by Bill Nguyen
Wireless Internet access in the home is an ever-evolving entity with new technologies, tools and applications. As consumers become more dependent on Wi-Fi for use with laptops, iPods and iPads, smartphones, home theater PCs and everything in between, the need for stable wireless connectivity in the home becomes even more important.
Providers of wireless products and technology are responding with solutions that deliver a faster connection with less interference, but there are simple things installers (or consumers) can do to optimize the wireless experience without much effort. Some are completely obvious, but to a person dabbling in wireless connectivity for the first time, it’s helpful to know everything that can be done.
1. Position is key—The closer a wireless router, wireless access point (WAM), or wireless modem router is to the computing device, the better a connection will be, not too complicated. When practical, place a wireless router, modem router or access point in a position where it will be closer to the wireless devices. If a router or access point is near the outer wall of the house, the wireless connection will be further away from wireless devices, so try keeping it closer to the inner walls of the room it’s located in. If a router/access point is on one floor of the house and a laptop is typically used on the floor above, try putting the router/access point on a high shelf.
2. Avoid devices with the same frequency— 802.11g runs on a 2.4 gigahertz frequency and is the most common wireless protocol. However, 2.4 GHz is also used for things like cordless phones, microwaves and baby monitors, all of which can interfere with your wireless network connection. Try to use appliances that run on different frequencies, such as cordless phones that run on 5.8 GHz or 900 megahertz.
3. Stay away from metal objects and floors—Walls, floors and metal objects can all interfere with wireless connectivity. If possible, avoid putting routers/access points on the floor or on top of a filing cabinet. A shelf or computer desk is a much safer bet for optimum connectivity.
4. Be brand consistent—Wireless products from the same vendor are designed to provide the best connection when used together. While it’s certainly possible to get a router from Brand A to work with a wireless network adapter from Brand B, some products will actually see double the performance when paired with the same brand of product.
5. Upgrade the router antenna—Upgrading the antenna on a router can significantly boost wireless reception quality. Chances are, the included antenna is omnidirectional, meaning it broadcasts in all directions around the router, so if the router is placed near a wall, some of that broadcast is being wasted. Consider upgrading to a high-gain antenna, which points its wireless signal in one direction. This allows the router to be aimed towards the area where wireless devices are used most, providing optimum reception.
6. Take advantage of updates—Manufacturers of routers routinely offer free updates for their routers, which often improve speed and connection for wireless. Visit the manufacturer’s website to see when these updates are available.
7. Change wireless channels—Wireless routers broadcast on channels 1, 6 and 11 in the U.S. and Canada. If there’s a bad connection on one channel, try one of the others until the best connection is established. It works on the same principle as radio channels: while one station may come in crystal clear, another might not have as clear a broadcast.
8. Stick to one access point—A surprise for some, installing a second wireless access point (WAP) can actually negatively affect a wireless connection. Rather than boosting connection quality, two overlapping channels can cause interference, roaming issues, and other problems that will only make the wireless connection worse. The best connection comes with a single WAP.
9. Add a wireless repeater—While more than one WAP can negatively impact the pursuit of a strong wireless connection, adding a wireless repeater can actually help. If wireless devices are being used far away from the router/WAP, placing a repeater midway between can help improve signal strength.
10. Upgrade networks—Not for everyone, this is the most expensive option, but also the most likely to get the best results. If using wireless-G (802.11g), the most common wireless network, consider upgrading to wireless-N (802.11n), which has twice the speed of G, stronger range and stability.
A slow or unreliable wireless connection in a home can be frustrating and even ruinous if it impacts a home office or the need for high-bandwidth productivity. Fortunately, there are steps to be taken that improve network performance and don’t require a degree in computer science or an IT background, just some careful positioning, smart shopping and minor tweaking.
Bill Nguyen is the senior marketing manager at IOGEAR, where he is instrumental in defining the company’s overall marketing strategy. Nguyen’s current focus is on building awareness for IOGEAR’s AVIOR Series, a comprehensive audio / video product suite that enables convergence through connectivity in today's digital homes, custom installs and specialty resellers.