Urban living: Two tips for better broadband connectivity

Urban living: Two tips for better broadband connectivity

Summary: A recent move impacted both my home broadband and my mobile connectivity. I was able to solve my problems in just a few minutes with these fixes.


This past week has been a blur, having moved from the suburbs to the center of the city. The move went as well as it could, but upon setting up in the new place I ran into two problems with my web connectivity that had me pulling my hair out. It turned out two simple fixes soon had me on the Internet with speed to spare.

The first problem I ran into was with my Samsung 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot from Verizon. I have been using this hotspot solution for over a year without issues, and I was depending on it to get me online until I could get my home Internet service started. I also planned on using it all over town when I work mobile, as I have many times.

Unfortunately the Mobile Hotspot didn't work with any of my laptops or mobile devices in my new apartment building. The 4G signal was nice and strong, but connecting to the hotspot over Wi-Fi failed completely with all of the devices. I have never experienced this problem with the hotspot, and I was stumped. It worked fine outside my building.

The fix turned out to be a simple one. It seems the building I moved into is teeming with Wi-Fi networks from all the residents. This was swamping my hotspot and making it impossible to connect any device. I could use the hotspot outside my building just fine, but once I walked in the building it was no connection.

I installed the free Mac app NetSpot which let me map my apartment showing coverage of existing Wi-Fi networks. Most importantly this list of detected networks showed me what channel each was using. It was easy to see that the common channels (1,6,11) were swamped (thanks Adrian!).

Figuring it to be a possible channel blitz on the little hotspot, I changed the configuration on the Samsung to a fixed channel number instead of letting it auto-select. Bingo! Once I changed it to a channel not being used in the building by other networks, my connectivity was assured. The LTE connection is now lightning fast in the building as expected.

Once I had the AT&T Uverse Internet service installed I noticed a terrible latency problem that prevented web pages from loading properly. Images wouldn't load, and complex web pages would frequently hang while loading. I was about to relegate myself to dealing with AT&T customer service when someone suggested I try using different DNS servers in place of the AT&T Uverse ones.

I installed Namebench (thanks Albert!) on the Mac and ran a 15-minute benchmark of 250 DNS servers to find the fastest ones. In my case the Google DNS servers were at the top of the list, and the standard AT&T servers near the bottom. A simple change of DNS servers on my devices and my connectivity is now lightning fast.

While my problems were due to moving to a dense urban area, they could also plague the business traveler needing to get online in an unfamiliar area. These simple fixes may help those folks get online without issues. Note there are similar utilities to those mentioned in this article for Windows users.

Topics: Broadband, Networking, Telcos

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  • Wow

  • You are still going to have interference

    Know before you speak. The only non-overlapping WiFi channels are 1, 6, and 11. All of the other channels at least partially overlap one of those three. So you are still experiencing interference. I'm surprised changing to one of the other channels made any difference at all.

    You should never recommend someone use a channel other than 1, 6, or 11 because you screw over people using two primary channels instead of just one.

    Read this: http://www.radio-electronics.com/info/wireless/wi-fi/80211-channels-number-frequencies-bandwidth.php
    • Yes but now it works

      There are partial overlaps but as clearly stated in the article the channel interference prevented it working at all. After changing it to a less-used channel it works perfectly all the time. That's actual experience.
      • Partial? No, total.

        Every channel between 1, 6, and 11 completely overlaps two of the main, non-overlapping channels.

        Channels 2 - 5 overlap both channels 1 and 6 and channels 7 - 10 overlap channels 6 and 11. Read the link I posted.
  • Thanks ... man

    Didn't know about either tool. Namebench is definitely worth trying (works on Win, OSX and Linux).

    Edit: Just ran the test ... Google DNS is actually the worst in my case, with almost DOUBLE the latency compared to the DNS from my ISP (Qwest). Got lots of "notes" ... so maybe the test wasn't that clean.
  • windows alternatives

    I would like to try netspot on windows. What is a good alternative?
    • Namebench works on Windows and Linux too

    • Windows equivalent would be ... inSSIDer

  • Channel "Not Being Used"

    You do realize that, on the 802.11b/g band, 1, 6 and 11 are the only really separate channels? That all the ones in-between overlap? That's why you see so many networks choosing those three numbers.
  • Android Apps

    Two apps for Android that can help find overlapping wi-fi signals are [b]Wifi Analyzer[/b] and [b]WiFi Manager[/b]. I use these when traveling to find the best setup for my wifi.

    Also, I tend to use OpenDNS due to the extra security provided. The speed is not that far off from Google's DNS.
  • My problems

    I tried NETBENCH ... but it couldn't seem to get past the fact that the nameserver on my home router was the fastest contact point. Maybe I forgot to check a tick-box somewhere?

    The home networking problem I'd really like to solve is that of a resilient configuration:

    - automatic switchover and back when the main connection goes down
    - router approved/allowed by the main network provider
    - inexpensive

    Any takers?
  • Good tips

    I had similar issues a while back when my cordless phone was causing interference with my wireless network, knocking my connection off every time the phone rang. Going from auto to manual channel-select fixed the issue. It's never a good idea to use auto-select when dealing with multiple wireless devices competing for channel space, more so in areas where multiple SSID's are predominant.
  • Slow rural internet speed.

    I use AT&T Dsl. It's the only service I have been able to find for my rural area. My connection speed is .635mbps according to the tester on ZDnet. I use a 2wire460 sent to me by AT&T. Is there some setting I can change to get higher speed? I asked them and they said I have to use that router for their service. Any advice would be appreciated.