The wireless "Disconnection" problem revisited

Discussion in 'Tomato Firmware' started by Toastman, Jun 18, 2011.

  1. Toastman

    Toastman Super Moderator Staff Member Member

    For as long as anyone can remember there have been connection problems with wifi routers, whether running the original firmware, Tomato, or any other 3rd party alternatives.

    I manage several very large apartment blocks with a combined no. of residents with internet access in the region of 3000. The turnover rate of residents is quite high, so I've had probably had at least 10,000 users on these systems. I've seen a great many people who complain about connectivity problems, even when an AP is right outside their room. I've had hundreds of USB sticks, laptops, and PC's to look at. I can now draw some conclusions.

    The biggest problem is simply that many of the wireless devices do not connect to the strongest AP, even if there is a choice available. Some of them seem to take great delight in connection to the absolute worst, weakest AP they can find. Even if connected to a strong AP, for no particular reason they will disconnect and start hunting around for an AP. Wow, sometimes they find the one they just disconnected from. Bingo! But sometimes - even if you only have one AP (router) it may just ignore it for several minutes.

    There are so many of these devices around, and so many chipsets in Notebooks, Laptops, and whatever ... that I am not going to make a list. Usually changing driver versions to the latest, or reverting to earlier ones, makes no difference at all. A lemon is still a lemon. IMHO, the performance of the wireless in many of today's laptops, notebooks, and now tablets - is getting worse, not better, and the drivers are a mess, with too many bells and whistles added to the "N" specification and which are fundamentally half-baked or broken.

    The solution is very simple.

    In EVERY case of a client having problems, substitution of his wireless (be it USB or the laptop's built-in wireless) with a known reliable USB adapter from TP-Link immediately cured the problem. EVERY client that has co-operated and tried it, has had service restored. Those that refused to try it - well - they've got really bad tempers now, still fighting the world and losing. Life can be tough ...

    You don't need the most expensive adapter. Wireless G is adequate for most people. "N" often gives more problems than it's worth and is useless for large buildings.

    The very cheap USB adapters from Tenda have been extremely reliable. The W541U "G" and W311U "N" adapters have never given a problem with any of my routers. TP-Link "G" adapters seem to be about the same, one of them has an external antenna and runs higher power, really good for weak spots. Increasing the router's power to 150mW and using one of these 400mW USB sticks can make a dramatic improvement in connectivity. These adapters have never, ever, given the slightest hiccup.
    Tenda W541U V2.0 Wireless USB Adapter ( Ralink RT2070L Chipset)
    Tenda W311U Wireless USB Adapter ( Ralink RT3070 Chipset)
    Atheros Communications, Inc. TP-Link TL-WN422G v2 802.11g [Atheros AR9271]

    You'll notice these are Chinese ... credit where credit is due!

    Clients whose laptops didn't work reliably at their university, hotspots, coffee shops, report that the situation was mostly resolved (and they are very angry at the makers of their beloved laptops, and no longer pray to them each night before going to sleep).

    Other problems - a wireless card that has auto power enabled, i.e. those which can go into "sleep" mode, all best disabled. Power is ALWAYS best set to maximum. TURN OFF ANY POWER SAVING MODE!

    Many cards don't have any configuration setup, so nothing you can do. Quite a few have configurable settings for roaming aggressivenes, etc ... problem is that they don't actually seem to do anything. Why many laptops have useless wireless I have no idea. Intel cards are the pits. If you have one, and want to use it at N speeds, don't forget that WMM must be enabled at both ends.

    XP is not so good at wireless connection. That's not usually a problem because not so many people still use an obsolete operating system these days. And the answer is to upgrade. Vista is ... well I won't mention Vista unless there's a priest nearby. But Windows 7 is extremely stable and runs on most hardware - even most older hardware.

    I do hope this information is useful to someone. Too often the router is taking the flak for this, and it's unnecessary.

    A quick addition - any remaining disconnections are often traceable to an unwanted mobile phone or other POS with poor firmware trying to connect to your system. Just the act of trying to associate can cause you problems and you will never even know what is causing it. Chinese "ripoffs" of popular phones are the worst offenders.
  2. xtacydima

    xtacydima LI Guru Member


    I would just like to mention to you my observation of using Atheros based pci-e or mini pci-e cards in laptops has been practically non problematic in many of my laptops as well as many of my clients. RALink is too dependent on its own software and not so great. Broadcom is stable but not as much to catch as many AP's as the Atheros. The new Intel with their auto sensing speed is a nightmare and very inconsistent. Hope this helps you in any way.
  3. Toastman

    Toastman Super Moderator Staff Member Member

    xtacydima - I love your comment on the Intel wireless cards. Intel seem to have always employed a large number of malfunctioning designers.
  4. Gaius

    Gaius Networkin' Nut Member

    May I ask what you think are the more reliable wireless routers? I'd love to know what is best according to your experience.
  5. Toastman

    Toastman Super Moderator Staff Member Member

    That's a question I can't really answer definitively.

    In the past I used WRT-54GL's with Tomato - and they were very good, with no failures over many years use. I still use several hundred but these days only as AP's. But these days they are a little slow and short of resources as a route.

    I moved on to the ASUS RT-N16 when they came out a year or two ago. They have proved very reliable and are much faster. There are now many other routers which offer similar performance. When you get up to around 100Mbps connection speed to your ISP, then any current routers begin to struggle. But most of us don't have access to such high ISP speeds, so that isn't usually a problem.

    I have a Linksy E3000 which works well and is dual-band. JSMiddleton (check this forum) who has used some of these online for much longer than I have and whose opinion I respect, also gives them the thumbs - up.

    Some people might disagree but I see many problems with the RT-N12 being reported on several different forums when upgraded with third party firmware. I would personally avoid that one.

    So my recommendation based on my own experience would be the RT-N16 - or E3000. Other than those comments, I haven't personally used many other routers, so have no opinion on the matter that would be of any relevance!

    At the end of the day, the hardware is usually fine. It is the firmware that makes or breaks the router. When used without wireless most modern routers are actually damned good!
  6. Gaius

    Gaius Networkin' Nut Member

    Thanks for your response, Toastman. A few people outside of this forum were telling me that TP-Link makes the most reliable routers due to their Atheros chipset, and I happened to notice that you recommended a TP-Link USB adapter so I was wondering if you agreed with them on that conclusion, but it sounds like you haven't had the chance to play around with any routers by TP-Link?
  7. jsmiddleton4

    jsmiddleton4 Network Guru Member

    I'm very pleased with the Linksys E3000 with Tomato firmware.
  8. Toastman

    Toastman Super Moderator Staff Member Member

    Well, I do quite like TP-Link products myself BUT since they use atheros wireless, they can't run Tomato. No Tomato = no use to me LOL ! As for whether the Atheros chipset makes them reliable, well, that's a pretty hard statement to prove :)

    As long as the hardware design is OK (and they nearly all follow the actual chip manufacturer's example designs) then what *really* defines a router is the firmware. And Tomato has the best QOS system by far, which is what I need for what I do. That doesn't mean everybody needs it, of course!

    I also believe that the function of a router is to route. I use AP's to provide the wireless, and I have close to 100% reliability.
  9. shatterspike

    shatterspike Serious Server Member

    I dont suppose you have any suggestions for those of us trying to connect wireless devices like phones/tablets etc where there is no real option (that I'm aware of) to switch the wireless cared in?
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