Q: I read your column every week and love it. You said recently you will address things outside of PC issues. I have one for TVs connected to the internet.
We have two TVs (Element E2SW5018 and Vizio E400i-B2) and two Wi-Fi networks, through WOW and Centurylink. Both are reliable. WOW has a weaker strength because it's upstairs, but much faster and it connects. Our issue is that from time to time, say about every month, one TV or the other, sometime both, will not connect through Wi-Fi to either Netflix (through either Apple TV or its direct connect to Netflix button) and, while not as often, Amazon doesn't connect. The message we get is that the internet connection is not working. We can go through the reboot process, TV off, then modem off, and back on in reverse order, and it will work after a several tries sooner or later. Doesn't seem to matter which network is being used. Can you offer any advice as to how to avoid this too regular inconvenience?
– Loyd T., Panama City Beach
A: It appears to me that you are ascribing certain functionality to the wrong aspect or component of your network setup, Loyd. If I’m correct, then it’s possible that you’re casting the blame for your operational issues to something that’s not the cause of the problem.
You refer to having “two Wi-Fi networks” of which one “is weaker strength…but much faster.” Setting aside for the moment that you have two different Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the strength and speed factors that you are talking about are measures of two distinct things. The signal you mentioned (and its corresponding strength) is a factor of the wireless router or access point through which you connect. I assume you have two of these – one for each ISP. Lower signal strength – unless it is extremely low – doesn’t necessarily mean slower throughput speed. The main factor in measuring your effective speed is the class of service you get from the ISP. You didn’t mention the speed of either of your services, and I’m not familiar with WOW. I am quite familiar with CenturyLink, and it’s very likely that your WOW network will have a substantially faster connection to the internet than the CenturyLink network. The difference in that speed will very likely be tempered by your Wi-Fi hardware.
Since you have two separate and distinct ISPs, I find it somewhat telling that on occasion both simultaneously fail to connect. For this Geek’s money, the dual failure of two distinct connections is just a little too coincidental. Since your connectivity seems to be exclusively via Wi-Fi, my suspicion turns to radiometric interference that simply overwhelms the frequency that your equipment is using. Many items in the home generate radio frequency interference (RFI) on the same band your routers use. Microwave ovens, cordless phones, devices with electric motors such as vacuum cleaners, can all interfere with a Wi-Fi signal. The way to deal with this is to either change the frequency (if your router supports it) or relocate the router to be closer to the point of usage. The practicality of this solution will depend on your setup, and how much equipment and wiring will need to be relocated. If you can relocate the router nearer to the TV, you could completely eliminate connectivity issues by using a CAT5 cable instead of Wi-Fi.
The process you described to fix the problem works because you are performing a comprehensive reboot of your entire network, from the firewall to the end device. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it is a rather heavy handed approach that masks the actual problem. A more systematic approach, where you do one thing at a time until it begins working will help you to pinpoint what is causing the problem.
I’m very curious about why you feel the need to have two ISPs in your home. A single network connection will support many devices throughout a typical residence, and in fact, is designed to do exactly that. If coverage is an issue, there are Wi-Fi repeaters, additional access points, or even a Wi-Fi mesh system, which is my solution of choice at the Geek house. Such a system consists of a single router connection to the internet, with multiple matched access points that work together to provide blanket coverage of your living space. A single network means less cost, less to go wrong, and easier to manage.
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