For months my home WiFi has been less than satisfactory. Dropouts, slow connections, complete failures to connect, router reboots required, and so on.
I have a slightly more complicated than average setup but it’s nothing so extreme that I should have had such annoying problems. I don’t live in an area with a lot of competition for WiFi spectrum and my hardware is all of the non-cheap variety.
I have tried different configurations from using my ISP provided D-Link DVA-2800 (the worst modem/router I have used in my life) as a single WiFi router, then in conjunction with the device I have used constantly for a number of years — my Airport Extreme ac (the tower one). I have variously extended this with an Ethernet backhaul to a second, older Apple Time Capsule (the one that looks like a Mac Mini) and I have tried an approach where the D-Link has operated in bridge mode with the Airports acting as the router.
No approach has been that great, and none have solved the problems I outlined earlier.
My pain points
The constant problems I faced with all of these different approaches were:
poor coverage, with 5GHz only working within a small radius, and failing coverage entirely at the extremities of my house and garden.
failure of devices to roam across two routers with the same SSID. This is a known problem with consumer grade WiFi that doesn’t offer intelligent roaming. My devices would hang on to a weak signal from one access point as opposed to switching over to a closer, stronger point. This problem was especially noticeable with MacBooks.
slow initial connections (again mainly with MacBooks) as they searched and connected to the best available signal. I have a feeling there is a software bug in there somewhere as well, because toggling WiFi off/on on the laptops would often then result in a speedy connection.
general frustrations with setting up. The D-Link interface is an abomination. The Airport software is much better, but it always seemed to take a bunch of clicks to get anywhere, and as with a lot of Apple stuff, it was short on diagnostics.
Given all these problems, I decided it was time for a change. Many of the podcasts I listen to feature ads for the Eero mesh WiFi product. This advertising is useless to me as far as selling me their product because they don’t retail in Australia. It did, however, get me interested in the idea of a mesh network, and helped push me into the arms of Eero’s competitor1.
In Australia, the best option seemed to be the Google Wifi 3-pack. I pulled out my wallet and bought a pack for AU$399. Not cheap but my hope was that lowering my blood pressure with less frustration made it a good investment.
Setting it up
In my case, the setup was not quite as simple as Google makes it out to be. This may be my own fault, because I probably overthink things, to be honest. I knew I still needed a router to transfer my NBN Fibre-to-the-Node (and then copper to the house) connection. This meant I had to keep my horrible D-Link to act as the modem. With my Apple Airport, I had the D-Link set to bridge mode and the Airport took on the task of the primary router and DHCP server. This obviated the need to ever deal with the D-Link software.
I went with this same setup with Google Wifi, but no success. It couldn’t establish a connection to my ISP through DHCP, as required.
To resolve this problem, I had to go back to my D-Link and take it out of bridge mode. I had to have it act as both a modem and a router (but disable its WiFi) and have it farm an IP address to the primary Google Wifi point. This is frustrating because it creates a “double-NAT” situation that seems unavoidable. Two devices, both creating a pool of IP addresses. The Airport wins here, as it was able to manage the DHCP connection with my ISP just fine.
Up and running
So now with this configuration my D-Link establishes the Internet connection while Google Wifi manages the internal WiFi and ethernet network. From this point it was smooth sailing. The Google Wifi app is quite good, apart from feeling very out of place on iOS due to its Android Material design aesthetic. It’s also weird to have to rely on a mobile app with no way of accessing the Wifi units through a computer. Finally, no iPad app – just a scaled iPhone app. Come on, Google, you can do better than that. While the Airport Utility looked prettier, Google Wifi gave me more control.
The network quality that Google Wifi delivers is excellent. I’ve been able to use ethernet to create a wired backhaul to the second device that sits near our TV, and I have some strategically placed switches to extend my ethernet network for fixed devices. That each Google point only has a single ethernet jack is a little disappointing, but not really surprising given the typical home market it is aiming at. I have the third device in my bedroom. This one is not using Ethernet backhaul, but leverages the ‘mesh’ approach that is the whole point of the system anyway.
Since installation the WiFi throughout (and outside) the house has been fast and flawless. I am mostly able to connect to a 5GHz ac signal and roaming happens silently and easily. I don’t notice connections slowing down or failing. Whenever and wherever I open a MacBook it establishes an instant connection, whereas it used to take ages and would still sometimes fail.
