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Teach me to troubleshoot internet problems

TalkaTalka Registered User regular
edited June 2023 in Help / Advice Forum
I’m a generally tech savvy guy. When my laptop has software issues or my desktop has hardware issues, I’m normally able to diagnose those issues by isolating and testing each potential source of the problem in turn.

For the life of me, I don’t know how to troubleshoot internet connectivity problems. I don’t know how to diagnose and test potential problems myself. And when I seek outside help, I either get unhelpful basic suggestions from official support services like Xfinity to just reset my router or hyper-specific technical suggestions from subreddits on possible advanced settings to change with no explanation on what those settings affect or why they might be causing my specific problem.

So for this thread, I’ll describe my specific problem, and I’ll welcome specific suggestions on how to fix the problem… but what I really want are suggestions on on to start learning to monitor/diagnose/fix this shit myself.

Here’s my setup: I have “Xfinity Gigabit Extra Internet” with xFi Complete that provides unlimited data and an xFi Gateway modem/router. I live in a 3-story 3,000 sqft single-family house. There is almost no Ethernet wiring from the gateway to any devices — everything is on WiFi apart from a couple smart device gateways. I added two Xfinity extender pods to get better coverage on the top and bottom floors. Our house has ~4 laptops/PCs, 2 phones, 2 TVs with streaming devices, a Ring alarm station connected to ~5 home monitoring devices (contact sensors and motion sensors), a Ring doorbell, a dozen Philips Hue lights connected to a Philips Hue gateway, and a dozen Alexa devices.

The Alexa devices are the main problem. I cannot get them to reliably play multi-device audio. I want to say “Alexa, play music everywhere” and have music play throughout my house. However, I can’t reliably connect all the devices to a single multi-device group because some are automatically running on the 2.4 GHz band, others are automatically running on the 5 GHz band, and Amazon doesn’t let Alexa devices on different bands join the same multi-device audio group. Compounding the problem is the xFi Gateway, which doesn’t let you permanently assign specific devices to specific bands, and it doesn’t let you split your network into separate SSIDs. Annoying! And when I do play music on the half of devices I’m able to group together, they’ll play for 30 seconds or maybe 3 minutes or occasionally 3 hours, then stop.

To try and fix this, I bought a separate router, specifically the ASUS ZenWiFi AX6600 Tri-Band Mesh WiFi 6 system. I have two of these devices; one has Ethernet wiring connected to the xFi Gateway that’s running in passthrough mode, and the other is wireless. I had to lose the Xfinity extender pods as part of this switch, so I have the main wired router on my main floor and the second wireless mesh router on my top floor with nothing on the bottom floor.

This has allowed me to set up different 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz SSIDs, connect all my Alexa devices to the 2.4 GHz band, and group them all together into a single multi-device audio group. Success! However… the issue where the music just stops after 3 seconds or 3 minutes still happens. And now every couple hours the connection to our computers drops out for a couple minutes too. And when I stream on my chromecast, videos freeze and buffer every ten minutes or so.

How do I diagnose where these problems are coming from? The ASUS router page is largely useless. I’ve manually named each Alexa device and streaming device and even given them each a dedicated static IP address, but the only monitoring functionality available is an uptime timer and a signal strength indicator. That lets me confirm that yes, my laptop internet connection really did drop like I’d already noticed, or my chromecast connection really is slow now that it’s started buffering, or one of Alexa devices’ connection really did drop causing the whole multi-room audio group to fail. But that’s not particularly helpful in diagnosing why they dropped, and I have to be actively monitoring the router system page to even notice these things. There are no user-legible logs that show me which devices are disconnecting most frequently.

Some subreddit suggested I download an app called Fing to monitor this stuff, so I did. Same deal, though. No useful logs, no 24/7 monitoring, nothing useful to actually diagnose the problem.

It just feels insane that it’s 2023, I’m spending the most money possible on this, and I can’t stream shows or listen to music. And I can’t systematically diagnose the problem.

Any suggestions? What I want, in my mind, is that when my music fails… I can ask Alexa why it stopped playing and it’d tell me. Since Amazon is terrible, that functionality doesn’t exist, so instead I’d like to be able to pull up some monitoring that shows, for example, that Alexa device #8 of 12 has been disconnecting every 30 minutes or whatever and Alexa device #11 of 12 has been disconnecting every 60 minutes or whatever. And that the reason they’re disconnecting is a weak or congested WiFi signal, or my router can’t handle so many devices, or Xfinity’s service into the home cut out. That way I could do something to fix the problem! But I can’t get this information.

