Tech DIY: Our Equivalent of Calling the Plumber or Electrician

I can clean out a drain trap and change a light switch. But when I try to do something more, it usually winds up costing more than if I had called the plumber or electrician in the first place. It’s the same with your technology. There are some things you can do yourself, but there are things you shouldn’t touch.

To continue the plumber and electrician analogies, let’s look at some worst-case scenarios. When you do your own plumbing, you could break a pipe and flood all or part of your house – and maybe damage walls, floors and/or ceilings. But you’ll still have your house. With electricity, you could trip a circuit breaker – or shock or electrocute yourself or cause a short that starts a fire and…

In some ways, doing your IT can result in losing all your data, which is the electronic equivalent of burning down your home. Of course, you can back up your data in a secure, offsite location and replicate your system. You probably don’t have a full-size replica of your home or office stashed somewhere else.

So, what are some things you can do? You can download and set up apps, such as a password manager. You know all your passwords, and you can work your way through the setup process to take advantage of the random-generated passwords that make the apps work best. But if things look like they’re getting complicated, you can always call us for guidance or walk-through help.

What are some things we believe you should never do?

Never do anything that involves your website DNS, and don’t switch from one host company to another by yourself. The DNS info is at the heart of keeping your website on the internet, and one mistake can knock you offline. We can help you recover from a mistake, but in addition to the cost of our service, you’ll also pay the opportunity cost for lost business time. Another thing to keep in mind is that when you switch website hosting companies and something goes wrong, each party will claim it’s the other party’s fault. We can make sure that together we all follow the proper procedures to make the switch as seamlessly as possible.

Router changes are another task you shouldn’t do yourself. The biggest dangers are leaving open a port that can lead to security issues or not setting it up properly to manage other remote desktop capabilities.

Even buying a new computer can have pitfalls. With so many configurations available (processors, RAM, hard drive type and size, etc.), it can be difficult if not impossible to match up the right “package” for your needs.

One client experience illustrates the problems that can arise. Our client asked for help with transferring files from the old computer to the new one and assured us the hard drive had “more than enough space – more than I’d ever use.” It was a 128 GB hard drive, and after transferring app and data files, we had 30 GB of free space. However, the client also had 80 GB of music files to transfer. The problem could be fixed, but a lot of extra cost could have been avoided.

We can help make your technology life easier. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us when problems arise or if you want to change, add or reconfigure any part of your system. We can help you with advice or with doing the work you need. As the car mechanic said in that Fram oil filter commercial of many years ago, “You can pay me now or pay me later.” My plumber and electrician tell me the same thing.

‘30’ and New Routers

Thirty seems to be the magic number for wireless devices connected to your Wi-Fi network. Many homes can easily have 30 or more devices and getting proper signals to all of them can be like trying to squeeze 10 lanes of traffic into four. Moving to a router that encompasses Wi-Fi 6 capabilities is an electronic way to expand your in-home “information superhighway” to the 10 lanes you need for your devices perform as designed.

Accommodating 30 wireless devices is hardly overkill. In fact, it may be the minimum capacity for the average home. Think about what you might have and what you could have.

At last count, we have 64 wireless devices in our home, including our mailbox. Yes, the USPS mailbox that’s located at the bottom of our steep driveway. I really don’t feel like making several trips down to the street – and back up the driveway – just to see if the mail has been delivered. I can also remotely see every time the mailbox is opened, which can alert us to possible theft.

Even without a connected mailbox, many homes have Alexa devices or smart speakers in multiple rooms, or you may have Sonos speakers in multiple rooms tied to your entertainment center. If you’ve cut the cable cord, you’re streaming video to TVs or other devices – many of them in 4K. Family and friends could be using the internet simultaneously from your network on computers, tablets or phones, and then you may have number of smart devices for home security and convenience. Oh, don’t forget that 5G cellular standards are just around the corner, and they’ll generate a lot more traffic on your network.

If we learned anything from the movie Back to the Future, it’s that you can never anticipate where technology can go. Things that were thought to be way into the future then have been commonplace for several years.

Wi-Fi 6 comes with several upgrades that will significantly improve wireless capabilities. In operation, they improve efficiency by dividing the allotted radio spectrum into smaller units and adding new data channels to handle even more data. Other enhancements include smarter traffic management and less wasted battery life on connected devices. As a result, you’ll get better wireless connectivity, smoother performance and faster speeds for every device on your network.

You can expect the individual changes in Wi-Fi 6 to add up to a maximum throughput of over 10Gbps under ideal conditions. Right now, we consider 1Gbps to be the gold standard. Wi-Fi 6 will be able to keep a step ahead of the diversity of devices in homes to allow simultaneous 4K video streaming, gaming and use by a wide variety of smart home products, such as door locks, thermostats and remotely controlled light switches. And if you have a house full of gamers, we don’t need to tell you how bigger, faster Wi-Fi networks can make life better.

As our population advances, Wi-Fi 6 could even lead to more devices and systems that can help the elderly age in place in their homes. And it could make artificial intelligence (AI) a more effective enhancement for new technological tools. Who knows where it could lead?

As we write this, Wi-Fi 6 routers are just coming on the market – with Wi-Fi 7 lurking in the wings. Here are some router replacement tips to help you take advantage of the still-new Wi-Fi 6 technology.

