3

I have been having an incredibly hard-to-diagnose home networking problem for the last month. It’s not easy to summarize but I’ll try a TL;DR: I’ve had a wifi network that worked perfectly for over a year. Starting a month ago, every Apple device in my household will repeatedly drop off the wifi network. But a Windows PC that a network tech brought over is able to stay connected to it. This happens with two brands of wifi router, and with most but not all SSIDs we broadcast on those routers. (!?)

My main questions are:

  • Can Macs and iPhones have problems connecting to wifi networks where Windows devices are fine? And even where those same Macs and iPhones worked perfectly on the same network for a year?
  • If so, is there a way to fix that?
  • What else could cause the wifi issues described in detail below, and how can it be fixed?

Timeline and details

AT&T is my ISP. I’m on a 45MBit plan with copper twisted pair lines to my home. For a little over a year, I had an eero mesh network of 3 devices. The AT&T modem (made by 2Wire) was the entry point to the house, but I turned off its SSID. The eero routers were providing wifi to the house. For 13 months it worked perfectly.

Then in mid-May everything went to hell. On May 18th at 11am, devices started dropping off the wifi. It happens most often in our family room, even when sitting still, 3 feet from one of the mesh routers. It happened on all our Mac laptops and iPhones. (3 Mac laptops, 1 iMac, 4 iPhones, all of varying ages.) I also have a guest staying in our backyard cottage, who has a Mac and an iPad. She is reporting the same problems.

One neighbor started having similar problems within half an hour of the same time, even though he's on Comcast. The neighbor in between us installed a new Cisco Meraki router that same day. (Could it cause interference? I asked him to disable it for ten minutes as an experiment, but that didn’t fix our problems.)

I spoke to Eero support and AT&T support numerous times. Here are some relevant details and things I’ve tried:

  • If I Option+Click the WiFi icon in the Mac menu bar when sitting in the family room to show debug info, I can see the BSSID change to 00:00:00:00:00 right at the moment my connection drops. It’s easily reproducible: just sit in this room for a few seconds to a minute.
  • I made sure my eero mesh routers are not placed too close together to be overlapping. Eero support confirmed this for me.
  • Sometimes it shows two copies of my network in the WiFi menu. (Could this be due to having a mesh?)
  • When I run WiFi Explorer, it shows occasional drops to zero signal for all my eero devices.
  • When I enable wifi on the AT&T modem/router combo and attach Apple devices to it directly, they don’t drop off. (But it doesn’t have enough reach for the whole house and cottage.)
  • I’ve run multi-hour ping tests while directly connected via Ethernet to the modem/router combo. The early results were bad: 1.6% packets dropped. But AT&T made some remote fix, and the most recent test has 0.0% packets dropped.
  • Eero support said they were noticing some strange drops in the incoming service to their device. But an AT&T tech said my home’s connection to their hub is exceptionally good, with no glitches at all.
  • AT&T replaced my modem/router combo for good measure, but the problems persisted.
  • AT&T did a board swap at their hub. It still didn’t fix the problem.
  • I hired a local network tech and asked him to set up a new system for me. He did: two Ubiquiti access points and a Ubiquiti mesh point out in the cottage. He first set up an SSID called myNetworkTest and one called myNetworkGuest. Once he got them working he said ok, now let's create your main and guest networks with the names and passwords you want, and we’ll delete the test networks. So we set them up. BUT:
    • All Apple devices in the house can connect and stay connected to myNetworkTest with no problem. But for all other networks set up on the same hardware, the Apple devices accept the password but then they just keep trying unsuccessfully to connect.
    • His Windows laptop has no problem. It is able to connect and doesn’t drop from any of the networks on the Ubiquiti hardware.
  • I’ve tried disabling Bluetooth on the Apple devices, in case they are using that to communicate with each other about some network being bad.
  • I’ve tried deleting the plist files on my Macs so they forget their old settings
  • I’ve tried creating a new Network Location in System Preferences.
  • I’ve tried resetting the SMC and PRAM.

I’m just at a loss, and so is the network guy I hired. Neither of us has ever seen anything like this. He could rename myNetworkTest to the name I want, but we don’t even know if it will work or make things irreparably worse. Or I could just use the network using that name, since the name doesn’t matter so much. But then I wouldn’t have a guest network, which is important to me because I have guests who stay in the backyard cottage.

