Sorry, I couldn’t resist the headline. But it’s true; figuring-out and using some sort of home network accessible storage — a NAS — is, well, nasty. And upgrading my NAS solution from a Western Digital MyCloud to a Synology solution made me realize just how nasty my old solution actually was.
After my recent disgust with Netgear knowingly and intentionally breaking the Orbi installations of customers using wired backhaul, and my decision to yank the entire thing out of my house and return it to Costco, I was left with the fallback of my previous WiFi set-up: A pair of Apple AirPort Extreme units. Given that their performance and coverage was insufficient to start with, and coupled with the fact that they are end-of-lifed, well, it was somewhat urgent that I acquire and install what was, last August, my second choice in home mesh: Linksys Velop. So how did that go?
A couple of weeks ago, Netgear rolled an update to its Orbi pseudo-mesh WiFi system, version 188.8.131.52. Netgear’s own release notes seem to acknowledge that they effectively broke wired backhaul with the update:
When user has two or more Orbi satellites connected to Orbi router using Ethernet backhaul connection, an Orbi satellite might not connect to the Orbi router after the firmware update. A workaround solution is to reboot the Orbi router and then wait for 2–5 minutes.
The problem? The “workaround” doesn’t actually work.
For the past few months, I’ve been struggling a bit with mysteriously and intermittently crummy Internet connectivity here at home. The symptoms have varied: Having “unstable connection” warnings playing Splatoon 2 on my Nintendo Switch here and there. Spotify music streaming starts having a bunch of gaps, and eventually disconnects altogether. General slowness and fussiness when trying to access web sites. Attending WebEx conference sessions where the audio starts to sound like a really bad cellular connection. You get the idea. Ultimately, the culprit wasn’t what I was expecting.
WiFi dead zones around the home are a source of frustration for many, and after reading about mesh technologies, and researching solutions (including Eero, Linksys Velop, and Netgear Orbi), I decided to take a stab at fixing that frustration in my own home with a three-unit Orbi set-up. In retrospect, I probably wouldn’t have chosen the Orbi had I realized that it has what I’d argue to be a security vulnerability.
For the past three years or so, my home WiFi network has been powered by a pair of Apple AirPort Express units, one master and one satellite connected in bridge mode. It seemed like the best solution at the time, but in a larger, multi-level home, it’s just not provided the right coverage. Frustrated, this past summer I decided I’d start shopping around for mesh WiFi solutions. The “solutions” on the market today seem to leave a lot to be desired. You can pick between:
- Feature-rich solutions that aren’t actually even mesh.
- Mesh solutions that over-simplify and dumb-down things to an unsatisfactory level.
What’s a technology geek to do? Compromise.