FiOS finale: getting the Airport Extreme online

Why is it that home networking stuff takes so long to resolve? Warning: highly technical and elliptical post ahead.

It took me a few days after my last networking adventure to get the last few items cleared off the checklist, namely getting my network attached storage (NAS) and TiVO into the network. To do it, I came darn near to voiding my warranty on the Verizon-supplied Actiontec MI424-WR before I pulled back from the brink and did something really… well, comparatively simple.

I tried some of the advice on the links I previously posted. Hint: don’t bother, at least if all you want is to put an additional wireless base station on the network. After attempting to put the Actiontec into bridge mode, then restoring factory defaults when my AirPort Extreme didn’t work as advertised, I ended up having to call Verizon to release my DHCP release remotely so the Actiontec would work again. 

Back to square one. This time, I set up the AirPort Extreme on a separate SSID from the Actiontec, and darned if it didn’t come up successfully. So now the FiOS internet signal is spread across two overlapping wireless networks, and because they’re all connected to the same base network and the Actiontec is serving all the IP addresses (the AirPort Extreme is in bridge mode), all devices on both networks can see each other. 

Okay. So the last step was getting the TiVO online. Under the old setup, I had an Ethernet USB adapter connected to it, running to the AirPort Extreme, which was connected to the cable modem. Only problem is, there’s no cable modem in the area any more, and there’s no Ethernet connection in the room. So how to get the TiVO back on the network? 

My original plan was to hook up the TiVO to the Ethernet port on the AirPort Express in the room, but the Ethernet port isn’t active unless the AirPort Express is in WDS mode, which it couldn’t be with the Actiontec. But: it could be with the AirPort Extreme. So I reconfigured the AirPort Extreme and the AirPort Express together as part of a WDS network. Which … well, I gotta say, typing in a hex address is not the most foolproof way to establish a network. Especially when the letter B on a label looks like an 8. But I eventually got it straightened out.

So. The final setup: 

  • Fiber to Verizon-provided ONT.
  • ONT: Coax to my Leviton coax splitter, whence it heads to both bedrooms, the kitchen, the library, and the living room, all from one split.
  • ONT: POTS to my Leviton phone distribution, whence it hits both bedrooms and the kitchen.
  • Leviton: Coax to the Actiontec router.
  • Actiontec: Wireless network #1, including the printer.
  • Actiontec: Ethernet to the Leviton, whence both bedroooms and the kitchen.
  • Actiontec: Ethernet to the AirPort Extreme, and thence to wireless network #2, including the living room and the TiVO.
  • AirPort Extreme: has the NAS containing all my music.

You know, all the people claiming that the computer folks ought to kick the crap out of the home theatre guys because of ease of setup? They’re talking out their asses.

Using an AirPort Express with FiOS

As I mentioned yesterday, there were a few unfinished items left after the FiOS installation yesterday. I got two of the items taken care of this morning, but I was a little disturbed at what I had to do to make things work.

After the installation was complete on Sunday, I connected to the administrative web page of the Actiontec router that Verizon had provided (and which is required with the Verizon TV package). I reconfigured the router to take over the network name (SSID) that I had been using on my AirPort Extreme, changed the security to WPA2, and set the passphrase to the one I had been using previously. Our laptops and my iPhone picked up the change, but my AirPort Express units (which provide wireless printer support and AirTunes) didn’t. They’re first generation AirPort Express, and do 802.11G and 802.11b only.

After some pulling my hair out this morning, I found a thread on the Apple support message boards that suggested that the original AirPort Express was incompatible with the Actiontec version of WPA2. I changed the Verizon router to use regular WPA and told the AirPort Express to use WPA/WPA2 for authentication. After rebooting, I finally got a good connection (green light) with the Express. My second Express didn’t need any reconfiguration–I simply unplugged it and plugged it back in, and it worked.

So there’s that. What’s left is getting my hard drive, with all my music, back on the network. I may have to run an Ethernet drop into the living room over Christmas. Or try one of the tricks for supplanting the Actiontec for wireless.

(It’s more than a little annoying, btw, that I had to use regular WPA instead of WPA2. WPA2 is a much more secure protocol and WPA has been cracked.)

FiOS Day 2 — post installation checklist

3128551594_2a367f7b7a_oWe have FiOS now. The installers from Verizon left at about 2:30 yesterday afternoon, with handsful of cookies from my wife and thanks from me. They started work about 10 am. In the four and a half hours (including a lunch break) in between, they:

  • Installed a new wall box (shown) to take the fiber from the street and convert its signal to TV, Internet, and phone
  • Ran phone, WAN, and coax into my media panel so that all existing phone, Ethernet, and cable hookups in the house worked
  • Leveraged the existing basement drop to connect the living room jack–the only one not already hooked into the media panel–into the media panel
  • Installed a new wireless base station
  • Ran fiber into the house and lit up the whole network
  • Pulled off the old copper line and house-side box

So: Now gone is all but the last remnant of Comcast. Their box is still on the side of the house, but the three splitters that were between their box and the wall are gone. The new TV signal goes directly from the fiber into my media wiring box and gets split once across the five live jacks in the house. No wonder the picture is better. The phone works well too.

On the other hand, I’m still working through some Internet issues. I couldn’t get my existing base station, an AirPort Extreme, to see the new base station, so I shut it down temporarily–taking my shared music drive offline. I also wasn’t able to get my two AirPort Express units, which provide networking for the printer and AirTunes to my living room stereo, hooked into the new network, but I suspect that’s easily fixed once I get a little dedicated time.

The punchline? Using the SpeakEasy speed test, I recorded up to about 19.5 Mbps down and about 4.9 Mbps up, at multiple times during the day. That’s comparable to the Comcast up rate but about twice as fast as Comcast down.

FiOS day

It’s an exciting day here at the Jarrett house. The new drop that I mentioned on Friday is a fiber drop. We’re in the middle of a Massachusetts snowstorm, with another three to six inches on top of the ten we got yesterday, and Verizon, God bless ’em, is in my driveway getting ready to run fiber into my basement.

Now that’s service. I don’t know what it says about their customer acquisition metrics and their incentive comp that this guy is willing to trudge around my house and do this, but whatever it is, Harvard or someone should write a case study about it, ’cause it’s working.

What do I get with fiber? One line that replaces cable and phone, 20 Mbit/s down and 5 up, and finally I get to kick Comcast to the curb. Plus, as a bonus, the installer is going to clear out some of the muddle of cable splits that were a legacy of my incremental installation approach, and wire the living room off the central panel. Might even get Cat 5 up there by the time we’re done, who knows?

The number one reason I got FiOS out of that whole list, by the way, was not the speed. Even though it’s twice as fast as what we’re getting from cable right now. (It used to be four times as fast, but Comcast recently did a speed boost.) No, I’m excited because I finally get to give Comcast the finger for filtering Internet traffic based on what application you’re using, and for arbitrarily imposing bandwidth caps. Doesn’t matter if I wouldn’t hit those caps today; the way they made the announcement, the fact that you can’t know if you’re exceeding the caps until they cut you off, and the outrageousness of the fines, all mean that they have no idea how to deal with customers.

I don’t have illusions that Verizon is going to be perfect, but I think they’ll be better. I have evidence that suggests they will be.

By the way, here’s my Comcast speed test on a Sunday morning with no one else on the local loop. This is the best speed you get with Comcast. I’ll post an update once the FiOS numbers are in.