Fixing this household’s DNS problem

I’m very irritated at Netgear’s Orbi. I’m not sure if that irritation is directed to the right place, but it’s what I have.

For a long while now, our Android phones have had issues with various apps:

  • The Twitter app won’t load images or videos inline unless you let it sit for 30 seconds to a minute.
  • The Guardian app won’t show images unless you let it sit.
  • The Cronometer app starts with a blank screen for 30 seconds before fully loading.
  • The Google Play Store takes a Very Long Time to download and install new apps.

From what I can gather, there is some sort of DNS lookup that happens inside these apps that runs into some kind of issue with the Orbi’s built in dnsmasq service. I don’t see the issue on the laptop because I’m able to set my DNS servers to something that is not the router, an option not available on the phone.

I’ve tried to address this before, but I solved my most annoying pain point by switching to Twitter’s mobile website and deleting the app. The PWA doesn’t have any of the same issues loading images or videos. My other issues were apparently not annoying enough to make me do anything other than grumble.

Until today!

I received my replacement phone and went through the process of copying all of my data over. For some reason, Android likes to download all of the apps from the Google Play Store rather than just transferring them between phones. This left me with a phone that was completely setup except for 130 apps that needed installing.

After about an hour, I checked the phone and 17 apps had installed. Each one was apparently suffering from an issue I at this point assume must be related to the Orbi and its handling of DNS.

I grumbled louder. I dug out the trusty 8 year old Cisco (Linksys) E4200 that served us well for years before I replaced it with the Orbi to reach corners of the house the old one couldn’t. It has the same SSIDs assigned, so all I had to do was unplug the Orbi and plug in the Cisco.

My phone installed the remaining 123 apps in 30 minutes. 🤔

So now I definitely blame the Orbi. I have no idea why it would have such a problem, but it does. Normally I would order new electronics and replace the whole setup, but generating new electronic waste without good reason is a bummer.

My new plan: use the E4200 to provide the network—DNS, DHCP, routing—and the Orbi to provide the mesh as a pass-through access point. We have a weather monitor that has trouble as well, so I may even setup the 2.4ghz network on the Cisco and let the Orbi handle just the 5ghz.

Do you believe in magic? I think I might.

It took about 20 minutes, but I was able to juggle through a handful of setting SSIDs here and setting SSIDs there and made the swap. Now:

  • The Cisco is connected to the cable modem and serving DHCP and proper, good older router “here’s a DNS server to use”.
  • The 5ghz network on the Cisco is disabled.
  • The 2.4ghz network on the Cisco is enabled and the SSID I had previously assigned to the guest network on the Orbi is now there.
  • Our main SSID is broadcast by the Orbi and one satellite and is working as intended: 125mbps down in that far, far corner.
  • The guest network on the Orbi that I thought was on 2.4ghz before, but was really dual mixed whatever is now disabled. The side benefit of this is that our weather monitor (don’t buy a La Crosse) started working again! It’s been relying on a 2.4ghz network that apparently never properly existed.

All of this and all of our electronics through the house are just working. And everything on the phone is responding quickly as one would expect in the year 2020!

I feel like I performed open heart surgery on the house and succeeded. 😅

Time to go watch some basketball!

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