First, think about if you really need it now. Most of the devices you now have may not be able to take advantage of Wi-Fi 6, even though it will improve your network’s performance. If you don’t find your devices are choking your network, you could wait. There’s also pricing. Even though you’ll see a lot of “special” prices during the holiday shopping season, prices are likely to come down later.

Second, even though the new routers are fast, their speed is still limited by the speed your ISP (internet service provider) delivers. It’s like having a really great road and a not-so-fast car. You won’t be able to go fast enough to take advantage of the possible thrills and chills.

Third, look for things like mesh net capability, the number of ports and the speeds of the ports. Then, try to imagine the number of devices you might add in the next few years and what you’ll ask them to do. You’ll need to think about those things to do a more accurate cost/benefit analysis.

Finally, consider the age of your current router. If it’s more than five years old, it may not be able to support better security measures, and that may be a more important consideration than pure speed.

We can help you decide about your router and replacement options. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs.

Network Strength and Costs

With more and more devices in our homes – more than you think – you need to strike a balance between speed and cost. Keeping your network strong and secure is a given, but you should look at what you can hardwire into your gateway to maximize speed and free up wireless capacity for devices and systems that can’t be wired.

Many people have looked to simple solutions such as EERO, which plugs repeaters into power outlets in homes and offices. It’s known as a wireless mesh system, and it’s a technology that hasn’t won us over. The modules are repeaters, and the problem is that each time you repeat, you cut signal strength, and that diminishes the speed of the network to deliver signals to the target computer, TV, tablet or smartphone.

You might think you don’t have that many devices on your network, but you’d be surprised. In our house with four people, we have a dozen computers, tablets and smart phones, several automated systems for the doorbell and for turning on certain lights. We also have a Sonos sound system with seven speakers around the house. I haven’t added in smart TVs, which many households have. Most of them use a USB antenna to connect to their home wireless network, and then people use the wireless network to stream movies and shows – especially if they’ve cut the cord on cable TV.

Depending on your provider, you can get Internet connections ranging from 15 megabits per second (of data transmission) to 1 or 2 gigabits per second. Many users in moderately connected homes have service ranging from 50 to 300 megabits per second (mbs). The faster the speed, the more data it pushes through per second. However, your TVs, computers and devices on your wireless network may not be getting the full speed you’re paying for because of repeaters and the number of devices using the network at a given time.

You can maximize wireless performance and your Internet costs by hardwiring some computers and smart TVs and then determining how much speed you need to support your wireless devices. Wired computers and TVs will get the full benefit of your connection speed, and you may not need as fast (and expensive) a connection as you think.

To use our house as an example, we have a 150mbs connection, and we use it more for downloading large files than for streaming movies and shows. With hard wiring, it works fine. If I would double the speed to 300mbs, it would cost $90 per month more. That’s $1,080 more per year, and I wouldn’t get the full performance because of the wireless penalty.

With smart TVs and streaming becoming more popular, TV manufacturers are heading off potential problems with customer satisfaction by including Ethernet connections in their units. Taking advantage of the hardwiring capability can help you avoid problems elsewhere in your home.

In the office, hardwiring as many components of your system to the network is essential. Hardwiring grantees your computers and peripherals will work at the speeds you’re paying for, and it will free up wireless capacity for the devices that you must have, such as phones and tablets.

Regardless of whether you have a home or business network, remember that your service speed can be increased or decreased without a visit from a technician. You can see how one connection speed works and then have your provider raise or lower it from their service center.

We can help you by installing the wiring and connecting your equipment. We can also help you analyze your system’s performance to find the right combination of speed and cost. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up an appointment to discuss your needs.

Pass on Provider-Provided Gateways

Whether you get your Internet and VOIP telephone service from your local phone carrier or cable company, you likely use their “gateway” as a router. They’ll tell you it’s free, but it’s not. You pay a monthly rental fee, for one thing, and you may be bound by the strings attached – later if not now.

You have choices when it comes to choosing and setting up the equipment and configuration of your communications and network systems. For starters, you can have your service provider configure your gateway, which can bring in your TV, Internet and phone service, to be just the modem. That way, you can use your own router for your Wi-Fi network.

Using your own router has its pros and cons.

  • You can use your existing network configuration or, if you get a new router, set up your configuration to match the needs of your office or home.
  • You can control the bandwidth going to computers, printers, TVs, devices, etc. on your network and to any applications that run over your network.
  • You – or anyone you hire – can make changes to fine-tune your network as needed. Your provider’s tech support may not cover everything you want to do, regardless of whether they give you support by phone or send a technician.
  • You control all access to your network.
  • Depending on the provider’s set-up, you may lose some features they provide, such as remote controls or caller ID on your TV screens. In some cases, you can work around those issues.

However, the aspect of provider-provided gateways that we dislike more than anything is that your provider can use your gateway – the device they put in your home or office – to create a public hotspot. While it won’t give outsiders access to your network, we see it as a way to use your service fees to expand their networks when they should be spending money on infrastructure. In some ways, it also makes you dependent on their customer base to provide your service in an urban or more densely populated area.

Once they create that network of hotspots, it becomes easier for the provider to control the bandwidth and affect how you use your network.

Personally, I think that’s just wrong.

If you have any questions about gateway and router technology or need advice or assistance in setting up or optimizing your network, we’re ready to help. We can service any technology system that comes into your house or business and make sure it meets your needs – not your provider’s. Send us an email or call us at 973-433-6676 to discuss your needs or make an appointment.