AMITIAE - Sunday 11 March 2012

Synchronizing the iPad and iPhone: Another True Story

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By Graham K. Rogers



Since the update to iOS 5.0 some months ago, I had been revelling in the ability to synchronise my iOS devices over wifi. The USB cables began to gather dust. I was able to enjoy this feature at home, at my office, and at a friend's apartment when I moved there during the flooding late last year. When I moved to new accommodation, I arranged for an internet connection. Since its arrival, the wifi syncing has been lost to me, although it still works at the other locations. I finally phoned True for help to solve this problem which I identified as being related to ports.


After a week -- a full 7 days -- I finally had a call back from the True technician concerning my lack of synchronisation between iPad and Mac and iPhone and Mac. When I had called last Sunday, the person I was speaking to was unable to help, so told me that the query would be passed on for some higher technical assistance. This week we had a three-way conversation between the operator, myself and a technician who did not speak English. Both of the True personnel were polite and patient.

My initial task was pretty much to explain the problem again. I am still not sure that they have it. It is not and never has been a problem of connecting the devices to the internet. It is inter-connection over the wifi LAN.

The devices are seen by iTunes, but cannot synchronise. The same occurs with applications that need to work between the computer and the iOS device, such as iStat on the iPad and iPhone. These require specific ports to be open on the router. As I could do this with no problem at my other house with the Apple Airport Extreme router, and I can do it at a friend's home and at my office, just by walking through the door. This suggests that the missing link is here: with the Zyxel router that True had provided.


Zyxel Router The first thing the technical support asked me to do was to open a web page using an iP number. When the page loaded I was asked for a key number. When I asked, it was confirmed that the technician wanted remote access to my computer. Not under any circumstances. No, nada, no way, absolutely not. No one gets inside my computers.

Plan B. The DNS numbers were reset and something happened once, but failed subsequently. The modem was restarted, but we had to wait as there was initially no service. Removing and replacing the phone line brought it back. Then I was asked to use Forget this Network on the iPad and also to remove and re-enter the wifi settings on the Mac (just as well I had the password handy). DNS numbers were entered into the router and are now entered automatically on Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Still we were no nearer as the technical staff had ignored the core problem: not external connections, but connections between devices and software that require access to specific ports (not Ethernet ports as the technician suggested at one point). A problem that customers often find in Thailand when dealing with technical problems is the apparent belief that the user cannot possibly know.

Solution and Comment

Despite the politeness and patience of the staff, I stopped the help call when I was asked to reset the modem. That would have needed me to enter all passwords and WEP-key numbers for all devices and trust that it would work first time. I work at home on Sundays, preparing for my classes during the week and cannot risk the loss of internet connections while technical staff try out possible solutions apparently at random.

True have delivered me (and thousands of others) a device that is not able to access some important features available only via wifi and which Apple is expanding use of. Some features work, for example the new beaming between devices with the iPhoto app for iOS devices which uses the zero configuration "Bonjour"; or Photo Stream which accesses the external iCloud servers. Some which need access to those specific ports may not, such as iStat (port 5109): router roulette.

The wifi settings for the router showed that application filtering is not active on the Firewall and that certain specific programs like MSN are "allowed", but there was still blocking of several ports that I need.

I thought I was back to square 1: the devices appeared in the iTunes sidebar, but trying to synchronise failed as they were not visible to the computer. The required ports were not open.

I went and had a late shower. When I came back, full of ideas about restarting the Mac and connecting the Airport Extreme router to one of the Zyxel Ethernet ports, I tried one more time with the iPhone which was showing in the iTunes sidebar. It worked. And then it failed when I tried again. The iPad did not work at all. I was mystified, especially with the new intermittent behaviour. It may be that a change in router settings allow a one-time access then the device is blocked again.

Airport Extreme Router

The solution, and proof that the problem lies within the router that True has provided, was digging out my Airport Extreme Router and connecting that to one of the Ethernet ports. Despite having not been used for about 5 months, it was online immediately and I now have two wi-fi connections available here.

I connected the Mac to the Airport Extreme network. It had kept the password information, but I had to re-enter the details for both the iPad and the iPhone (which is new anyway). Both devices appeared in the iTunes sidebar right away. The iPad was synced first, followed by the iPhone. Syncing from the iPhone or iPad (in Settings > General > iTunes Wi-Fi Sync) was also problem-free. Likewise, a check with apps that need to connect via a port, like iStat and Documents to Go, gave me instant access.

I rest my case.

As True are the main agent in Thailand for the iPhone and the iPad, it would be a good idea if they were to deliver a fully working device to their customers: out of the box.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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