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Helping around the House: troubleshooting your family’s Internet connection

It seems in every household, whether it be family or roommates or the like, at least one person is likely to become designated as the “techie.” This person may know a ton about technology, or simply a bit more than the others, or also be just slightly less uncomfortable about making technical changes. All three of these are great attributes. And while it can be both a blessing and a curse to be this person, this article is intended to help the household techie as well as the others with doing a few internal troubleshooting steps of their own.

Cords are Not Red Wires

For better or worse, when you call your Internet Service Provider, no one is involved in a Bruckheimer-esque, bomb-diffusing situation. And while cords seem to have a mind of their own – they seem to sneak and spiral and creep and crawl around one another while no one is looking – thankfully, there’s little harm in verifying their actual connections.

Almost always, your Internet Service Provider can verify connectivity only insofar as the connection to your “gateway” device – typically a router or a modem. Beyond that, the customer is the eyes, ears, nose – not sure what the nose is for, but maybe – for trying to diagnose any internal connectivity problems.

It is nonetheless important to verify these connections. Sometimes, a dog, a cat, a gremlin, or a curious child can disconnect cords and escalations occur.

Likely, the “techie” in your household fears not the cords, although fumbling through them like a pile of serpents can be nerve-wracking and mind-numbing. But if and when you need to take matters into your own hands, it’s important to remember that the cords matter, as much for understanding how things are physically configured at your home as for verifying connectivity. And there is no red wire. In all probable theory, nothing in the home will explode if you disconnect and reconnect or trace wires through each other.
However, Bruckheimer aside, please don’t cut them.

Everything Connects, Even the Wireless

As mentioned, your Internet Service Provider can often verify if your “gateway” device is connected to the Internet or not. Beyond that, if a device in the home cannot seem to reach the Internet, the first step is to verify that the device does indeed have a connection to your modem or router. It may seem complicated, as most electrical appliances often only require power, but imagine if your amplifier or DVD/Blu-Ray player or such had power but no connection to the speakers. There would of course be no audio, but this wouldn’t necessitate a problem with the player itself.

Even wireless devices require an definitive connection to operate, even if there’s no “speaker wire.” There are a few ways of attempting to troubleshoot this connection, and we’ll cover them here in as much detail as possible, but the first and foremost step is know what your “gateway” device is. It could be a Cisco/Linksys router. It could be an Actiontec modem. It could be Netgear. It could be Belkin.

Almost always, these devices will have the manufacturer’s name on them. They also will have a separate “address” for verifying connectivity. These are some of the more common default IP addresses for household devices:

3Com 192.168.1.1
Apple 10.0.1.1
Asus 192.168.1.1, 192.168.1.220
Belkin 192.168.2.1, 10.1.1.1
Buffalo 192.168.11.1
Dell 192.168.1.1
D-Link 192.168.0.10.30, 0.50, 1.1, 10.1.1.1
Linksys 192.168.0.11.1
Microsoft 192.168.2.1
Motorola 192.168.10.120.1, 30.1, 62.1, 100.1, 102.1, 1.254
MSI 192.168.1.254
Netgear 192.168.0.10.227
Senao 192.168.0.1
SpeedTouch 10.0.0.138, 192.168.1.254
Trendnet 192.168.0.1, 1.1, 2.1, 10.1,
U.S. Robotics 192.168.1.12.1, 123.254
Zyxel 192.168.1.12.1, 4.1, 10.1, 1.254, 10.0.0.20.138

Most of these devices these days come with a web interface. What this means is you can access them directly as if you would a website (even without an Internet connection). All you would need to do is open a web browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, etc…) and erase anything in the address bar (that’s the bar you would use to go directly to a website, the one including either “http://” or “https://”). Type in the address of your device, you will likely get prompted for some sort of authentication. This can differ between devices, but if it hasn’t been altered, can often be found both in the user’s manual or via the Internet.

Sometimes, however, these addresses may not work. If your techie decided to be creative, or needed to be for further networking purposes, you might have a different gateway address. Although finding this address differs from operating system to operating system, the following links may prove useful:

(Please note: XMission does not endorse and cannot be held responsible for external links.)

For Windows users: http://pcsupport.about.com/od/tipstricks/f/default-gateway-ip-address.htm

For Mac users: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_do_I_find_my_Gateway_address_on_my_MAC

If you find you cannot connect via a browser to your gateway address, or it isn’t showing up in your networking properties, or you cannot ping it (for more information, see http://compnetworking.about.com/od/workingwithipaddresses/ss/how-to-ping-the-ip-address-of-a-computer.htm ), your device likely has no connection, wireless or wired, to your modem or router. And while this is definitely problematic for your device reaching the Internet, it is not necessarily a problem with your Internet connection. Any more so than, say, the power company being responsible for a microwave not being plugged in.

Wireless connections can be especially difficult to troubleshoot, as many things can interfere with the wireless signal (including the aforementioned microwave). If a hard-wired connection seems reliable, but wireless connections do not, it’s relatively safe to assume there’s some other wireless interference.

Thankfully, most wireless devices (via the web interface mentioned above), offer different channels (or frequencies) to operate on. Often times, with a bit of patience and tinkering, you can find a channel that has little to no interference for your internal wireless network.

The Core Problem

Troubleshooting can be difficult. As can be diagnosing an illness. And while I by no means intend to compare technical support to the practice of medicine, it is nonetheless important to identify the problem and not simply treat on the symptom(s).

So the last, and often most inconvenient, step to discover if your internal network, device, or actual Internet has problems is simply to connect a best-guessed-to-be-functioning-correctly-computer directly to whatever device supplies your Internet. This can, depending on your household, require some shuffling and juggling of cables and equipment. But, like those ruthless tests doctors run, it’s important to identify if the problem is external of your network. Often times, simply by bypassing any routers, switches, and/or eliminating frequency interference – or even a combination of differing connections – one can discover a faulty adapter, router, or cable.

In Conclusion

If you’re tired of being revered as the technical genius at home, the best thing you can do is help the people in your home understand how you’re fixing the problem – not just that you’re able to fix it. There may be times when you’re not around, and helping them feel a little less afraid of their technology is a step in the right direction.

Being cautious is of course important, but “knowledge is power” and, in this day and age, cables and mouse clicks can bring an abundance of both.

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