Remember the days when most homes had a single computer, connected to the Internet with a phone line running directly to its modem?
Today, the average home might have a couple of desktops, a laptop or two, a tablet and several smartphones that are connecting to a home network through a router. Parks Associates, an international research firm, estimates that 78% of U.S. broadband households had a home network router in 2012, up from 54% in 2009.
With all this sophisticated connectivity, it's little wonder consumers encounter problems and frustrations with their home networks.
The signal keeps dropping out,” Jim, of Sodus, Mich., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “In order to get it to work I have to unplug the NETGEAR N900 Router that comes from the satellite box every 15 minutes to 2 hours.”
Jim also complains that the satellite Internet provider's tech support is of little to no help, a complaint echoed by Greggory, of Centerville, Ohio, who says AT&T Uverse was no help when he experienced network problems.
“Still have big problems with the computers at the far end of house, about 60 feet from the hot spot,” Greggory wrote. “I called AT&T customer service and a not so techy tech told me to move my computers closer to the hot spot. Move our office?”
Pearce, of Franklin, Va., blames his Century Link modem for his problems and he too is unhappy with the level of tech support he's received.
Just buy a new one
“I have spent at least 10 hours with technicians and it has never been fixed,” he writes. One tech said the best bet would be for me to go to a store and buy my own modem and router!”
Parks Associates says the increasing number of frustrated consumers shouldn't come as a surprise.
"Tablets, game consoles and smartphones have been incredibly popular, but the influx of connected devices adds new layers of complexity to the connected home," said Patrice Samuels, a research analyst at Parks Associates. "Approximately 35% of broadband households experience home networking problems when trying to sync devices and enable functions."
That's a lot of problems. But unfortunately hardware manufacturers and service providers are not staffed up to provide the support that consumers think they should receive. That creates problems for everyone.
Problems create opportunity
"In today's world, customer experience has become paramount to every business's success," said James Morehead, Vice President Product Management and Corporate Marketing, Support.com. "With the wide adoption of wireless networks and connected technology, and the challenges that they are causing for consumers, companies have an opportunity to take customer experience management to the next level through premium support."
Not surprisingly, Parks Associates research finds 68% of U.S. broadband households are interested in new technical support services. Over 70% of these consumers say they would expect this service to address all of their technical problems, highlighting the importance of a comprehensive support solution that covers all of the devices and services on the home network.
Many of the problems are not directly related to a piece of hardware or the Internet service. Instead, there's a glitch in the network configuration that's causing the problem. Tech support personnel are rarely equipped or have the time to help with a problem they don't think is directly related to their company.
Unfortunately, consumers are often left to fend for themselves, “Googling” the problem to see how others have dealt with it and reaching out to others on message boards.
Add a repeater
One simple way to deal with weak signals and overloaded routers is to add a repeater. An inexpensive unit like the Amped Wireless Repeater goes for less than $100 and is easy to set up.
If you have a large house, just position the Amped anywhere you can get a reasonably strong signal from your primary router. It should then provide a stronger signal -- a second network, basically -- in the area where the signal is currently weak.
Our editor and nitpicker in chief has a couple of these scattered around his house. They allow him to smoke cigars outside while enjoying a strong signal on his laptop, he tells us.
Also, adding a second router will give you a new bank of numbers. Without getting into the details and oversimplifying it rather dramatically, each device that's using your router -- and all the devices that used your router recently -- have set aside space for themselves in your network.
If your book club comes over and each person has a smartphone, iPad, Nook or Kindle in tow, each of those devices stakes a claim to an address on your network, even after your literary friends have driven off in their SUVs. Over time, this adds up and if you don't clean out your router and start over, you'll run into problems.
Instructions for cleaning house for your particular router should be readily available in the Support section of the manufacturer's website.