Help with wireless router/modem

tl;dr: Wireless router kicks people off, I discuss symptoms, previous attempts to fix

I am currently renting an apartment in an old house that was reconfigured for four separate appartments. There are currently 4 occupants, each with a computer, and most of us have smart phones that we link to the house’s wi-fi.

We have an ongoing (over the last six months or so) issue with the wireless router (ZyXEL P-660HN-51): Sometimes when one or the other of us starts the computer, it is unable to connect to the router. Other times, someone would have been connected previously, but, suddenly, when they decided to navigate to another page, the connection is no longer available.

My theory is that the router only supports four channels; when those are used up, no more connections can be made. My theory, however, does not explain why, when I experience a disconnect on my computer, if I turn off the wi-fi on my phone, I still cannot connect on my computer. Thinking that maybe another computer grabbed that connection before mine could, I then tried reconnecting my phone, but there was no problem with the phone connecting.

I have tried rebooting my computer, as sometimes, various parameters and options get bollixed up and only a reboot will reset them. This did not work in my case. In fact, the only thing that I have found that allows me to connect to the router, is to physically reset the router. I do this by pushing a toothpick (or other small pointy object) into the hole marked “Reset”, or by unplugging the router for ten seconds. Then, after the router resets, I am able to connect.

What confuses me about this action is that no one else seems to be affected when I press the reset button. It seems like, statistically at least, that someone sometime was on the Web when I pushed the reset, but so far, no one seems to notice when I press it. In fact, this past weekend, one of the other housemates said that the newest housemate, who had previously reported no problems in regard to this issue, had reset the router. This was during a time that I had been watching Netflix, and I never noticed any interruption in service. (Yesterday, I was looking online for information about the above-specified DSL modem/router, and found the user’s manual that said to hold the reset button for ten seconds. I wonder if the button has two functions, one for a quick press and another for holding the switch for 10 seconds.)

Only one of the four occupants of the house has never had any of these issues. In February, one of our housemates was away for a visit of relatives; during that period, I never once had to reset the router. (This was before our latest housemate moved in.) When she returned, the issues started happening again. When she asked me if I had experience any disconnections lately, that is when I started to realize that it might be related to the number of ports.

On the other hand, she believes that it has to do with Windows 10, as the issue started at approximately the same time as she upgraded. Since I had also upgraded to Win10 at about the same time, and since the person who had never encountered this issue is on Windows 8.1, that increased her confidence that that was the issue. But, our newest housemate also has 8.1 and has experienced at least one outage.

Also during that time period, I upgraded my Windows 7 computer to 10, then that computer died, so I got a new one, which had 8.1 on it only long enough for me to download and install Win10. Since that computer also has issues with booting up (or waking from Hibernate, already discussed in another thread: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=774822), I felt that it was somehow MY computer that was causing the issue.

Despite the router’s seeming ability sometimes to manage as many as 7 connections (4 computers, 3 phones), I still believe that the router’s true capacity is four channels; that is the number of physical ports on the router, and that is the number of channels that the router’s specifications mention. If that actually turns out to be the case, what options are available for increasing the number of channels? Obviously, getting a different wireless router that supports more connections, but is there an auxiliary device that could be attached to the router that would add more channels? Sort of like when you plug in a power strip – you use up a plug on the wall, but supply six additional outlets.

Finally, I should note that the router was supplied by the ISP (Cincinnati Bell, iirc), and that the housemate who was away for a month, has called the ISP at least three times, trying to get the issue fixed. The first call got us a new router (same brand/model), and the last call, she said that the representative talked her through increasing the modem’s speed and increasing the router’s signal. (Is that possible to do through the interface to the device? It sounds suspiciously like “Follow these steps, and peace will guide the planets, and love will rule the stars.”

The number of channels* on a wireless router has nothing to do with either the number of simultaneous users nor the number of Ethernet ports it has.

The limiting factor (besides everybody trying to surf at once) is the number of IP addresses that the router can allocate. This, in principle, can be well over 200, but in practice is usually far fewer.

In particular, I wonder if the ISP delivered to you routers that have a preset limit of 4 or something. (ISPs hate multiple users sharing the same Internet connection even though that’s a must nowadays.)

To check this you need admin access to the router and need to know how to check and change DHCP settings. If you can’t do neither of these, then if this is your problem it’s not going away unless you buy your own modem/router. (Which will save you money in the long run.)

  • Modern modem should have 2 channels going at the same time. A 2.+GHz channel for older or simpler devices and a 4GHz channel** for newer, high bandwidth devices. Each one should be named differently with passwords required for each. And each can handle multiple users.

** The “channel” is actually a range of old-style channels merged together for increased bandwidth.

I had something similar with my former router. It would freeze or drop some connections but not others. Only a power cycle would repair it. Fixed by installing a new router. Get ahold of another wifi router. Borrow if you can for a few weeks as a test. Use its WAN port to run a cable into your ISP provided router. Any port except WAN will do. Try to set them a few feet apart if the wifi’s remain on on both. Disable the wifi on the ISP router as you won’t need to use it. Set the WAn side of your new router to DHCP addressing. Set your new router up as the router providing DHCP and all the wifi password security through which all your devices are connected including your phones, laptops, and tablets. Make sure the first two sets of numbers offered by the DHCP in both routers differ such as 192.168.xxx.xxx and 10.200.xxx.xxx. Your ISP router then will “see” only one device. If the system is more stable, the problem is their router. You may have to swap a computer into the ISP router for admin or maintenance but most likely not if your addresses are different. You may be able to bridge the ISP modem in that case. Better minds will be along to explain that if needed.