What am I supposed to be doing here? How do tech savvy people troubleshoot this stuff? Is there something I could buy to solve all my problems?

Does everybody in the world just have maddeningly shit WiFi, or am I the only one who can’t wake up and ask Alexa to play music without it cutting out before I finish making breakfast?

Talka on

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    bwaniebwanie Posting into the void Registered User regular
    edited June 2023
    First of all these are not exactly "internet" problems.

    I'd contact the techsupport of your home network reseller/manufacturer. You bought some expensive stuff and if it isn't working the way it should, get people trained on that specific setup to look at it.

    bwanie on
    Yh6tI4T.jpg
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    furlionfurlion Riskbreaker Lea MondeRegistered User regular
    The Alexa is a garbage ass piece of tech. You are probably never going to get it to with the way you want. Amazon has basically abandoned the device and shuttered the department responsible for them. I would look elsewhere if you want a device to do what you want.

    sig.gif Gamertag: KL Retribution
    PSN:Furlion
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    TalkaTalka Registered User regular
    edited June 2023
    furlion wrote: »
    The Alexa is a garbage ass piece of tech. You are probably never going to get it to with the way you want. Amazon has basically abandoned the device and shuttered the department responsible for them. I would look elsewhere if you want a device to do what you want.

    I’ve heard the google equivalents are equally trash at multi-room audio. Any idea if that’s true, and if so what the best alternative is? Get Sonos or something everywhere and relegate Alexa/Google to timers and weather?

    Talka on
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    furlionfurlion Riskbreaker Lea MondeRegistered User regular
    I only have the one Google so I can't say. Modern phones can connect directly to multiple speakers at once, my Samsung Galaxy something or other will do 2 at once I think. If you truly need full multi room support then yeah, some sort of dedicated system will be required. Unfortunately I can't help you with which ones are they best.

    sig.gif Gamertag: KL Retribution
    PSN:Furlion
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    MichaelLCMichaelLC In what furnace was thy brain? ChicagoRegistered User regular
    I know it's not really sounding your problem, but since it was asked: we've had both Amazon and Google and Lenovo (Google) dinguses.

    I'll say between them, the Amazon ones were definitely the worst in every regard. Pushing ads and extra shit on top of being unreliable.

    We can "easily" get our Google and Lenovo devices to play everywhere using the Google Home app.

    HOWEVER it's been known that Google is dropping support for 3rd party devices like our Lenovo's, and it's assumed they will drop support for 1st party soon since they're Google. Wherever that means bricking them or just not offering new stuff is unknown. The dingus market just did not turn into the money printing machine that's demanded of them.

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    MugsleyMugsley DelawareRegistered User regular
    @Talka for your specific issue regarding music, I think Sonos is your best solution.

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    SixSix Caches Tweets in the mainframe cyberhex Registered User regular
    This is literally what Sonos is designed to do and will probably work.

    The problem with Sonos and the reason I’d never go that route, is that you’re buying reasonably expensive speakers that are also internet-connected compute devices and their performance will degrade over time as Sonos software gets more bloated and you will sometimes run into issues where you need to troubleshoot issues on one or more of the Sonos devices. I believe speakers should be speakers and should be separated from the compute and connectivity related to their output.

    Sonos will solve your problem but may create more problems in the future. My sonoses still work, but not as well, and it can be really annoying.

    can you feel the struggle within?
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    OrcaOrca Also known as Espressosaurus WrexRegistered User regular
    Isn’t Sonos also the brand that forcibly bricked a bunch of old devices? And also have a “recycling” mode that does the same so they can’t be re-sold/reused?

