I hate Ethernet, and it hates me

This is the story of my adventure installing the Comcast Wireless Gateway 1 (TG862G) modem.  A modem (modulator-demodulator) is a thingie that helps computers talk to each other over a telephone line. My first modem was a 150-bps acoustical modem—a low box with two rubber cups in its top, into which I placed the handset of my circa-1981 telephone. The computer would send some bits to the modem, which translated them into a squealing noise and sent it up the line; and the computer at the other end would squeal back. Of course I’d already progressed way beyond this technology before I started my TG862G adventure. I now have a cable connection that includes high-speed Internet and landline phone service.

Acquisition

This adventure started when I called Comcast for help with a connectivity problem. The solution involved resetting my Apple Airport Express router even tho it showed a green status light. Comcast’s tech support suggested I replace my phone-modem with one that has a built-in wireless router, saying that it would be more stable and make any future problems easier to solve. It’s also capable of twice the speed, for an additional $5 a month; but I’m content with my current speed, so I declined that offer. Comcast wanted $15 to ship me the modem; or I could pick it up for free. I decided to go get it.

The fellow behind the counter was very encouraging. “Just plug in the power, co-ax and your phone, call this number, and they’ll send the modem a startup signal. Easy!” I’ve been around this bend before and I didn’t think it was going to be that easy; but I used to work in IT (in application development, not with hardware or networks); so I was game for whatever challenges I’d signed up for.

When I got home I got hit with the first challenge right away; my new modem didn’t come with installation instructions. I had four pieces of paper:

  1. An invoice thingie with the activation phone number
  2. A Quick Start Guide that only tells how to connect to the default wireless LAN
  3. An advertisement for Xfinity Home
  4. A sticker reminding me to give the fellow behind the counter a high rating when Comcast calls for the customer satisfaction survey

Preparation

I figured I’d just do what the fellow behind the counter told me to do and see what happened. But, first I wanted to download any related documentation so that, if things went awry, I could read what to do to fix them.

My first concern was that I didn’t want to change my Wi-Fi network name or password.  That would require me to “teach” the connection to two computers and two iPads, half of which were Pat’s; and she was bound to grumble about the change.  The Quick Start Guide told me to make a note of the already-configured Wi-Fi name and password, and explained how to change the password—but not the name. So I googled the User Guide, http://www.arrisi.com/support/documentation/user_guides/_docs/TG862G-CT_User_Guide_Standard1-0.pdf

This document didn’t answer my question. Apparently Comcast doesn’t expect its customers to want control over the names of their networks.

Next I googled for the answer to my specific question. I found a short HTML document here, http://arrisi.force.com/consumers/articles/General_FAQs/TG862G-NA-Changing-the-Wireless-Network-Name-SSID/?l=en_US&fs=RelatedArticle

I looked it over; this looked like stuff I could do. Other preparations:

  • A sketch of all of the wired connections of my current modem and router, so I could fall back to the old setup if things went south.
  • A sketch of how I would connect the new combination modem/router (the User Guide calls it a “telephony gateway”).

Installation

I shut down the computers. Then I unplugged the router and unplugged all its thingies. Then I unplugged the modem. At this point, my landline phone rang. I was a bit rattled because I was holding the plug in my other hand; but I remembered that the modem has a battery. I dealt with the call and finished detaching the old modem.

I hooked up the new “telephony gateway,” and (on my cellphone) called the number for the startup signal. A voicemail system answered the call; happily, it responded to voice input, and it understood me. Unhappily, it determined that I didn’t have digital voice service (wrong!). It connected me to a human. I asked her if she was in India. Shyly she admitted that she was in the Philippines. This wasn’t a problem; she was technically savvy, her English was excellent, and the connection was good. I also learned that the Philippines includes over 7,000 islands–intriguing to a sea-kayaker.

She did some stuff on her end and sent the signal. I reported which lights were coming on (unlike the old modem, the new one has large, well-labeled indicators). When the telephone lights wouldn’t come on, she had me check that the telephone cable was tightly seated. When that didn’t help, she had me move it from port 1 to port 2 on the modem. For some reason, this did the trick; one by one, all the lights came on. We tested the phone and we were done before I could find out any more about the Philippines.

Proceeding on my own, I was able to connect to the Wi-Fi right away with an iPad, despite its ungodly-long default password. When I started up my iMac (OSX 10.7.5), I was able to find the Wi-Fi and join it; but the connection didn’t work.

OSX interrupts itself with news about the new network while I'm trying to set it up.

OSX interrupts itself with news about the new network while I’m trying to set it up.

Restarting the iMac somehow fixed it.

Ethernet

The instructions for renaming the Wi-Fi network recommend working over a wired Ethernet connection, which makes sense; renaming the connection that you’re using to rename it feels eerily recursive. Besides, ether is an anesthetic; so this should be painless, right?

Back when I was setting up the modem, I plugged the Ethernet cable that came with the new modem between the modem and my iMac. Now it was time to see if I could get that connection to work.

On the iMac, I turned off Wi-Fi to force it to use Ethernet. It showed that Ethernet was already connected. “That was easy!” I thought.

That was easy!  Uh-oh ...

That was easy! Uh-oh …

I looked at a couple of web pages before I realized that they’d been cached and the connection was actually broken. I tried diagnosing the problem. OSX told me to restart the “device;” I reset the modem, but it didn’t help. Then I restarted the iMac; that didn’t help either.

Following the Comcast User Guide, I tried dinking with the Ethernet DHCP TCP-IP network settings. The screen-prints in the Comcast guide for OSX are totally different from what my somewhat elderly Lion OSX showed me. I groped my way to the “Renew lease” button (what on earth does that do?) and clicked it. It didn’t help.

How much does this lease cost?  Suppose it has three houses on it?

How much does this lease cost? Suppose it has three houses on it?

Should I call Apple tech support and have them nag me to update OSX? Or should I call Comcast tech support and have them tell me it’s an Apple problem? At this point, Pat came home and I explained what I was trying to do. “Why?” she asked.

“Because I thought you’d want the Wi-Fi to have a familiar name.”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” she said. “I’ll just use the new name.”

Just use Wi-Fi!  You know you want to.

Just use Wi-Fi! You know you want to.

Who, I was left wondering, really needed a familiar name here? But, never mind that question. Problem solved! I’ve always hated Ethernet; now I don’t have to muck with it. If you were hoping for Ethernet guidance here, I’m sorry to let you down. The path of least resistance was just too tempting.

I logged onto the modem as user admin, following the Quick Start instructions. I changed the Wi-Fi password to the one we had before, just to retain something comfortingly familiar. The moment I saved the change, the web browser bogged down.

After a couple of minutes, I suspected the connection had been broken by my password change. I looked in Networks and sure enough, the Wi-Fi status had gone from green to yellow. I turned Wi-Fi off and on, found the network and joined it again, supplying the new password. Success!

What’s next

Okay, there’s one more thing I should do here; disconnect the useless Ethernet cable and throw it away. But it’s such a pretty cable (yellow) and it’s seven feet long. There’ve been times when I paid good money for a cable like this. Oh, this is going to be hard. I may need a nanosecond or two to work up the nerve to chuck it.

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