Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Techie shopping again

Anyone who knows me will know that I listen to a huge amount of music.

All of my music is stored on and played through my laptop in iTunes. There's a system called Airplay, which lets you send music over a network to a widget that then sends it to your hifi. Awesome system in that it just ... works, trouble is that it's subject to interference.

The Airplay protocol works by sending its information over wireless networks. I have older widgets, which only talk to older networks. And ... those older networks are crowded :

That's how a program called InSSIDer sees the airwaves around here. The trapezoids show how much of those airwaves are being taken up by each network and the strength of the signals. Mine is the olive green section on the right hand side. I've actually disabled the broadcast now in the hope of avoiding the interference.

What happens, is that your music will be playing through quite happily but then suddenly breaks up. If you're lucky, the streaming comes back on quite quickly. Unlucky ? It's time to reset all the bits and pieces. I've been dealing with it by changing the channel (where your network is, left or right of that graph) to hopefully avoid interference.

However ... I think there's a joker in the pack :

That graph has an anomaly in the middle, where someone else's wireless is transmitting at extraordinary power. You can see mine transmitting away at about -40 deciBels (dB). My neighbours' wifi are around the -80 to -90 dB level. That's normal for transmitters that are a distance away, plus walls reduce the signal too.

But there's a signal coming in at around -5 dB ? Through walls ? That's a broken bit of kit and I hate to think what it's doing to the people around that device. It must be like having an unshielded microwave on the loose. Transmitted power is on a logarithmic scale, which means that for every +10 dB, that's 10 times the power. So my kit at -40dB is 10,000 the power of the neighbours' by the time their signal gets through my walls. For the jammer to be 1,000 times the power of my kit after it gets through the walls ? That's pretty crazy.

What I've done for now is make my wireless stealthy again. The SSID I use is called Artemis (felt cool at the time). If I tell my devices to connect to Artemis, they will. But Artemis doesn't broadcast its presence. The idea is that it keeps the jammers away. Seemed to work too (hopefully stealthing it won't break the printer!).

But what I may have to do is spend money ...

The idea is that because wireless is the problem, eliminate it from the system. I'll do that by investing in Powerline networking gear to avoid going over the airwaves. It lets me hook up my Xbox and bluray player too without wires going across the floor. So each device would be :

Desktop -> router -> internet : has to be this way or you get lag (which is bad) hurting your gaming.
Router -> Powerline kit to the house.
Powerline kit to other side of room for the AV kit
Airplay widget hooking in to the Powerline kit

Laptop will be a bit different and has a couple of options. I can either use a wire to hook it up, or I can have it talk to the Airplay widget. That would be :

Laptop -> Airplay -> Powerline -> Router -> Internet

Should work. But I'll give it a bit more time before I buy kit. That'll let me :

Test whether stealthing the network again will work;
Research what's on the market;
Hope for cheap stuff in the sales !!!

PS There is of course yet another way. The old fashioned way. The boring way. The stretching a lead across the floor way. But ... not going to happen, it's not techie enough :-)

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