Your Evolving Home Network

Our building recently upgraded to 100 MB per unit internet using “microwave fixed wireless” rather than the traditional AT&T / Verizon / fiber solution. Here and here I wrote about this incredible technology and its potential to disrupt the cable and internet industries.

After the upgrade we were receiving screaming fast performance from wired connections but slower ping and downloads on my wireless clients. Thus I asked my friend Brian for a wireless router recommendation and he mentioned the TP Link Archer A9. I picked it up on Amazon for $129 and recently hooked it up. With all the security threats that abound, it is important that you have a modern network router and are aware of weak security points on your network, particularly some of the new “Internet of Things” devices that are proliferating nowadays.

Routers have changed significantly over the last few years in terms of power, capabilities, and ease of use. For instance the A9 has a simple console when you sign in and you can “hover over” and see your wired and wireless connections that are currently on your network. They have a cool error page and I am just starting to dig in to the various errors that I see on the panel and will be working with my ISP to resolve them – these aren’t typical “errors” in that the internet doesn’t work, but I do believe that frequent connections and re-connections and slower link times are caused by these events.

A couple of new technologies that I didn’t have before are the 2G and 5G bands. I did a bit of research and apparently the 5G band is supposed to be faster but the 2G band has longer range. I will be experimenting with this in the future throughout my condo.

The unit also has 3 antennas. I no longer point them all “straight up” – they are now pointed to different corners of my unit. I am still researching to see if the antennas send out both the 2G and 5G bands or if they are sent individually.

You also can set up a “guest network” which is kind of a cool feature. I will look into that in the future, as well. There are a host of security options and I may set up mac address filtering on the main network and then when friends come over I can put them on the guest network; this was a downfall of using mac filtering in the past. Another option is to limit use of the TP Link console just to specific wired machines with dedicated Mac addresses… this is another powerful security option to consider.

One unexpected element is how many wireless devices I have today that need to be reset. For instance I have a weather station that stopped working and also the Philips Hue lighting system which did work since it was connected directly via an ethernet cable. I also have a squeezebox radio that I am thinking of tossing since it is very old and not supported, although it is cool with pandora.

There’s a lot more that I can do with this router, including using it as a print server as well as a backup unit (by connecting a USB hard drive). I will research all of this in my spare time and it is fun to get back into the details of a gadget like this and learn a lot about networking at the same time.

For now I am a bit afraid to update the firmware because I saw their technical forum and noted that someone commented that the firmware “bricked” the unit. For now I will hold off and will just watch the threads there to see how it is going.

If you haven’t picked up a network router in a while it is likely time to do this. The newer devices have a host of additional protections and controls and it is important that you have a strong firewall and controls and know what devices are on your network.

Cross posted at LITGM

7 thoughts on “Your Evolving Home Network”

  1. I have an Apple router for a wireless network which seems to be fine. I don’t do much but blogs and stuff but my e-mail has been a problem lately. A month ago, my Mac Mail client stopped sending and receiving messages on the Cox cable ISP although Gmail seemed to be OK. I spent two hours on the phone with Cox and finally got it working again. Mainly by fiddling and it finally worked.

    Three days ago it did the same thing. Gmail still works but I use Cox for serious stuff. I may have to look into the microwave fixed wireless . I don’t know if it is available around here. I’ll be gone for two weeks Wednesday so I don’t want to get started with tech support again until I get home.

  2. This past spring, I redid my whole system. I hired an electrician to re do the Ethernet wires as Cat 6. I hired a networking guy to lash everything up properly and redo our wireless, which had been pretty marginal before. I also bought new computers, Lenovo Thinkcenters with i7 chips and at least 24 GB of memory for the desktops, and a new Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop (2 lb. 12 oz.) for me.

    The whole thing tripled my down load speed although I do not get Carl’s 100 mb.

  3. Thanks for the tip on the de-bricking. I think I am just going to wait a while on upgrading the firmware until they get another couple versions out. Those de-bricking procedures are above my head.

    I am going to use this new router as a chance to learn a lot more about setting up a network and the configuration of firewalls as you suggested. This is a great opportunity for me to refresh my knowledge on something new.

    It is shocking though how little actual support TP Link has for its product – that forum was all just users of various ilks – it is amazing that they’d just have firmware that bricks their router and they don’t seem to care to much, or at least can’t even join the forum and moderate and help out.

    Our standards for support are now abysmally low that’s probably grist for another post.

  4. Replacing firmware and risking bricking is important both as engineering practice and societal development. Bricking technology is sort of a rite of passage into a very different world. It’s empowering to take control of your stuff, or at least do it and unroll that, confident that you know that you can. My son got a 3D printer some time back. We replaced the firmware on principle (their business model was a bit too walled garden) and it was a useful exercise. He doesn’t look at embedded computing the same way and, psychologically, will be pushed towards pack behavior (as opposed to herd behavior) because of it.

    I have loved Macintosh computers since the 1980s. I still do. I love the fact that I can go my own way with OS X to an unprecedented level if I want to and that far sighted decision has largely kept me in the ecosystem because of it.

  5. TMLutas:
    I love the fact that I can go my own way with OS X to an unprecedented level if I want to and that far sighted decision has largely kept me in the ecosystem because of it.

    You might throw a bouquet to Bell Labs, the Thompson & Ritchie et al team that developed Unix, which is the basis{long stretch back} for OS X, with many permutations along the way.

    The Mac is the UnixPC updated by 30 years of silicon.{& software…}

  6. Tomw – The Mac is a bit more than a Unix PC with decent hardware and a particular window manager. There are unique features to the ecosystem that occur in no other unix variant and it melds more disparate software systems than usual. The Unix heritage, however, is exactly what I was referring to and I don’t mind it being made explicit.

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