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    FeralFeral MEMETICHARIZARD interior crocodile alligator ⇔ ǝɹʇɐǝɥʇ ǝᴉʌoɯ ʇǝloɹʌǝɥɔ ɐ ǝʌᴉɹp ᴉRegistered User regular
    edited July 2023
    Talka wrote: »
    The Alexa devices are the main problem. I cannot get them to reliably play multi-device audio. I want to say “Alexa, play music everywhere” and have music play throughout my house. However, I can’t reliably connect all the devices to a single multi-device group because some are automatically running on the 2.4 GHz band, others are automatically running on the 5 GHz band, and Amazon doesn’t let Alexa devices on different bands join the same multi-device audio group. Compounding the problem is the xFi Gateway, which doesn’t let you permanently assign specific devices to specific bands, and it doesn’t let you split your network into separate SSIDs. Annoying! And when I do play music on the half of devices I’m able to group together, they’ll play for 30 seconds or maybe 3 minutes or occasionally 3 hours, then stop.

    ...
    Talka wrote: »
    What am I supposed to be doing here? How do tech savvy people troubleshoot this stuff? Is there something I could buy to solve all my problems?

    Well, I would characterize the problems that you're having as half Alexa problems, half WiFi problems.

    First off, I'm disappointed to learn that Alexa won't let you add multiple devices on multiple bands to the same SSID. Typically, in WiFi networks, all bands should use the same SSID. That way, client devices can automatically pick whichever band has better coverage in any given area.

    Second, in corporate networks, the way we extend WiFi across a building is to run Ethernet to the part of the building that needs coverage, and then plug in a WiFi access point. Homeowners and landlords generally don't want to that, so we have all of these mesh and repeater devices that will relay signal along Some meshes and repeaters are better than others, but I've never found any of them that work better than the good old [ethernet->access point] strategy.

    I have solid WiFi in my house, despite my modem & router living in my basement. I actually had a wiring company come out and run Ethernet, and I put two Ruckus Unleashed APs wired into the network each on a different floor.

    The Asus ZenWiFi devices you have are well-reviewed so I'm hesitant to blame them for your troubles. But if possible, you should keep the idea of wiring one of them in and using it as an access point in your back pocket.

    As for this:
    Talka wrote: »
    Does everybody in the world just have maddeningly shit WiFi, or am I the only one who can’t wake up and ask Alexa to play music without it cutting out before I finish making breakfast?

    Well, I wouldn't say "maddeningly shit," but yeah a lot of people just accept that their home wifi that is flaky in one way or another. Especially when we're talking about people living in houses with multiple floors. I also see a lot of situations where nobody notices how bad it is until they try streaming to Twitch or working remotely. And you're running into one of my personal common frustrations: the lack of decent logging & troubleshooting tools in consumer-tier devices.

    I would start by trying the following steps:

    1) Keep a notebook of when devices encounter connectivity problems, with the time it happened. You're looking for patterns - for example, if every device drops off at the same time, or if every device on a certain floor drops off at the same time.
    2) I would try to wire in your second Asus ZenWiFi AX6600 using a long Ethernet cable, even if you have to string that Ethernet cable down a staircase or something like that. It's worth checking to see if that ameliorates your problems. If so, then you can consider a more permanent cabling solution, or you can focus your subsequent troubleshooting efforts on the 'backhaul' connection between the two ZenWiFis.
    3) Download a WiFi analyzer app for your phone, and slowly walk around your house with it to locate areas of poor signal and/or interference.
    4) Try moving the second Asus ZenWiFi device around and see if that helps.

    Feral on
    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.

    the "no true scotch man" fallacy.
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    ShadowfireShadowfire Vermont, in the middle of nowhereRegistered User regular
    Orca wrote: »
    Isn’t Sonos also the brand that forcibly bricked a bunch of old devices? And also have a “recycling” mode that does the same so they can’t be re-sold/reused?

    No. Their older devices don't have enough RAM to do stuff the newer app does. You can still run those older devices on the older S1 app and they work just fine. And those devices are 10+ years old at this point.

    I do echo the concerns about them being Internet connected devices. The Play:5/Five and the Amp will at least connect to a physical device for playback, so at least you can play a record or something over all your speakers.

    WiiU: Windrunner ; Guild Wars 2: Shadowfire.3940 ; PSN: Bradcopter
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    SixSix Caches Tweets in the mainframe cyberhex Registered User regular
    The idea that speakers are obsolete at 10 years is what bugs me. You’re buying a compute device that will end up obsolete instead of speaker that will last effectively forever if you just get a speaker.

    can you feel the struggle within?
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    BlazeFireBlazeFire Registered User regular
    The Internet of Shit continues.

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