Network Tech Log (no, really) – August 13, 2022 (233-234/365)

Tech babble on top of the regular babble ahead. You have been warned.

Sorry. I’ve been away. Been busy with something I’ve been up to, well, since I stopped posting. Which was right around the time that I was away.

Wait, wait, don’t leave.

TL;DR I set up wireless access points in far and enclosed areas of a building. Skip to the next section for my Observations and Lessons Learned.

What was I up to? Well, it wasn’t much, really. The folks over at the church con school I help out in were in need of some assistance in ensuring that they had full wireless coverage in all of the critical areas of the property. They needed it done before Monday next week, when the school starts face to face classes for the first time since Covid popped up.

The building has two floors, with offices mostly on the second floor. Before I stepped in only the second floor had strong wifi coverage – and when I say ‘strong’, I mean consistent ping (tolerance is set to 3-5% packet loss with at least 100 pings to and competent speeds (minimum speed from should be around 5-10Mbps download/upload, very generous considering speed coming straight from the ISP router is up to 100Mbps); During times that I wasn’t sure of the connection, I tried making a video call to anyone online and connected to another network to see (1) if the call stays on, and (2) if the call is clear enough.

The goal was to extend internet connectivity to an area in the first floor (Which we will call ‘Spot D’ from now on), and also to ensure wireless access in the basement (Spot B).

On the first day of my involvement I did some ‘recon’. I brought a recently acquired wifi extension module (looks like a powerline adapter but with wireless connectivity) I use in the house. You set it up by connecting to it, surfing into the gateway (which gives you access to the administrative tools of the module), and commanding it to ‘repeat’ the signal of any wireless connection within its range. I didn’t seem to have any issues with Spot D, but when I tried to plug the same said module in an outlet which was supposed to service Spot B, I started to see how Spot B was going to be more of a challenge – see, the only hurdle to providing access to Spot D is distance, but Spot B was far AND surrounded by concrete walls – something which was, apparently, a big deal. If there wasn’t so much interference between the ISP router and the outlet in Spot B, then we shouldn’t have had any issues (or okay, we may have had a noticeable but insignificant drop in connection quality and consistency).

Around this time I also realized that I shouldn’t be so tolerant – that meant, I shouldn’t be taking too many chances in defining what was noticeable and what was significant. That was up to the teachers who would be situated in Spot B and Spot D, and not me. At the end of the first day, I talked to the Principal and let her know my findings and current recommendations – more research was needed. I told her, maybe extension modules wouldn’t cut it; I told her I had an old Router I had just sitting at home and told her I’d be happy to test the connection further with it, and if I had better results with it then I’d use it.

The next day I came back with the router (a Linksys E2500 if you were wondering), and I took it to test connectivity in areas which I thought would provide optimum coverage in Spot B and Spot D. Now, if we were to set it up to work as the extension module would (that is, to pick up the signal from the main router wirelessly), I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be happy with the results. Here’s where I mention that it wasn’t just the school that had a connection to the internet – the church needed its own dedicated connection for, say, administrative work and also for live worship service broadcasts on Sunday, among other functions. Fortunately, for these functions, they had ethernet cords connected from their ISP router to areas where, if a router was set up, would provide optimal coverage to Spot B and Spot D.

So that’s what I did. I tested coverage in Spot D using my handy dandy router and the church’s wifi, going in and out of the critical areas (classrooms, mostly), activating and deactivating wifi on the laptop, ‘forgetting’ and reconnecting to the hotspot as I needed to… and I thought, a router would certainly work here. I went as far as I could with the ethernet cord that would bring me the closest to Spot B, and was frustrated to find out that even if I was so much closer to the area I wasn’t getting a good connection, IF I was even getting connected as all.

At first I told the principal that we could probably do a temporary solution for now – I’d use my router and we’d buy a new one, and set it up so we’re ‘piggybacked’ on the church’s wifi. But again, the question of what was tolerable kicked in at the back of my mind. Eventually, I told her that I’d set up routers on the first floor to the basement, and instead of connecting them to the existing ethernet connections which are hooked up to the church’s wifi, I’d be buying new cords to connect them to the school’s router. I gave her a projected budget, and as soon as she gave her approval, I reached out to church admin for their approval – when I got that, I set aside cash to the amount of the proposed budget and I reached out to a good friend of ours to help us out – this guy was the same guy who helped the church out in setting up those existing ethernet connections I was talking about.

We’re now on Day… Four? That was yesterday. Soon as my friend (his name is Randy) and I took a quick walk around the building to see where we could course the ethernet cords through, we determined how long they needed to be, and he told me to look for U-Nails to keep the cords steady on the wall/ceiling. Took me around an hour but I was back around lunchtime with two 40-meter ethernet cords and a new router. After a meal and coffee we set off to hook up the cords – they had to go through the attic like the church’s cords were set up, and Randy was kind enough to volunteer going up there – it was as hot as a sauna up there and the poor guy had to do some unfurling just so that there weren’t any knots while we pulled and pushed on all 40 meters.

