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Wireless

How do I improve my home WiFi network? by wirelesspro
Posted: 31 Oct 07

1. Time for an Oil Change?

That Access Point you've had for the last 6 months and not touched since you got it out the box could probably do with an "oil change". It is very likely that you are running old drivers and firmware on your wireless devices, do the right thing and check the manufacturer's website to see if there are any newer versions.

As well as the possibility of speeding things up and squashing the odd bug you may get some cool new features too.

2. Singing from the same hymn sheet

Most manufacturers these days, while supporting the 802.11 Wireless standards, still use proprietary operating modes and little tweaks & tricks so they stand out from the crowd. Because of this we would always recommend that you stick to the same vendor for your hardware.

Mixing a Dlink Wireless PCI card, a Netgear Access Point and a Linksys Ethernet adapter for your Xbox is not the best way to go.

The latest hardware (such as Buffalo) claims speeds of up to 125Mbps; this is only going to work if you have the same vendor's kit though. Now if you're just sharing a 2Mbps broadband link then the speed of your wireless network isn't that important. If you intend to do any file sharing, streaming media or similar then faster is definitely better.

3. Wireless Interference Gremlins

Wireless networking is a great benefit around the home, so much so that both you and your neighbours may have a number of wireless devices. Wireless networking uses a common, open frequency, 2.4 GHz. There are a number of other devices that use this frequency including;

    * Wireless Video Senders
    * Bluetooth enabled devices
    * DECT portable handsets
    * Baby Monitors
    * Microwave Ovens

That's before you start getting problems from your neighbour's WiFi network.

You could have the best AP location, the best antenna configuration and the best hardware money can buy but if you are getting interference you will never get a decent signal.

Before setting up your home wireless network download and run a free program called Netstumbler either on your laptop or on a desktop (laptop is better, you can move around). The program is very easy to use and will let you know very quickly if there are any other networks in the area and which of the 13 channels they are using.

Armed with this knowledge you can avoid any channels that are already being used. Unfortunately Netstumbler can't tell you about other possible interference sources but this is a great place to start.

The only non overlapping channels that 802.11b/g WiFi hardware uses are 1, 6 & 11. If you find that there is way too much interference for you to get a good signal locally using these channels then you may want to try an 802.11a system.

4. Access Point Location

It is really important to consider the best location for your access point to provide coverage across as wide an area as possible. Most people locate their AP near to the main phone point, for the majority of us though this is closer to the outside of the building than the centre. This will cause coverage problems in itself.

For those of us who have an integrated AP/Modem which handle the broadband link and the wireless we don't have the flexibility to move the AP/Modem around (me included). In my own house this means the AP is at the front and I mostly want to use my wireless laptop in the kitchen area (back of the house).

To ensure that I am not wasting my wireless signal and sending it out through the exterior walls I use a low gain "Patch" antenna which directs the signal into the house itself. I have no problems using my centrino laptop in the back of the house and get excellent signal strength.

I don't have many problems with interior walls interfering with signal but many users in older properties suffer from severe signal loss due to the thickness of their old stone walls. Remember a 2 foot thick wall can easily become an 8 foot thick obstruction when you are located at an angle from the AP!

What's the answer here? Try using more directional antenna on the AP to direct the signal to the intended areas. You can also boost the received signal by adding a better antenna to your laptop card or desktop Wireless card.

If that doesn't help then in some cases you are just going to have to buy a few more AP's. The easiest way to link multiple AP's together within the home is to use "Powerline" technology. This enables you to use your existing electricity cables to create links between various network devices; pretty much anywhere you have a power socketàyou can get a link.

Summary;

    * Is your Access Point in the best location?
    * Could some better antenna improve the signal?
    * More AP's required? Link them up with Powerline.

5. Privacy and Security

You have probably heard about the problems of securing a wireless network and hopefully you have taken steps to use technologies such as WEP on your network. WEP encryption however is a bit old and creaky, it can be hacked quite quickly now and it does slow down your network.

The latest kit should have support for WPA/WPA2. This latest form of wireless security can be much faster than its predecessor. We would recommend upgrading all your hardware to support this new standard, it's definitely worthwhile and with many vendors introducing things like "One Touch" security configuration it's a breeze to set up.

There are a number of encryption methods within WPA, look for hardware that supports "AES", it's the fastest.

JR

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