Thursday, June 13, 2024

Bringing Your Wireless Network Up to Speed

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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

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.

One way to make use of old routers is to use them as extra wireless access
points. You can run the old router out with a cable to a specific area that
needs coverage. This can help increase the overall range and/or performance of
your network. Plus it can prevent wireless g clients from connecting to the new
router, slowing down the network.

Just disable DHCP on the old router and
connect the Ethernet cable between the LAN ports of the routers. Consider
running the cable in the attic by drilling holes in the ceilings of closets or
running it in the basement or crawl space. Then you can connect to the old router
and be on the same network.

If you don’t want to do a cable run, you may be able to turn your old router
into a repeater by replacing its firmware (essentially its brains). See if
your router supports the DD-WRT, Tomato, or seavssoft replacement firmwares. If
you don’t want to bother with third-party firmware, you can buy a repeater or
range extender off of the shelf or online. Just keep in mind that users
connecting to the repeater would have much lower data rates or network speeds.

Use your power or cables lines to extend coverage

If you don’t want to run cables or sacrifice performance by using a repeater,
you can still extend your coverage using your existing cable or electrical lines. Powerline adapters, such as
those certified by HomePlug, plug right into regular electrical outlets to
transmit and receive data via the building’s power lines. Similar adapters also
exist for your TV cable outlets and are certified by Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA). Though using these two
technologies is more
expensive than buying a bundle of ethernet cable, they’re much easier to install.

You’ll need a basic adapter, which runs $40+ for powerline, to pump the network connection from the
router into the electrical or cable system. Then you’ll need one for each outlet where you want
a network connection. Instead of having to use a separate access point or
wireless router, you can buy an adapter with one built in for $70+.

Eric Geier
is an author of many computing and networking books, including Home Networking
All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (Wiley 2008) and 100 Things You Need to
Know about Microsoft Windows Vista (Que 2007).

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