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We have a Linksys WRT54G WiFi router in our office which was working great when we had 5-6 folks.
Now on peak days we have 10-15 people, each with a computer, smartphone, etc, and an ooma VOIP device. On average 1-2 times a day I need to go hard reboot the router, and sometimes the border router (Cox-supplied device).

I assume this is just because the router cant handle this many concurrent users.

So my question is can these consumer routers handle this kind of load? If not, would adding more devices solve the problem, and how close proximity can I put 2 routers without having interference problems (our office area is not that big physically)?

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@Joelio What kind of router is Cox supplying you? Or are you referring to the cable modem itself? (in either case you shouldn't be needing to reset the edge device -- that's symptomatic of a bigger issue...) –  voretaq7 Jun 8 '12 at 19:51
    
Why do you have to reboot the router? What problem do you have? Can machines still reach the router? Can the machines reach each other? Does the Wifi network disappear? –  David Schwartz Jun 9 '12 at 2:10
    
Cox is just supplying the cable modem, I dont know why I need to reboot it, I guess I should call them, but it only happens after my wifi goes bezerk.. –  Joelio Jun 9 '12 at 13:07

4 Answers 4

The problem with "consumer"/"home" routers is that they seem to go out of their way to make it hard to troubleshoot things, and the manufacturers seem to have no concept of the fact that "Oh just unplug it for a minute and plug it back in" is really NOT an acceptable solution to problems.

That said, there's really no physical reason why a WRT54G series router couldn't handle your average small office environment from a purely hardware standpoint -- your problems are likely tied up in the all-in-one software that ships on these devices.

Adding more routers (probably) won't help: Unless your routers can't physically manage coverage and you have signal dead zones adding more units will just add to the WiFi noise and slow things down.

Trying alternative firmware is also an option, but you won't get any support from your vendors if you do that, which is a consequence you'll need to weigh carefully (along with your budget).


My usual recommendation for someone in your situation is to get away from the all-in-one consumer hardware and invest in a properly separated infrastructure:

  1. Modem device (which may be incorporated in (2) below - like T1 WICs)
  2. Edge Router
  3. Firewall (sometimes incorporate into (2), but usually better separate)
  4. Ethernet switch(es) as needed
  5. Wireless Access Point(s) as needed

This costs a lot more than a cable modem and Linksys all-in-one unit (which often drives people to the alternative firmware route) but it gives you a much more flexible configuration, the ability to replace single components when they break, and most importantly vendor support if things don't work right.

Often you also have much better debugging capabilities: Pretty much every decent edge router, firewall, switch and WAP will have serial console capability, and you'll be able to plug in and look at error messages on the console (with the vendor) when things aren't working the way you expect.

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+1 for the alternate firmware. But I found on the linksys devices, if the connection count gets too high, they choke from a lack of what I assumed was processor power. I eventually gave up trying to bend them to my will. –  MikeAWood Jun 8 '12 at 20:24
    
what @mikeawood said. They're great for home or very small business use but choke on anything bigger. I swear the newer models have less capacity and reliability than older ones, too. –  RobM Jun 8 '12 at 20:51
    
It does seem that way. But I suspect is that we are asking them to handle much more traffic than we used to and we expect the devices to get cheaper despite this increased capacity need. –  MikeAWood Jun 8 '12 at 20:58
    
Thanks, I am going to give this a try, I talked to linksys and they say it only supports 32 concurrent devices, with everyone connecting their computers and phones im sure we are blowing it out. –  Joelio Jun 8 '12 at 21:02
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@MikeAWood you mention connection count. I ran into the same problem on the same router. The router can only handle 512 concurrent TCP connections. With 10-15 active clients or one doing Peer-to-peer you can easily reach this maximum. Even with DD-WRT, the limit is 512 so I'm not sure that flashing firmware will help. I ended up installing an infrastructure. Cisco router running DHCP and APs. –  Paul Ackerman Jul 13 '12 at 12:25

I had 4 WAP54G (the non router version of the same Linksys models). We provide unsecured internet access to clients and visitors to our facilities. I found that they can easily so 20-30 connected devices assuming everyone plays nicely. If one of the users decides to jump on a busy torrent, it can and often rendered the Wireless Access Point useless. Since my facility is rather large (250k sqft), one simple way to combat the occasional lockup was to put a digital appliance timer on it and have it turn off for one minute in the middle of the night. This would keep the phone calls down to a minimum on monday morning at 6am saying the wireless was down. Now this wasn't an elegant solution, but it worked to get around the problem of the locked up WAP54G. I had even retired the WAP54G and replaced them with WAP4410N which is a much beefier WAP. They suffered from the same issues that the less expensive WAP54G did.

I have since retired all standalone devices and went to SonicPointNs. This gives me a more manageable solution and lets our Sonicwall manage the traffic to keep the units from being overwhelmed. Another side effect of going to enterprise calss devices is that they give you the ability to scan the spectrum and intelligently make channel changes. I actually discovered that several of my users had enabled internet sharing via wifi on their macs. These showed up as channel congestion and I was able to shut them off and give the users a much better expereience. With 7 APs in a relateively small area, you have to think more intelligently about which AP is using which channel. (Channel management is something people often forget about when setting WiFi up. I went home and discovered I had been suffering from the same problem at home. All the FIOS routers in the neighborhood were on the same channel and causing channel congestion.

So my simple answer is yes they can handle more users than you have, but only sometimes depending on the conditions. If you need to rely on it as part of your infrastructure, you'll need enterprise class devices that offer you more way to make sure you can reign in those bandwidth hungry users.

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Using the hardware you have, you can do the following: - upgrade the routers with alternative systems; I would suggest dd-wrt (http://www.dd-wrt.com/site/support/router-database) or open wrt. Of course take notice of your current configuration first and make a backup (usually under administration tab). This way you can improve performance and stability issuse.

  • Of course, a SOHO router like wrt54gl can only do so much. You can use more than one router for wifi coverage. The usual best practice is to use up to three Wifi networks on different channels/frequencies in the same area. The frequencies should be at least 5 channels apart in order to prevent interference (e.g. you can use channels 1, 6 and 11). Thus you can improve performance up to 3x.

  • You can setup an automatic router reboots to prevent longterm instabilities, e.g. every day at 2am.

  • Other solutions include hw upgrades with more recent equipment. In the SOHO class I would suggest a very capable (and cheap) routers/AP from Mikrotik (http://www.mikrotik.com/), e.g. RB751G-2HnD. They are cheap but surprisingly powerful. However, they are also quite complicated to setup.

  • Next step is a professional WiFi networking equipment, like Cisco or Ruckus.

Hope, this helps.-

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When it comes to wireless kit, you get what you pay for. A Cisco WAP will run you $500ish but you should never have to reboot it ever. I managed a wireless network that had over 500 Cisco WAPs and they only time they ever rebooted was for firmware updates. They were able to handle 50-100 concurrent connections without breaking a sweat. Your 15 users with 2-3 devices each are nearing the 40-50 device mark where home-targetted equipment starts to break down.

If you care about network reliability and performance, pay for enterprise grade equipment. If you don't mind unplugging and rebooting gear all of the time, then a $40 off the shelf router/WAP combo will be fine.

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