Upgrading the Wi-Fi seemed such a simple idea


A few weeks ago I decided to upgrade my aging, but rock solid Wi-Fi network.

I’m considering dropping cable for television so I wanted to make sure I had robust and speedy connectivity.

If I’m only using YouTube TV and streaming services for television, I wanted to make sure I had good coverage, plenty of bandwidth and fast connections to my Chromecast with Google TV streaming devices hooked to my televisions, which all seem to be on the far ends of the house from each other.

Even the slower, farther-reaching 2.4 ghz band was borderline for my outdoor Arlo cameras and Rachio irrigation controller.

The goal was good-to-excellent indoor coverage on the 5 ghz band, the faster of the two Wi-Fi bands, and a stronger 2.4 ghz signal at the far reaches.

I was replacing an ASUS dual-band AiMesh network consisting of a router and a single node so upgrading to a newer, fancier model of the same well-known brand was the route I took; buying a pair of Asus ZenWiFi XT8s, a highly rated Wi-Fi 6 tri-band mesh network.

(A mesh network explained.)

Such a change, I have learned, is not for the faint of heart.

It would arguably have been easier to use the same network name and password, but I didn’t. I had different names (or SSIDs) for the 2.4 and 5 ghz networks and I only wanted to use one SSID and pasword and let the devices choose which band to use. My old password wasn’t the safest, either, and these are perilous times.

The setup of the two mesh network devices — the router and the node (which are interchangeable) — was a breeze. Some taps on the ASUS phone app, some blinking lights and, voila, it works.

Then there was the updating of some 39 or so internet capable devices on the network (how’d that happen?), ranging from computers to smart plugs.

The most difficult to update turned out to be “Internet of Things,” or IoT smart devices; thermostats, smoke detectors, smart plugs, security cameras. Some can be updated via their smartphone apps, others have to be reset to factory settings and set up again. It varies by manufacturer. Boy, do we need a standard there.

Surprisingly, I had the most trouble with Google Nest Protect smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. These devices will use other Nest devices if found on a network to “assist” in connecting to the network; you can’t just choose a Wi-Fi network and type in a password. This assistance failed over and over.

After spending about an hour with a Google support person, she mentioned that the next level of support had suggested making sure the router’s firewall was off just through the connecting process. It was a suggestion I could have used about 59 minutes earlier, but the support person was great and even called me back when she wanted me to reboot the router (which my phone was connected to).

I tested internet speeds and signal strengths in various areas by using a combination of the ASUS app, which will display signal strength to each connected device; Apple’s Airport Utility, which includes a Wi-Fi scanner you can walk around with for real time results; and the Speedtest by Ookla app.

(During this time, I got an unexpected bonus. Comcast increased my download speeds from 400 Mbps to up to 600 Mbps. The Ookla app on my phone shows me getting 500 to 600 even on Wi-Fi in some spaces.)

Based on these tests, I moved the router up higher and away from a PC whose Wi-Fi radio may have been interfering with it. The results showed I had greatly improved bandwidth and speeds with the new mesh network in most but not all areas of the house for 5 ghz. So I sprang for a third ZenWiFi XT8 to act as a second node.

A note about the ZenWiFi XT8; While some home networking equipment manufacturers lean toward a minimalist fewer options is better approach; this is not the ASUS way. While you can be up and running in minutes with its defaults; you could waste the better part of a lifetime tweaking the system with the available settings, which fill up screens and screens. Most of these tweaks are done by people like me who don’t know what they are doing.

When you read through the forums where people are trying to get help, a common “fix” is resetting the router and nodes back to their factory settings because either they were “corrupted” in some way or the user screwed up the settings. I’ll let you decide.

There’s also a bit more than a little love-hate relationship with ZenWiFi XT8. Some say it works great; some never get it to work to their liking. I’ve seen excellent coverage and great speeds out of it and it works great except for a few devices.

The bleeding edge Wi-Fi 6 mesh networking systems often have issues with older devices and “smart home” devices. This certainly has been the case for me. My Nest thermostats and Protects often show offline in the Nest app now, but never did on my old network.

The Nest devices “seem to think” they are connected to the network, even the router thinks they are connected, but they are not.

It’s not necessary that they be connected to operate, but it’s annoying to not be able to manage them from the Nest app.

A search shows people think changing various settings works, but they are often different settings from poster to poster and don’t work at all for others. Some have found, of course, that after making all the changes suggested by others that doing a “factory reset” of their routers and nodes, and setting the router and nodes up again solved all the issues.

I am holding out on a factory reset for now, but it’s on the table.