Daniel Schulz
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Mostly frontend, sometimes art

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A phone and a router being connected by a WiFi tether, which is about to be severed by a scissor

Adventures of a broken WiFi

One morning I woke up to a mobile plan limit warning. (In case you’re wondering, unlimited plans aren’t a thing in Germany) That’s never happened to me before. I don’t stream a lot of videos, I don’t play games, I don’t really do anything that uses excessive data. But still, there it was.

Then I noticed the absence of the WiFi icon. That explains it, I guess. I went into my network settings and tried connecting.

No internet connection, disabling.

Not good. I panic-opened my laptop to see what was going on, but WiFi worked just fine here. Internet connection and all.

I went into my router dashboard. Nothing unusual here either. Maybe just a hiccup?

  • I rebooted the phone. Nothing.
  • I rebooted the router. Nothing.
  • I reset the phone’s network settings. Nothing.
  • I assigned a new IP. Nothing.
  • I changed the SSID. Nothing.
  • I switched off 2.4 and 5 GHz respectively. Nothing.
  • I spoofed a new MAC address. Nothing.

Is the wifi chip broken? I tried connecting to another hotspot: works. What?

Time to google stuff. Apparently refusing to connect to one specific network is a thing that Sony phones do sometimes. I already tried most of the suggestions I found, to no avail. Only the dreaded factory reset remains. But I’m not going to wipe my phone just because it won’t connect to one network. I’m better than that. I think.

I find my first success by enabling the guest WiFi on my router. Phone to both network and internet. Fine, works for me. But what’s that warning message? Devices in a guest network won’t be able to communicate with each other? I try to ssh to a Raspberry Pi. Nope. I try to print something. Nope. Okay, that won’t do.

My router has a built-in VPN solution. Maybe, if I enable that and tunnel my phone from the guest WiFi to the main one? That idea sounds bad enough to just work. I had never enabled VPN on my phone. Doing that requires me to be in the Network. There’s no way to enable that from the router dashboard. My brain is already in dumb-idea mode, so it tells my hands to open the dreaded Drawer of Things (tm) and find an old USB-C hub with ethernet. If I can’t connect wirelessly to my network to enable VPN, maybe this will work? I draw a wire to the hub and connect it to the phone… No. Nothing at all. I start googling how to enable wired networking on a phone and one of the suggestions is to use a wireless bridge. Of course! My phone isn’t the only device that can share a network. I boot up the desktop and enable its WiFi card. I haven’t needed that thing since getting rid of my Miracast dongle. I set up a hotspot and connect my phone to it. And it works! I’m finally back in my own network! Not I enable VPN, disconnect from the desktop and connect to the guest WiFi again and… No. VPN is blocked in the guest network. And I don’t find an option to unblock that.

I don’t want my desktop to be always on just to act as a router. But the shared hotspot gave me an idea. I do have a device that has both a wired connection and a WiFi chip and is always online: the Raspberry Pi that I tried to ssh into earlier. I connect to it from my main machine and follow a tutorial to set it up as an Access Point.

And sure enough. I’m no longer a guest in my own network. I still can’t connect via VPN. Its the same behavior that connecting directly, which makes sense, I guess. Still, my phone gets to live another day without resetting.