Bringing Your Wireless Network Up to Speed

Boost your wireless network's speed using a number easy and affordable strategies.
Posted August 31, 2009

Eric Geier

Eric Geier

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It has been about 10 years since the first widely-accepted Wi-Fi products hit the shelves. Since then we've seen a steady increase in the speed of wireless networking gear, from 11 Mbps with wireless "b", to 54 Mbps with wireless "g", and 100+ Mbps with wireless "n".

Plus there's been other improvements, including the antenna technology called multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) used in most wireless n gear to help extend the range.

If you're using an old Wi-Fi standard, like b or g, you might be noticing your wireless getting slower, video streams getting choppy, and connections dropping. It probably doesn't mean your equipment is malfunctioning or actually getting slower. It just means that your old gear can't keep up with the newer, higher demanding, applications.

You or others in the home or office might be downloading files or music more frequently, be an avid YouTube watcher, an online gamer, or a regular Skpe or VoIP talker. You might not have done as much with your network back years ago when you installed it.

The simple fact of adding more computers or users on the network can also show the age in your wireless infrastructure.

Though it might take some money and time, you can bring your Wi-Fi network back up to speed. We'll discuss a few different solutions. But before you lay down any more money, we'll check to see if there's anything wrong with your current set up.

Checking your current system

First, ensure your wireless router is placed as close as possible in the middle of your intended coverage area. This might help boost the signal in areas you need it. You might even need to move your Internet modem to get in the sweet spot.

Next, make sure interference from nearby Wi-Fi routers or other electronic devices aren't messing with your network. You can use NetSumbler to check the channels. Make sure you are on an open non-overlapping channel of 1, 6, or 11. Then if you experience intermittent problems, pay attention to devices that can interfere, such as kitchen microwaves, cordless phones, baby monitors, and other radio devices that use or leak onto the 2.4GHz band.

Upgrading to wireless "n"

After you've determined design and interference aren't negatively affecting your network and you simply require better performance, you should consider upgrading to wireless n. This emerging wireless standard supports higher data rates--over twice that of wireless g. Plus most routers and adapters are equipped with two or three antennas, sporting the new MIMO technology that helps extend coverage. You'll need to reserve about $50 to $100 for a router and $30 to $70 for each computer/adapter.

When browsing the shelves or online, keep your eye on the differences between the products. For example, lower-end gear might not support MIMO and only higher-price products are dual-band. Remember, you don't have to upgrade all your computers; wireless n and g are compatible. But you should replace the adapters in the computers you use the most.

If you live in an apartment complex, townhouse, or other place where you'll have many neighboring Wi-Fi networks, consider going with dual-band wireless n gear. You can still support older adapters that only use 2.4GHz while making use of the less-crowded 5GHz band.

Don't throw away your old gear

If you do replace your equipment with wireless n, don't throw anything away. You can keep your old adapters in case you decide to bring another computer online. Plus as you'll see, your router can still serve other purposes.

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Tags: video, wireless, networking, VoIP, music

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