Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Wi-Fi Problem At Home

I had some Wi-Fi problem, or so I thought. It started as a minor annoyance, and it began perhaps about a fortnight ago. My Nexus 6P smartphone, for some reason, could not maintain a stable Wi-Fi connection. It would associate with my Wi-Fi network when forced to, but will disconnect within 10 seconds or thereabouts. Everything else was working fine.

Had the problem been with the wireless access point, it should have affected all the Wi-Fi devices at home. I used a typical consumer wireless broadband router, except that I use it in bridging mode, with the main broadband routing capabilities handled by a DIY pfSense box.

If my smartphone was the problem, it should have Wi-Fi connection problems everywhere. But it works, whether with Wi-Fi at work, or connecting to other similar consumer wireless broadband routers.

The problem was seemingly just between my smartphone and my Wi-Fi AP. I rebooted my smartphone, and I also rebooted the Wi-Fi AP, to no avail. There was new firmware available for update on the Wi-Fi AP, so I applied the update, but it did not help. How strange, right?

So, I set about to replace the Wi-Fi AP. I happen to have some spares available. Don’t ask why, but maybe I’m a networking fella, so I tend to have spare networking gear lying around. The old one had been around for over 3 years, which isn’t very long compared to some other wireless broadband routers I’ve used. On the other hand, it’s been used long enough that perhaps something has broken.

I got the new Wi-Fi AP up quickly enough. Guess what? Same problem with my smartphone. At this point, the problem is clearly not with the Wi-Fi AP.

As much as I’ve considered it highly unlikely that the pfSense box needs a reboot, it’s now quite likely the one mucking up. A quick reboot, and everything’s working fine, including with my smartphone.

Something has probably got messed up with pfSense’s state table, or something like that.

Anyhow, now that I have a new Wi-Fi AP up, I’m not sure I want to put it back in the box. It’s faster, more powerful, and with external antennas perhaps it might have better range too, but I’ve not tested that out yet. It’s also a lot more clunky though, occupying quite a lot more space than my previous Wi-Fi AP.

So the lesson here is that pfSense isn’t perfect. Like any router, it might perhaps need a reboot. The problem with Wi-Fi issues on smartphones is that you don’t get much visibility into what is happening behind the scenes to do meaningful troubleshooting. The Wi-Fi disconnection problem now seems likely to be an Android OS initiated disconnect due to IP-level problems, not due to a problem at the 802.11 link or physical level problem.

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