Mac dropping and re-adding eero wifi over and over

  • I know and understand you're being as detailed as possible, putting a tremendous amount of time and effort into writing it, however this really needs to be heavily edited & summarized, as there's way too much information (there's a decent amount of info that isn't needed for someone to help you troubleshoot). Generally speaking, when wifi works for a long length of time then doesn't, it's often a result of a firmware update on the router and/or client device(s); and yes, Apple devices can have wifi issues other devices don't (such as w/ Linksys' WRT AC Series' Marvell radio drivers). – JW0914 Jun 14 at 16:26
  • Is your router's wifi radios set to actual channels or Auto, as WiFi radios should never be set to Auto and have actual channels set, else issues will arise. 2.4GHz: 1, 6, 11; 5GHz: highest DFS channel available (in the U.S., 157 is ideal, else the highest DFS channel available). 2.4GHz should be set to a 40MHz bandwidth (20MHz halves the throughput) and 5GHz to 80MHz or 160MHz, depending on the network cards used on the devices (160MHz has different DFS channels than the 80MHz, with 157 specific to the 80MHz bandwidth). – JW0914 Jun 14 at 16:31
  • Thanks, @JW0914. I agree, it's long. I will edit out some of the storytelling. – Brian Morearty Jun 14 at 16:32
  • Have there been any public wifi hotspots installed in your neighborhood? The app WiFi Explorer is a great tool for looking at WiFi networks in your local area. – IconDaemon Jun 14 at 16:33
  • Great suggestion to try local wifi hotspots, @IconDaemon. I hadn't tried it because most coffeeshops and libraries are closed, but some might be reopening now. Yes, I have been trying to diagnose using WiFi Explorer, as mentioned in the post (but it's long and I need to edit it down to be more readable.) – Brian Morearty Jun 14 at 16:36
1

This will be hard to disentangle if you think of it as Apple vs Windows. A couple points.

  1. iOS devices are designed to drop WiFi all the time. Screen off, no power, no urgent sync or transfer - WiFi drops. You should be able to isolate your iOS device and you will need to get in to the WiFi radio / router and get precise logs on failed reconnects, RSSI - channel negotiated. Once you have one device and some facts - please post that as one thread and @ me. Then you can look at interference or stats and see what’s up.
  2. macOS should get you a second pattern of access - it won’t drop unless there’s a problem, is easier to manage sleep and keep it connected for days on end.
  3. Apple has configuration profiles, packet capture so if you suspect one not working, you can get precise detailed engineering details and know precisely what’s happening - frame by frame, millisecond by millisecond to get answers.
  4. In general - it’s never mac or windows or ios that causes issues - it’s just one device and fluid nature of baseband code - hopping MCS / encoding / power levels and sometimes channels. All this is invisible, highly technical, easy to get wrong and requires study and tools and setup to be disciplined to get detailed timing and logs.
  5. Before you do that - look at some summary traffic. For instance, I love my UniFi Dream Machine since it collects 95% of the statistics I need to diagnose failed reconnects, interference, faulty hardware for me automagically. I’ve heard good things on Eero - can you get a 24 hour history report for each of your devices? If you can send 10 GB of data on a device you think is failing to connect - you can be darn sure the radio is fine and the OS is fine and the network stack is fine. If it can’t reconnect - it’s going to be interference and not the device. If the device can’t even run a speed test when conditions are good - then you can suspect the OS or hardware. From your data so far, nothing seems to be client side and I would focus entirely on radio side until you know the radio is seeing a disconnect that doesn’t make sense on the client side.

Good luck - my advice is to take a break for a day or three, then pick one device only and get data, set a trap, collect traces. Don’t worry about anything else - it’s all noise and irrelevant. Once you are convinced that device is working and the only thing that can hurt it on WiFi is normal drop and interference, then look elsewhere. The last time I had this it was a USB-C Gigabit ethernet adapter connected to windows. It didn’t have problems since it was wired, but it kicked all the other devices off. In your case, if all the Apple devices are getting kicked - it’s probably not them causing it - they’re just alerting you that something else is the problem. But, why guess or go on hunches - you can get to the bottom of this by looking at one radio on one device and one radio on one AP.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks. I should have been clear that at first I didn't think of it as Apple vs. Windows at all. In fact when one of the eero support reps was bringing that up, I dismissed it as finger-pointing. It's only after seeing that the network tech's Windows laptop didn't have any problems that I started to think there may be something to it. – Brian Morearty Jun 14 at 21:41
  • I’m so happy we have this to work on @BrianMorearty Your situation is clearly something that is going on - I hope we can bring enough eyes to make some headway on it. I think there’s a lot of bad information on the net about modern WiFi so I will do what I can to help make it clear - hopefully it ends up being directly useful for you as well. keeping an open mind means just because I think it’s unlikely - what if I’m wrong and it’s relevant. – bmike Jun 14 at 21:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .