Installing Orbi Wifi Mesh broke my Sonos
07 December 2022
I listen to my music using a wired set of Sonos One speakers. Last week I upgraded my wifi by installing a Netgear Orbi Wifi Mesh. After doing this my Sonos system no longer worked properly. After much hunting I managed to find the problem, and it was a simple fix. So I thought I'd share my story in case others run into a similar problem.
I've been very happy with my Sonos system, it delivers music around the house, with only occasional problems. My setup is five Sonos One speakers, arranged into three zones. I've set it up as a wired system, meaning that one of the speakers is wired into the network with a cable. When Sonos is set up like this, the speakers create their own wifi network, independent of any other wifi network in the building. They use a custom protocol for this, one that apparently better suits music streaming. It also doesn't fight for bandwidth with the main wifi. Almost all the music I play is bought, stored on my house Ubuntu server, which uses samba to make it available to the Sonos.
My wifi was a 2012 vintage apple airport express. It too has worked well, but recent changes led to a couple of areas of difficult reception. Looking around the internet, I found good reviews for the Netgear Orbi system, so I picked one up.
The initial installation went fine. I powered down the airport express, and installed the Orbi using the same network name and password. Various devices in the house communicated fine with the new network. Trouble reared its head when I went downstairs for a whiskey and tried to put on some music. The Sonos players could not find my music on the server any more.
I went back upstairs to my office and played around with the system, using the primary troubleshooting method of any electrical systems specialist - switching everything off and on. This fixed the problem, the Sonos app on my laptop (which is really a desktop since its wired into the network and a big screen) showed me the whole system, my music, and gladly played things. Back down to my comfy chair and Ledaig.
But now I ran into another problem to keep me away from the wee dram. The Sonos app on my iPhone couldn't see any of my Sonos speakers. Instead I got a message saying it couldn't find my system "let's fix it". Their fixing suggestions resulted in much more power cycling and pressing of buttons - but nothing worked. I could control and play music normally from my desktop, but my other devices were blind. I don't want to have to go upstairs whenever I want to control my music, and this is not tenable for my wife. I hypothesized that there was some cache on the ios apps that holding onto the old wifi somehow, maybe being too clever and thus confused by a different device even though the network name was the same. But by now it was late at night and I was stuck in that bind where I can't sleep for thinking about the problem, but my tired brain was more likely to make mistakes than progress.
When I returned to the problem the following day, I didn't have any new ideas, but I tried some things to gather more information. One of these led to the breakthrough. Following the "it's a cache" hypothesis I tried to install the Sonos controller software on a fresh device, this time an old laptop. It failed to see the speakers, thus pouring cold water on the shaky cache idea. But while I was doing this I looked at the network connection and saw the laptop had an IP address of 10.0.0.8. This was significant, IP addresses on my home network are given by my router that runs DHCP, which hands out IP addresses in the 192.168.1 range. I did a bit of pinging and found this laptop could ping my server and my speakers, but my server couldn't ping the laptop.
The situation was settled by googling "Orbi dhcp". I discovered that typically the Orbi is configured in router mode, where the orbi runs its own DHCP server . Since I already have a router I needed to change the orbi over to access point mode. The procedure for doing so was finicky: involving an extra network cable, logging into the orbi as admin, and the always scary "advanced settings" tab. But I found that Netgear had some clear instructions. Once my Orbi restarted in access point mode, everything worked.
1: I may have missed something when I was installing the Orbi, or it may default to router mode.