Improving your Wireless Network

April 1, 2011

Wireless networking is great because it provides untethered access to the internet and other devices but it can be problematic.

Perhaps the biggest problem we see is range; whereby the signal gets too weak the further away from the wireless router you are. This typically results in either poor performance or constant disconnections.

The other problem is signal saturation or congestion. This is where multiple pieces of equipment are all using the same channel and interference between the signals reduces performance.  And to compound this issue, it’s not just the equipment in your house you need to think about. Other equipment from neighbouring houses can spread into your house weakening the signal further.

Wireless networks work in a specific range. For instance, when you listen to the radio you need to tune into a specific channel. For instances, Heart FM can be found on 102.9. Computer wireless network are the same but there are only 14 channels. The router (or wireless device) is configured as the broadcaster and you (the PC) tune into it.

How can I check my wireless network?

There’s a great free tool called inSSIDer that lets you check your wireless network and how busy it is. From this extreme example you can see there are many network and you’ll notice that each sit within a specific channel.  If you look at Channel 11, you’ll notice that there are lots of different networks broadcasting. All of these mean extra traffic in that specific channel.

As well as other wireless networks, there is plenty of other equipment that operates within this same frequency range but is not picked up. Things like cordless telephones and believe it or not, microwave ovens. I’ve successfully resolved many wireless network problems using a specialist scanner that looks for interference within this wireless range that’s not picked up normally.

How Can I improve my Wireless Network?

There are many things that can be done to improve your wireless network signal these are just a few tips of extending and increasing your wireless network speed.

1. Change your wireless channel

As explained above, wireless network tune into channels. So using inSSIDER, identify the best channel for your network by picking one that does not have many (or any) other networks on it. Those of you with BT HomeHub please be aware that you typically have three wireless networks running. I personally switch two of them off as they are not needed unless you use the BT FON service.

Once you’ve identified a suitable channel, configure your wireless device to a better network channel. This is typically done by navigating  to your router in a web browser. Configuration varies on every device and there’s no space in this column to advise on each specific piece of equipment but if you do need a helping hand the contact details are below.

2. Move the equipment

If possible, move the equipment to a more central location. This is not always easy because of the need to connect it to the telephone socket but if possible, move it away from metal objects, like radiators, and move it to a higher location. Some routers allow you to mount them on the wall or simply put a small shelf up. Use inSSIDer with your laptop to check the signal round the house. Move your router off the floor or away from cabinet can have dramatic effects on the signal.

3. Upgrade your router

There are three type of wireless category, A/B, G and N, each one progressively stronger with N being the strongest. The A/B wireless if so old that it’s unlikely you’ll ever see them. Many routers supplied by ISPs typically have G and this is a medium power wireless radio. I many situations this can just about cover a house but more often you’ll experience problems so upgrading to a router with the N specification will improve this dramatically. When buying a new router because some vendors, like Belkin, have changed the naming of G networks to N150 and N networks to N300. I think this is very confusing so be aware

4. Extend your wireless network

It is possible to purchase wireless extenders; or repeaters as they are known. These are stand-alone devices that can be placed in a more central location and boost the wireless signal. This can be tricky to set up as the configuration has to integrate with your existing setup but does double to range of your wireless network.

There are many other ways to improve the signal in the house and these are just a few options. As usual, if you have any questions on this article, please contact me.