Today I’m sharing my adventures with ongoing Wi-Fi issues with the Retina 13.3″ MacBook Pro (2015) and how, despite being the biggest lamer at Wi-Fi and networking you’ve ever met, I seem to have fixed the issue.
I purchased my MacBook pro in early February 2016, the device has been used predominantly at home, except for a 1 week hiatus at Cisco Live Europe with the Tech Field Day posse. The device had OS X « El Crapitan » installed at purchase time. Yes, this is my first Mac so apologies for any incorrect stuff down the line. I’m a sysadmin gone the virtualization way, not a network nor Wi-Fi engineer. Finally, I do work and have a family and kids to take care of, so this didn’t happen in a day or two, it’s been an infrequent, unorganized, circumvolved and clumsy attempt at resolving an issue. Currently, the device is on OS X 10.11.3.
Hard facts vs Subjective facts
First of all, the MBP has been performing absolutely flawlessly at Cisco Live Europe. Everybody can concur that Cisco had a top notch Wi-Fi implementation there. Most of my experience has been at home, therefore any results/interpretations are to be taken with a grain of salt. We live in an early 20th century brick building, a large apartment with thick walls and of course the main Wi-Fi modem is located in another room with approximately 8 meters distance from my desk to the modem. The signal has to travel through (or maybe bounce around) a thick half-meter wall, and I reckon that this is not ideal at all (plus not counting all the hidden cables, pipes etc I’ve no idea of).
The problem that I have experienced and has been frustrating to cosmic dimensions is a loss of internet connectivity -or rather- the inability to resolve hostnames properly. The Wi-Fi signal (tried on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) still kept up, pings were replied to (when pinging the gateway, which is incidentally an UPC Horizon box) but no DNS resolution seemed to work. Only disabling and re-enabling Wi-Fi fixed the problem. The other devices at home, namely: a ThinkPad T440, a DELL XPS L702x, three LG phones (G4, G3, Nexus 5) and two tablets (consumer grade Lenovo) never had any such issues.
Beginning of « The Troubles »
I did not had any problems until after installing additional products on my MBP. I use Sophos Home as an antivirus/protection solution and I am inclined to say that the problems started roughly at the same time as I installed this product. Temporary removal greatly reduced the amount of « drops ».
Until 15th of March, the connectivity in use was done through an older UPC modem that offered only 2.4 GHz connectivity. Around the 15th of March, my previous modem was replaced due to an unrelated service upgrade and I got offered a modem with 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz functionality. Switching to 5 GHz brought improvements in terms of responsiveness but the issues continued. Also, I have two TP-Link Power Line adapters at home (TL-WPA4220KIT + an additional TL-WPA4220) that help me extend my network.
Until 15th March, both adapters (located in different rooms) were configured to clone the modem Wi-Fi settings. After 15th March I left for some time the Power Line adapters unconfigured, using only the 5 GHz connectivity. The « drops » kept happening, no longer where I was located in the apartment. I also read online that having bluetooth enabled might cause troubles. I have a JBL Charge 2 bluetooth speaker and well, I can’t live without this thing. Disabling bluetooth may have had a temporary effect on the « drops » but this is pure speculation and perceived impressions maybe.
Prior resolution attempts
I’m not at all a Wi-Fi expert so many things were tried that will make experts cringe, among these:
– Deleting / Recreating the network and PLIST config files – temporarily worked
– A whole exercise of analyzing the signal strength, moving from room to room, testing 2.4 GHz vs 5 GHz, reconfiguring the Power Line APs – indeed performance proved better when hovering 1 m away from the UPC modem
– Uninstalling/Reinstalling Sophos – temporarily worked
– Switching to 2.4 GHz and leveraging the local Power Line AP in my room
– Bluetooth: all sorts of attempts disabling and enabling bluetooth – no consistent results
Going nuts and possible resolution (?)
Due to work, family life etc I’ve had to put resolution on hiatus, frustratingly disabling / enabling Wi-Fi several times an hour and considering if to vent or not on twitter about it. One thing was constant though, when using the alt+click on the Wi-Fi settings, Wi-Fi would always appear as connected, so I thought there’s maybe more to it.
Upon reading literature online, I decided to open a terminal window and keep running a ping against my UPC modem. Even when the DNS resolution wasn’t working, pings were up and running, no network drops were happening. I had read a very good Intel White Paper on USB 3.0 interference with Wi-Fi radio signal, but here again, no luck: I don’t use USB 3.0. I decided to switch back to 5 GHz and performance/responsiveness was suddenly improved.
Also, I had noticed that this morning for whatever reason, the AirPlay icon was showing up. I don’t use AirPlay, I don’t have any other iDevices at home. A check with ifconfig showed that both en0 (network) and awdl0 (AirPlay) interfaces were active. Upon additional reading, I saw that AirPlay leverages Wi-Fi connectivity and some boffins online had indicated that disabling AirPlay had greatly improved performance. So did I run the command below:
sudo ifconfig awdl0 down
As of now, AirPlay is disabled and I’m on 5 GHz. The connectivity has been stable for a few hours now which is, honestly and maybe surprisingly, a feat yet unheard of in these premises. Before making these two changes, a disable/enable would be required every 5 mins.
Let’s see what the future holds.