The cord leading to Spot D went up the ceiling of the room where the school router was installed, through the attic, and down the rear wall of the building. From there we pushed it through a hole in the roof, through one room, and then finally to the router I was giving away. I got the same results as I did when I piggybacked on the church wifi: Good, consistent ping, and competent speeds.

The cord leading to Spot B also went up the ceiling, through the attic, and down a room where the existing ethernet line to Spot D was – we pushed it through the same hole in the floor as well, and one end of the cord was now  the west wall. We avoided the prospect of drilling any holes as much as possible. Anyway, from there we pulled the cord enough for the other end to go through an area with an exhaust fan installed, bringing us directly to where I’d be installing the new router. Here was the moment of truth – I mean, I was pretty confident that the length of the cord wasn’t going to be an issue, and with a router installed directly in the basement, I’m pretty sure we bypassed the concrete problem… but well, I didn’t test this before purchasing the router, so there was some fear. \

The router was still on default settings so I hopped into the Open connection it was broadcasting. The ethernet cord was plugged, and when all the lights calmed down after giving the device power, voila – Google pops up. YouTube is good. Good, consistent ping, and competent speeds in ALL the rooms.

So, hooray, right? Not so fast, Randy said – the cords looked all ugly in and around the building. We did a bit of cable management – actually, it was Randy who, again, did all of the grunt work – He went as far as making sure the cords were steady on the rear and west walls, as well as in the walls and ceilings of the rooms the cords went through. He did the nailing and we moved the ladder around where he needed to be, and eventually, the job was finished.

Installation Observations/Lessons:

  1. A wired connection still takes the top spot as king of reliability. 40 meters may be a lot of cordage, but this long distance didn’t impact the internet quality between the routers involved. We could have gone with 30 or even 25 meters of cord to get from the school router to Spot D. On the other hand, 40 meters was just right to bring Spot B up to speed.
  1. Interference is real. I used to think that this was an unnecessary step to take, or an unnecessary question to ask customers back in my days in Technical Support, but apparently, it is important, not only to ask if there are EM (Electromagnetic)/RF (Radio…Frequency?) interference sources around the modem/router/gateway, but also to ask if there are concrete walls between the broadcasting device and the laptop/phone. I didn’t say this earlier but as we were doing the nailing of the cords, we changed where the router was going to be situated – and this time, it was behind a concrete wall. Granted, it was beside a doorway but it was still behind a concrete wall – and that was enough to halve the download/upload speeds in a critical area. Fortunately, there was a lot of slack on the cord, so I was able to bring it back to the original spot with minimal issues.
  1. Know the difference between what you can tolerate, and what your client needs. I could have pushed for the extremely temporary fix of piggybacking into the church wifi, but I realized that there may be instances that were beyond my control and/or not within any personal projections. Also, something I didn’t realize until we were setting up: Cable management is a bigger deal than you may think. For a bum who has some competence in connectivity, I have all sorts of wires running through the house without any complaints from me and those who stay in the same house as I do (i.e. the rest of the family); but for the principal and the administrator, they were happy to have had the issue resolved, but you could see their dismay in seeing so many cords sprawled from the wall to the ceiling – I mean, it’s not TOO bad, but again, that’s according to what I tolerate. With that said, I told them I would come back on Monday to follow up and make sure nobody was having any internet problems, but I was also apparently going to have to bring pipes and stuff – not only to make the cords look better, but also to secure the cords in some spots where kids could play with them, or (gasp) cut them.  That leads me to my final observation/lesson:
  1. The job is never done. I know I said I’d follow up on Monday, and I’m pretty sure that won’t be the only time I’ll be asking about the connection. In fact, if all this was on a ticketing system similar to what we used to do at the Call Centers I worked in, I’d follow up one, up to three times between significant periods of time, and if we don’t see any problems, I could ‘close’ the ticket – but as long as the connection stays as it is, the ticket is never really closed. Even if I do have other obligations pop up in the future, I’m probably going to be briefing someone else to be at least aware of the connection, just so that the school isn’t left in the dark.

I suppose I thought it would be a good idea to walk you through the boring job of networking, detail after every small detail… at first, I wanted to share all of it just to hit my thousand word quota, and maybe even to add to my surplus – but the thing is, as I was going through it all, I remembered how tired I felt when the job was done… and I remembered how satisfied I felt, knowing that I had a little extra cash in my pocket – I treated our music director to a quick dinner after, and it just felt good to bless yet another person that day. .

I don’t know, but I just want more of these days, after the literal months I’ve been more or less slacking, trying to get crypto to work more than it’s going right now. Of course, I hear my mind telling me to be careful what I wish for – but hey, as long as we’re talking about blessing as we are blessed, it’ll all turn out very well for my soul in the end, no matter how tired I get.

And there it is. Why you’re still here is beyond me, but I am thankful. I went through today’s quota without going through the Word… but do tune in tomorrow, I have a couple of things to share from a podcast I listened to. I also purchased and downloaded a message to listen to and make notes out of, so tune into all of this… well, before I head out to share all of it in ultra-condensed form before my congregation tomorrow.

The job is never done, and I am thankful.

God bless you.

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