signal. How does the antenna work — is it a repeater? I wonder if that would help me out. On the other hand, I’m loathe to bathe my entire (smallish) apartment in wireless signals… for fear of cancer and all.

  5. Hey, a really good way to secure your access point is to use hardware address restrictions. This means, you have to enter in the airport (802.11_ device) idd numbers.

    If you have an airport, simply open the utility and go to the “Access Control” tab. Click the plus. Add in a computer’s wireless ethernet hardware address and name it. Then click OK. Do this for every wireless device. Wired devices do not need to be entered into the access control list. (Make sure to make a backup of your access control list by exporting it from the actions drop down next to the list).

    Also, if you choose to go the DSL route, you don’t have to worry about such a thing as shared resources. DSL lines are a direct link with the local CLEC and so are not dependent on a certain neighborhood or area. (It does help to live close to a CLEC, though, which, if you live in a city, is almost guaranteed.)

  6. I’ve been running access restriction on my router instead of WEP (mostly because of the hassle of the encrypted keys). Until recently I hadn’t broadcast my SSID either, but my wife’s PC laptop frequently “lost” the router’s signal and couldn’t connect to it again unless it could actually see the SSID.

    Is there a way in Windows (like in the Mac’s network preference pane) to manually enter in the SSID you’d like to connect to?

  7. What the guy above is talking about is MAC filtering, and if he doesn’t have an airport base station, it’s not going to be mentioned as Airport ID filtering. Just a point of clarification.

    Also, another point of clarification: I believe some routers also need wired devices’ MAC addresses added to the list as well.

    Of course, if Khoi knows to turn of SSID broadcasting, I’m sure he knows about MAC filtering (or Airport ID filtering if you will) 🙂

  8. Since someone else posted before me, I was referencing Mr. Hamilton above.

    As for you Sean, I believe there is a way to do that, but I don’t remember it right now and I’m on my PowerBook so I can’t just look it up 🙂

  9. It seems no matter how fast our technology works, we get impatient when we know there’s something better out there. I started programming on a PDP8/e mini with storage on punched paper tape, read by a Teletype at 110 baud. Once I’d used 300 baud cassette tape, there was no going back. Then there was 1200 baud tape. Then floppies (8 inch, 100K) blew tape storage out of the water, and within a couple of weeks of first using a 10Mb hard disk, I was drumming my fingers on the desk while waiting for it to catch up.

    Some people (including me) are never satisfied 🙂

  10. sorry for the late response.. been busy doing non-technical/girly things like sewing.. anyway, we bought this little antenna for our airport extreme base station.

    Hi-Gain 15dBi Corner Antenna

    it’s not a repeator and i’m sure it would work great if it had a longer cable. it still makes no sense to me at all that this thing that is supposed to be mounted in a corner AWAY from the base station would only have a 6ft cable. go figure.

  11. I think there is a good reason for supplying a cable only 6ft long – cable loss. At these frequencies and with the type of cable used, I would guess at losses of maybe 1dB per metre, maybe a little less. If your antenna had twice the length of cable, it would have twice the loss. So you would lose some of the benefit of your high-gain antenna.

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