Networking Blundamentals

- October 27, 2021
I was happily typing an email and following up with some students who had just attended the WYWM Project Management Bootcamp...

When suddenly, I lost connection with my cloud storage just as I was trying to attach a file to the email. The first thought that popped into my head was that it had something to do with our migration from one cloud service to another. I tried reconnecting with the cloud drive - Nada, Zip, no good. Both cloud services appeared to be down - the old one and the new one.  

Firing up a browser window I tried connecting to a couple of websites and got the dreaded "You're not connected to the internet" message. Now, here's the strange thing. I tried both my iPad Pro and iPhone that were both connected to the same Wi-Fi network as my work Windows 10 laptop, and they were both fine and working as normal. "Hmmm" I thought, "that's strange". 

I then tried the network diagnostics tool in Windows 10.  It gave me a message stating that the Wi-Fi adapter could not obtain a valid IP address and reported that it could not resolve the issue. I tried my MacBook Pro and it worked.  I tried connecting an ethernet cable to the work laptop and seeing if that would connect me to the Internet again. Nope, no good.  Still the same old "You're not connected to the internet" message when trying to browse a web page.   

I shutdown and restarted the laptop twice and tested both Wi-Fi and ethernet browsing again - still the same result. No good. 

Resorting to more drastic measures, I powered down both my Wi-Fi router and 8 port switch. I powered them both back on and tried again. No luck.  Next, I used my iPad Pro to browse my ISP's network status page and the 'NBN Maintenance in your area' page. Both reported that there were no known issues with either the ISP's network or the wider NBN network in my area. 

I live in a detached dwelling behind a larger house.  The NBN connection (which is HFC - Hybrid Fibre Coaxial) comes into the lounge room of the larger house and I had a network tech run an ethernet cable between the main house and my detached dwelling.  All done professionally with CAT-6a cables, proper terminations, and wall sockets. I knew that it couldn't be the cabling, as it is too new and I do not run the cable where it can be damaged by moving furniture, foot traffic, children, pets, or pests (believe me, I have seen ethernet cable gnawed on by mice).  

Upon entering the main house with my trusty iPad Pro and trying to connect to the Wi-Fi network in the main house, I discovered that I couldn't connect to that Wi-Fi network either. "Aha" I thought, "this is a NBN modem problem". 

I powered down both the Network Termination Device, or NTD, (the modem NBN supplies) and the Wi-Fi router in the main house (as my ethernet connection comes from it).  I powered up the NBN NTD and waited patiently for the ONLINE light to light up and remain a steady green.  I then powered up the Wi-Fi router supplying my ethernet connection, waited for it to finish booting up and, voila, the Wi-Fi and internet were both working again, including in my detached dwelling.  

What's the moral of the story? Who knows why the NBN network sometimes does this, or why the NBN NTD sometimes needs a quick power down and power up? I certainly don't know. Who knows why my Apple equipment still appeared to work when the Windows 10 laptop refused to?  Having a "techie" background, I always try the most obvious steps first. But in this case, I could have saved myself a lot of time by just power cycling the NBN NTD and main Wi-Fi router to begin with. It's a lesson learnt for "next time". 

It reminds me of some of the harder and more difficult network troubleshooting I have performed over the years. I won't go into too much detail, but some of these have included: 

  1. Ethernet cables chewed by rodents to the point of failure.  
  1. Ethernet cables placed too close to high voltage phased power cabling causing random interference and major packet loss.  
  1. Spending hours trying to resolve PC networking issues only to discover the computer had a faulty NIC (network interface card).  
  1. Corruption of network interface software drivers (re-installing the drivers fixed the issue).  
  1. Faulty network terminations (because the user was "yanking" the connector out of the port too violently).  
  1. Poor Wi-Fi performance in large warehouses due to the materials being stored within. (The Wi-Fi performance testing was great when we installed it - when the factory was empty - but once the floor to ceiling racks started holding stock and materials, the performance was degraded significantly).  
  1. A customer (on a phone call) adamant that an ethernet cable was installed between two points, only to discover that there was none on closer inspection. 

There can be many points of failure in networking - some being easy to diagnose, whilst others can be a royal pain in the a**. Using a logical and methodical process of elimination is paramount to keeping your sanity.  

My final piece of advice - always try rebooting the affected PC device or flipping the power on the networking equipment like the main modem/router first. It can save you a lot of time. 

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