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The internet isn't working. How do you go about fixing it?

This is a problem some of you might have faced. You’re sat down in front of the TV, trying to stream a film, and it won’t get past buffering.

You might try turning your TV off and on again, or you might check to see if the Internet works on your phone. You might get up and check the lights on your router, maybe even play with the cables behind it.

Fixing problems with the Internet can be hard. Is it a problem with the TV (or other device), your router or with your Internet connection? We want to build something that takes the guessing out of knowing where the problem is, gives you an idea of what to do next and even tell you who to call to get the problem fixed.

We’ve made a prototype of what this might look like. We want to find out if this is something that interests the CHOICE community and if what we’re prototyping makes sense to people. What you see in the prototype could be a service on your router, or an independent product for network testing.

Here’s a link to the prototype: https://new-things-problem-finder.projectsbyif.com.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve had this problem before. Tell me what you usually try to sort it out. Take a look at the prototype, and let me know if you’d find something like this useful. I’d particularly like to know if you find the design intuitive, and if the kind of information you find in it would be useful.

Thanks,

Ian

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We know exactly why our devices can’t connect from time to time. The useless modem/router supplied by Telstra likes to pick random devices and deny them Internet access from time to time. The only fix is to restart it whenever it gets finicky about who’s using it. Being on the NBN, we need to use the Telstra modem in order to use the landline phone and we haven’t been able to find any working third party alternatives for the thing.

Does anyone find it ironic that a system designed to check why your Internet connection isn’t working is delivered over the Internet?

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@Fred: Good point. This would live on something either embedded in a router or an independent device.

Is your goal freeware, licensing to vendors, a commercial product, or what?

An interesting concept.

I would only be useful if it was significantly more intelligent and complex than just doing basic checks I could do myself straight off the bat.

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@TheBBG This research is part of a collaboration with the New Things team at CHOICE, so we’re exploring this as part of an offering by a consumer rights organisation.

Thanks for your feedback @meltam.

We’re exploring this as a small bit of functionality of a router or network monitoring product that has wider features that give people a better understanding of their home network.

I’m interested in understanding how something like this could be more useful. Beyond the basic checks, what kind of functionality would be interesting to you?

After 40 years in ICT doing everything from the proverbial toilets through senior management I admit to being jaded, cynical, and more technical than most. I like to ask the “embarrassing questions.”

If you approached me as an executive to add your tool to my product I would ask you about licensing, who would be supporting it into the future, and what value added it brings for my customers in return for the effort my company would apply to integrate and test it in my products now and into the future.

If it is freeware who will “own” and fund ongoing maintenance and development and how will it be distributed? What is the definition of success to keep such a product/project going?

Is it just another “network analysis tool” replicating those available for free or for cost or does it have unique value added features? What is the differentiator and why would I choose yours?

As was noted if you are not on the net it has to be self contained. Supported platform(s)? Android? IOS? Windows? linux? or html, java, etc and what browsers, as applicable? How about product maintenance into the future? If it tells you who to call for help who is that in a practical sense?

I might ask why the tool wasn’t better the responsibility of google (Android), Apple (IOS), Microsoft (Windows), “the community” (linux), and LG, Samsung, Sony, Topfield, Humax, Hisense, Panasonic, …, …, ad nauseum, for the media and entertainment devices, as I had no control over their operations or quality, and providing bad information is worse than no information because I would be held responsible by my customers.

Rather than start with a tool that might or might not be useful, did you start with a hard look at the business case, analysis of need, sustainability, and similar products in the market? You may have done all of that but from your introductory post it is not obvious to me. Is it a build it and they will come?

I hope this has been taken as food for thought and while I asked questions I tried not to steer answers.

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I’d be looking for a network map of what is connected this side of the router, the router and the connection on the outside (with IP addresses). This would tell me what is and isn’t connected in the home/office.

I’d want connection speed measurements such as from www.speedtest.net, so I know whether the stuttering is due to loading outside my control.

I’d be looking for line quality (signal to noise ratios) on the connection to the local exchange. This would tell me whether the poor connection is internal or is it because of the copper outside.

etc.

What a good idea. Could you ask Questions on this site. I think it would be very beneficial to the aged who are not so literate when it comes to modern technology.

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Thanks @tinmartin. Interacting with something using conversational language is something we’ve been exploring too

I am no IT expert but did someone mention the WIFI connection as the TV might be situated too far away from the WIFI transmitter and you get only sporadic reception. The WIFI extender recommended by Choice worked a treat for me and a friend who had the same problem.