A Netspot signal-to-noise quality comparison may indicate I haven’t experienced much change in overall signal quality with the change to Google Wifi, other than the Google Wifi result perhaps being a little ‘smoother’ and without a single hotspot near the router.
But it’s the lack of problems with handoffs and roaming that are the real story here. That and the fact that I can more often use a 5GHz ac connection that was previously limited to inside my study.
You will have to excuse my variation in measuring points – this was not an entirely scientific method.
Overall, I’m happy with the purchase. Once I got everything set up and working correctly it’s been a hassle-free experience. The initial experience, though, was sketchy.
I’d love to know if anybody has had success having a Google Wifi setup connect to an NBN connection directly through a bridged modem like my Apple Airport could. While it isn’t really a problem, the knowledge that I have a non-optimal configuration with two NAT devices operating is annoying to me.
Would I recommend this product to others? Yes, absolutely. I also think that most other people would have a much more successful plug and play experience than me. This is the curse of the tinkerer.
An unintended consequence, I would imagine. Podcasts are global, so if you are going to advertise on them, maybe consider having a global approach to retail. ↩
I listen to a lot of podcasts. I’ve been listening to podcasts for more than 10 years, way before they were mainstream. I used to load podcasts onto my work-supplied IBM ThinkPad1 and drive to work with it open on the passenger seat, playing podcasts. This was before I owned an iPod, let alone an iPhone. I think I may have been listening to Adam Curry at the time – there weren’t that many podcasts out there, and his was one of the first.
Since that time, I’ve never given up my podcasts habit. In fact, it’s gotten worse. Overcast, my current podcast player of choice says that I’ve saved 197 hours with Smart Speed (a setting that eliminates small pauses within normal speech). That’s 8.2 days saved via a very small tweak. So how many days worth of my life have I dedicated to podcast listening? I am glad I can’t find out!
My podcast listening trends have changed over the years. I had a multi-year phase with Leo Laporte’s network, listening to MacBreak Weekly, The Daily Giz Wiz and This Week in Tech. Now I don’t listen to any of them. The ‘indi’ podcasts I replaced the Laporte shows with have now themselves grown to be pretty big businesses in their own right.
Listening to podcasts is really a continuation of something I have done since I was little. Since I was about 5 years old I have fallen asleep listening to spoken word. Initially it was books on tape. Then I spent years listening to Graham Mayberry’s show on Perth local radio. Then I graduated to falling asleep to BBC World Service. Listening to speech has been a huge part of my life, and now podcasts provide an awesome delivery method far better than radio or cassette tape!
My subscriptions today
My podcast subscriptions today are a straight representation of my interests. I have a lot of technology subscriptions, a few basketball ones, politics and world news and some light entertainment. Looking at the overall list, I’m not sure how I manage to listen to them all. But I carve out time. Mainly it’s when I’m driving or doing some menial task around the house.
On micro.blog I saw recently that others had shared their podcast lists, including:
In Depth – Trialling this one, a couple of dudes talking Apple technology.
Mac Power Users – Not quite sure why I still persist with this; I never learn anything new and Katie Floyd’s really strong US accent is a struggle to listen to, but I haven’t unsubscribed yet.
Nerds on Draft – I skip the bit where they talk American beer, but I stay for the interesting take on technology. Is it just me who thinks that Gabe Weatherhead sounds like Kermit the Frog (no offence intended!)?
The Omni Show – Not sure this will stick around, as it is a podcast talking to employees at The Omni Group.
Release Notes – Two software developers talk about the business of software.
A few months ago I was unfortunate enough to contract Glandular fever and I am still suffering the effects of it now. The virus started out as what appeared to be the flu, but after I couldn’t shake the feeling of fatigue and general malaise for weeks after the flu symptoms ended I decided to go the doctor. Subsequent blood tests confirmed the glandular fever diagnosis. Normally this is a virus associated more with teenagers, so I am surprised to have contracted it at the ripe old age of 40.
The impact this illness has had on my ability to work effectively has been significant. Beyond the physical problems it has been a struggle to establish mental focus and remain concentrated on a task. I have had periods of forgetfulness and an incoherent mind. Making this worse from a working perspective is that there are not any external symptoms of the problem. This can make it hard for others to appreciate the truth that I am struggling to function. In a consulting environment, it becomes hard to step away from work when there aren’t any visible health problems.
