Sunday, December 10, 2006

Wireless Router Configuration Misery

The ongoing ADSL saga took a new twist yesterday evening. In addition to the ADSL side of things continuing its flakiness, the router decided to start playing up: it started freezing spontaneously.

The last time it did this, I traced it back to MSN Messenger - the D-Link 604+ firmware couldn't deal with it.

This time, however, I could find nothing to correlate the router's hangs with. The problem became worse and worse as the evening progressed (last night was a night in, after a late night on Friday).  I turned the router off before going to bed in case the problem was caused by overheating. No such luck: it froze within five minutes of turning it back on.

And so, this afternoon, after lunch with friends in Soho (at The Endurance... the best roast pork I've ever had in a pub... highly recommended), I popped over to PC World on Tottenham Court Road to pick up a new router. I had pre-ordered it this morning and, thanks for the "collect at store" system was able to get a 20% discount on the in-store price (meaning I paid less than most other online retailers were showing once you took into account delivery), was able to get it home today (no waiting for deliveries) and was ushered to the front of the (ten-long) queue to pay for it. Result!

Or so I thought...

I have just spent two hours of my life that I will never get back trying to set it up :-(

It all went so well to start with... it took less than sixty seconds to get it connected to the internet and to surf the web via ethernet. Getting the wireless set up, however, was a whole different proposition.

My first mistake was trying silently to "swap it out" so that the systems that relied on the old router (two laptops and my Apple Airport Express) wouldn't even spot the difference.

This meant enabling 128-bit WEP encryption.

One of the laptops connected just fine - which gave me confidence that I had configured it correctly. Sadly, laptop #2 and the Airport refused to connect. 

Laptop #2 could see the router and was able to try to connect. Sadly, it never got past the "obtaining IP address" phase... the router would just not serve an IP address.

Utterly maddening.

I'll spare you the details of the various things I tried to get it to work.

In the end, I gave up on my clever-clever attempt to switch the routers seamlessly and reverted to the more reliable approach of getting the basics working before trying to get clever.

It goes without saying that turning off the WEP security on the router and all the clients fixed the problems immediately.

Once this was done, I went back and turned security back on - but opted for the superior WPA (which my previous router didn't support). Updating the clients one-by-one resulted in a gratifyingly positive result.

An initial review of the evidence led me to believe that the router (a Belkin F5D7633uk4A) had a defect in its WEP support. Sadly, I think the problem is more subtle than that: the algorithm it (and the software on the first laptop) used to convert a text-string to a hex-string for the WEP password was different to the algorithm the Airport and Windows uses. How utterly stupid :-(


DarkKnight said...

You have found the reason that I use hex keys for wireless security. Several apps/hardware use different algorithms to convert between a passphrase and the real key. It just becomes simpler to use hex, even if this means typing it in by hand!

Andrew Ferrier said...

Probably of more use for the ADSL itself than the router, but if you're still experiencing problems, some of the tools here might help with diagnosis:

Richard Brown said...

Re: algorithm... yes; it's a pity that there is no standard one in use. .... how stupid! Interestingly, the passphrase I used for WPA worked just fine... does that system work on ASCII/Unicode rather than hex-encodings thereof?

Andrew - thanks... will take a look.