I suggest that there is a very easy first step; the same that you will hear if you ring up your employer’s IT Support Desk. “Have you turned it off and back on?” This is the first thing they go for as it solves 90% of calls. While the IT Support people are talking about your PC, in this instance you want to reboot your modem/router. Turn it off, wait 30 seconds, turn it back on.

After you have done that you might start looking at what is happening on your local network and if it is talking to the outside. For instance, is that IOT lightbulb sending a lot of data to some weird web address in Khazakstan? Turn it off! And no, don’t turn it back on until the basic security problems affecting all IOT devices are sorted out a little - at the moment they are apparently all relatively easy to take control of, providing the hijacker with access to all your data and to another machine on their botnet. The only reason things are not worse is that hackers are fighting over who controls which lightbulb/thermostat/smartfridge.

If you don’t have crazy amounts of traffic on your intranet, you can see the internet, and it can see you back, can you see all your devices? Oops, we have just created a new requirement for your prototype. It needs to be a background process that knows what you have on your network. Worse - it needs to be able to tell you that device x has lost its connection… at which point you can say:

  1. “Yep, you won’t see that again”;
  2. “My fault. You’ll see it in a day or two”;
  3. “That’s because it’s plugged into device y, that you’re also saying is missing”; or
  4. “EEK?”

(There are likely to be a few more options in this interaction regarding a missing device.)

The other thing this background program will need to do is alert you when new hardware comes onto your network. It should prompt you to give the new hardware a meaningful name, and also want to know:

  1. “Is this thing permanent?”
  2. “What is it supposed to do?”
  3. “Do you want me to panic if I see it doing {sending more traffic than a light bulb should}, {trying to open ports on your router}, {other activities from which a well-trained webcam should refrain}?”

Again, this is a short list of options that should probably grow.

To summarise, I think that the idea of checking why ‘stuff isn’t happening’, in a user-friendly manner, is A Good Thing™. I suggest it needs to be running on a device with which you can easily interact (PC/tablet/phone), as a background service that routinely polls the environment to make sure everything is cool and froody. The service will need to be given information about the devices on your network, and given this model you wouldn’t actually be asking “Why can’t I get my Netmix fix!”, as you will already have been told that the signal from your router is not reliable enough to supply the 4K signal you have been demanding with that fancypants new Kony (the one and only) 4K TV, and you need a midpoint amplifier for your WiFi (or rather, once the software gets to version 3 or so, “your new TV and I have consulted, and decided that you must install an ethernet connection between us. Sorry, but you will not be able to get your girlfriend that ring you saw on Hill Camel Jewelers (.com.au) - I suggest postponing the engagement for a year or two given your network’s other requirements (see 48 page printout)”.

Please feel free to tell me if I am over-engineering what you want, but I suggest that the solution use plain language (no IPs, names for all your devices etc.), require no additional hardware, and logically the things it would do should be able to solve network problems pre-emptively.

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P.S. is this related to IFTTT, perchance? I see the linked website is https://projectsbyif.com, and automatically think of those guys. This kind of project certainly fits within the IFTTT view of the world.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the prototype @postulative.

We’ve been doing some in-person research with people here in London, and something they wanted to see was some initial things they could do to resolve the problem themselves. I agree that probably the first thing to do would be to cycle the power on the product.

Interesting that you’ve mentioned dodgy IoT products. That’s something we’re definitely exploring in this research project, the idea of making the information about what these products are doing in the background more visible.

We’re iterating on the network map we’ve started in this prototype. I think there’s something useful in modifying the design of it to give people a quick reference to the state of their network.

A final point, we’re not affiliated with IFTTT, but please do check out our website to find out more about the other things we’ve been working on.

The Mirai Malware that created such damaging attacks on the web is still active. See the following articles for more about the Mirai threat and similar. Disclaimer: one of the articles is from Bitdefender and will include advertising but the information is still valuable.

https://krebsonsecurity.com/tag/mirai-botnet/

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Activity - and here I was thinking @TheBBG had scared everyone away with quite a comprehensive response that appeared to be completely ignored !!

After all, who has problems with their internet connection? :wink:

Just for fun I tried the link in the original post - Is this supposed to be a real test of some kind?

I can see it getting confusing for the Kettles when if they are told a page loads but their router might be broken.

AusConnect?

I guess I missed this followup …

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Maybe a mandatory course in Network Engineering should be added by 7th year? It would be easier when everyone understood networks after a few generations of students got satisfactory marks :smiley:

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