When Life Puts Egg On Your Face… Make Breakfast

This was another week in which I inadvertently proved you are never to old to learn by learning something myself. The trouble is that I did not set out to learn anything. It was thrust on me.

Some time ago I mentioned some clients who have a large house and cannot communicate over their LAN from one end to the other, so they bought another router and ISP account. They put one router in the north end and one in the south end. That gave them complete coverage. I asked why they hadn’t simply put in a repeater or high gain antenna and maybe an amplifier. They didn’t know about those things, and the cost wasn’t an issue. They knew how to set up a LAN from scratch, so they did what they knew how to do. That is human.

I offered to rationalize their setup, but they were happy with it the way it was. So be it.

But now I have some other clients whose house is a close approximation to a Faraday cage because their wireless signal goes from their office, down the hall, and peters out before it reaches their kitchen. I did install a high gain antenna for them and that got a usable signal in the kitchen, but they still could not get a signal in their dining room or – and this is critical – on the patio. After all, warm days are here and who wants to work inside?

Not to worry. I told them that I had seen a repeater on special at Fry’s for what seemed like an attractive price. I would buy it for them and set it up. Big mistake. It wouldn’t work right away, so I took it home where I could be embarrassed in private and installed it on my LAN. That sort of worked. The repeater kept turning itself off because of some super cheap power connector. But I had guessed my way around the errors in the instant (!) instruction manual and made it talk. When I took it back to my clients, I got more egg on my face when if didn’t work again.

Now it is totally true that I had never set up a repeater before, but it should be simple. At this point I reverted to what has worked in the past and exchanged the cheapie repeater for a higher-priced one of the same brand as their router. That was my first learning experience. It was more expensive, but this one would work – wouldn’t it?

The salesman at Fry’s put me off a bit when he shook his head and said, “Those things are finicky. You are best off to stick with the same brand, but even that is not a for sure thing.” That is not the kind of comment one usually hears from someone whose job it is to sell you those finicky things. I appreciated the honesty.

This time I opened the box at home and had no trouble installing the repeater on my system. The documentation was accurate, and the firmware in the repeater behaved correctly. With great confidence, I returned to my client’s house and installed the repeater. Within minutes they had great signals throughout the house and patio.

Then came the reckoning. I had told them what a repeater would cost, but the one I installed cost more than twice as much as the cheapie one that was on special. Since these are good people and we have a long relationship, I told them that I would stick with the original price and swallow the difference. I see no reason why they should pay for my learning curve. They would have none of it. They insisted on paying the full price for the better unit.

They are delighted with their new setup. I am happy to have helped them. We both are happy to know we have an ongoing relationship based on mutual trust, and I learned how to set up a repeater – more or less.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.

[tags]repeater, network, LAN, signal strength, router[/tags]

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  • http://www.members.cox.net/mdn7779/rightclick/rccs.htm Mike Nelson

    I’ll tell you all a little secret. If you are straight up with customers, willing to eat a little crow that you thought it would work and save them money, but it just didn’t work out and it cost twice as much. Most (not all, but most) people are more than willing to pay the extra money because it works. I have found when I told them (customers) that I am going to eat some of the charge, I get a tip on top of the charge I set. Generally, people don’t mind paying for stuff when they know your heart is in the right place, and you tried as hard as you could be to be fair. They will be fair back.

  • Jeff Partridge

    Well, Sherman, you now really understand the microscopic print watermarked into each set of docs for every single computer hardware ever made: “Actual performance may vary based on operating conditions!”

    Understanding this is, and always has been, the basis of the personal computer. That goes up exponentially for anything involving over-air data transmission. Certainly that little $20 family radio band walkie-talkie will reach “up to” 2 miles. Of course you can’t get it to transmit more than 100 feet across the street to where your kids are playing in the neighbor’s house, but…. If you could read the micro print, you’d find out that ‘2 miles’ refers to two identical units with brand new batteries positioned 2 miles apart with each one on the edge of the Grand Canyon and clear, cold weather.

    I’m just glad that your newest object lesson cost you no more than a little travel and a minor amount of embarrasment :)

  • marc klink

    Wireless networking should be simple and straightforward, but it is as much luck and black art as anything else.

    I purchased a couple of Motorola wireless bridges about a year ago for the same reason you describe. After thoroughly researching what was needed for proper setup, I spent 2 weeks on and off trying to get it to work. I rationalized the problem was my lack of knowledge with the intricacies of FreeBSD networking, as one machine being hooked up was using that OS. I then tried using Win XP with the same results. I could get the unit to talk to the router and gain internet access, but could not ‘see’ any of the other machines in the house [6]. After contacting Motorola tech support, it was good to know they knew even less about the problem with their product than I did . They put me off with the gentle reminder that all they were responsible for was getting someone help connecting to the internet, and since I had already accomplished that, they could help me no more [as if they had actually helped one iota].

    By the way, signal strentgh was good, everything was set up correctly and I had done everything I should have, as was evidenced when I went out and bought a Buffalo bridge, simply connected it, and it came up working flawlessly without any other changes, as it has for the last year, without fail. The Motorola worked as far as their tech support was concerned, but not as it should have. Also, the router was an Actiontec provided by Verizon, which used a different chipset than either the Motorola or the Buffalo, so it wasn’t chip incompatibilities. Just poor design and incredibly bad product support!

  • John B.

    I wish you would be tell us the name brand of the repeaters in your article.
    Since many would be interested in what works and what doesn’t from your recent experience.

  • Vern

    Singular success doe not a trend make!

    In my prevous lifetime in the consumer electronics business I learned early that a single case of success or failure with a product is not suffcient to generalize. “You get what you pay for” is weak justification for buying a more expensive product.

    I refer to your experience with the repeater. You concluded that more expensive repeater was the reason things worked. While it is possible it is the case, it is also equally possible that your failure/success was a fluke, an exception.
    I have had one experience with a wireless repeater, a mid priced unit. It was a failure. Why? I don’t know because I chose a different non-repeater solution and did not invest the time to do any serious research.
    To draw any useful conclusions, you need to repeat the whole process 10-12 times in different scenarios using the same equipment, cheap and expensive. Then you would have more “data” to conclude if price was the determining factor or if it actually made no difference when the experimental sample was larger.

    Best regards,