Managing customer expectations
The client-focused consulting work that I do is not particularly conducive to long periods of leave linked to sickness. My work is a conduit for the success of other people’s goals and I need to fit in with their operational timelines. I engage with companies on the premise that our work will be done in a timely fashion. Often I am fitting my work around other projects they have on the go so any delays I create can have other knock-on effects. To suddenly need to take a lengthy break because of an illness that is not visibly apparent – but is impacting my mental state considerably – is a difficult thing.
Managing expectations in these circumstances is a challenge, because I don’t even know what I can promise in terms of timelines. The best I have found I can do is to be upfront and honest about the situation, and trust there will be a level of empathy from the client I am working with.
Managing self-imposed pressures
Even harder than managing the expectations of others are managing the expectations I place on myself. I’m self-motivated and I structure my projects and set deadlines to ensure I stay on track and maintain momentum. Having an illness that impacts my ability to meet these deadlines is a frustration that can tend to eat away at me.
I worry that I’m letting others down, and the feeling of ‘falling behind’ is not one I like. I have to take time to remind myself that I can’t always work with maximum efficiency; that I’m a living being who will have ups and downs. I need to let go, give myself time to recover and be assured that I will be able to catch up at a later point.
Ultimately, I just need to accept that stuff will just have to wait, and sometimes there is nothing that can be done about that.
Finally, a note on voicemail. They are the bane of my existence even in normal circumstances. When I’m sick, and a number of them bank up, it’s even worse. Seriously, voicemail is terrible, and it should be banished. With so many other options for communication, why is voicemail still a thing?
Tonight I’ve sketched out my basic IT storage system and the cloud services I use on a regular basis.
Ensuring that my storage network all hangs together with everything accessible from multiple devices and platforms while also maintaining redundancy through an appropriate backup strategy is not easy. I think I have my bases covered but it’s not particularly simple.
Despite the complexity it remains a problem worth worrying about. I don’t ever want to stress about losing data. Photos especially are memories that cannot be recreated so I really want to make sure I’ve got them secured in multiple locations, while also ensuring that an accidental deletion in one location will not replicate that deletion across the entire network.
Cloud sync services
My cloud sync services; iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive, all provide mechanisms to make data available across multiple devices. iCloud of course also offers additional photo sync services, and sync of device settings.
My work lives in OneDrive because corporations and Microsoft.
None of these should be considered a true backup because deletions replicate and there is limited version management. I see these as a sync platform only, and never rely on them as a backup.
I am annoyed by the number of cloud services I am having to use. It would be great to have a single sync service to rule them all. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to be happening anytime soon.
Other cloud services
OmniPresence is a service that keeps documents made by OmniGroup synced between macOS and iOS. I wish I could ditch it, but I’m not entirely confident that moving these files to iCloud will work, so I continue to have it running.
Adobe Creative Cloud is a service I’m not taking full advantage of because I still prefer the Lightroom Classic and managing photos from local storage.
I have a Network Attached Storage for mass storage of data, which is primarily photos and video. This is necessary because my local Mac hard drive is a relatively tiny SSD which almost always seems on the verge of filling up.
I maintain a few local backups:
a Time Machine backup that is stored on my NAS.
a SuperDuper! clone of my MacBook’s drive. If something goes wrong I can boot from this clone and run from that external drive, or recover files as necessary.
a USB hard drive that connects to my Mac, and with the help of Chronosync, ensures that photos are copied from my NAS to this storage that is seen as a drive locally connected to my Mac1.
The last resort
Backblaze is my backup of last resort. If anything goes horribly wrong, I should be able to retrieve data from this location. Backblaze operates to ensure that my MacBook, and any locally attached drives, are backed up to their cloud storage, which includes all the data that is also stored across the cloud services such as Dropbox and OneDrive.
All this might seem like overkill but there is no way that I want to risk losing data that I can’t get back. The little bit of effort, and the little bit of money to pay for the software and services I consider a worthwhile exchange for peace of mind.
This enables me to essentially achieve a backup of my NAS to Backblaze, a hack made necessary as they don’t support the backup of network attached storage. ↩