Wi-Fi Optimization Advice
Wireless Security – Norton 360
Wireless networking was one of the sweetest trends of the past 15 years. Today thanks to invisible radio waves, we regularly take our laptops and tablets online just about wherever we please.
Well, sort of. Occasionally the signal we get around the house isn’t all that. There may be a dead spot right over your dining room table, depriving you of browsing online news over breakfast. And the signal strength to your patio may be too weak to stream video, especially when the baby’s napping or someone is microwaving popcorn.
There are plenty of reasons why your home Wi-Fi can be unreliable or slow, making network backups take longer than necessary and causing other grief. And in this age of Webbased applications, social networking, and other developments, an alwayson connection to the Internet is more of a constant necessity than an occasional luxury.
Time for us to talk about optimizing the performance of your WLAN (wireless LAN). We’ll touch upon a number of no-cost and lowcost ways to get speedier, more reliable performance.
BUCK UP, LITTLE ADAPTER
Who wants to spend money when you don’t have to? Let’s start by discussing how you can make the most of your existing devices.
Avoid introducing slower devices.
Wi-Fi is backward-compatible. For instance, if you have a notebook with a Wi-Fi N (802.11n) 150Mbps adapter (built in, plugged into a USB port, or in an expansion card), it will work just fine with a router or WAP (wireless access point) that supports 11Mbps 802.11b and 54Mbps 802.11g.However, this connection won’t exceed 802.11g’s fastest theoretical speed of 54Mbps as 802.11g is the two devices’ least common denominator. (Bear in mind that actual Wi-Fi throughput is often only half the theoretical top speed or less.)
On the other hand, if you introduce an 802.11b laptop to your Wi-Fi N network, it might immediately slow down all WLAN traffic—including connections from the Wi-Fi N router to 802.11n devices—to 802.11b’s 11Mbps or less. To avoid a Wi-Fi slowdown, you can either connect the notebook to the router with an Ethernet cable or upgrade it with an inexpensive Wi-Fi N adapter so the system doesn’t drag down the whole network.
MIND THE DISTANCES
The longer the distance between a router/WAP and a wireless adapter, the weaker the Wi-Fi signal will be. That translates to slower data transfers. Hence the key is to shorten that distance or increase the power of the signal. If you have a large or ranchstyle home, for example, consider putting your wireless router or access point near the center of the house. Alternatively, if your router supports replaceable antennas, you could look for a high-gain antenna that will fit the router.
If your router and wireless adapters are from the same manufacturer, you might be able to turn on a proprietary turbo mode or MIMO (multiple input/ multiple output) mode for a faster connection among the devices. You might also have the option to boost power to the antenna(s). You may need to enable these items in the router’s settings, which you can typically access through a browser on a PC attached to the router by a wired connection.
Check the router’s user’s manual for an IP address you can type into the browser’s Address bar. Next, you’ll need to enter your username and password, which you should have changed previously from the factory defaults. There are also wireless-extender or repeater devices you can install near a dead spot in your home, as well as WAPs to supplement your existing one in underserved areas. And, of course, you can always move your device closer to your router/WAP for demanding
uses such as video streaming.
The fewer the physical objects between your router/WAP and wireless adapters, the more power the signal will retain en route. Signal power equates to data throughput, so you’ll get higher transfer rates (and therefore a more detailed picture and smoother video streaming) with a stronger Wi-Fi connection. Try to place your router or access point where there are relatively clear paths to your wireless devices. You probably won’t be able to achieve line-of-sight connections in your home, but you can try to reduce the number of floors, structural beams, and walls in between—especially walls with foil-backed panels. The fewer the physical objects between your router/WAP and wireless adapters, the more power the signal will retain en route.
If you live in an apartment building, you’re probably already aware of the effects of electromagnetic interference on your Wi-Fi network. As your neighbors use Bluetooth devices, microwaves, baby monitors, cordless phones, and other gadgets that operate in 802.11b/g/n’s 2.4GHz frequency, your WLAN slows down to ensure that all your data will make the trip.
There are a few things you can do to combat interference, short of wallpapering your home in aluminum foil. If you have a dual-band 802.11n router/WAP and adapters that support 5GHz signaling, for example, switch to that frequency. (The 54Gbps 802.11a was an earlier 5GHz standard.)
If you can’t switch frequencies, at least you may be able to move your WLAN to a clearer channel. Use a utility such as MetaGeek InSSIDer (free; www.metageek.net) to check your local airwaves for usage per 2.4GHz Wi-Fi channel, usually labeled 1 through 11 or 14. InSSIDer will show you other WLANs in your area, color-coded for clarity. Look for a channel with the least amount of activity on it, and then enter your router’s or access point’s settings menu to switch your WLAN to the new channel.
CHECK YOUR HARDWARE
Finally, check the router manufacturer’s website for a new firmware version. Likewise, update the drivers for the wireless adapters on each of your computers if newer drivers are available. Be sure to record all settings before you perform an update, because you may need to re-enter them afterward.
most direct route to improving your network might be to purchase a new router and adapters with the latest 802.11n networking technology. There are 150Mbps, 300Mbps, and even 450Mbps Wi-Fi N products on the market. They may offer more features and/or speed than earlier Wi-Fi N routers and adapters, not to mention 802.11a/b/g devices. Some 802.11n WAPs/routers use two or three antennas in MIMO mode to transmit data faster and/ or more reliably at longer ranges. And as we mentioned, a dual-band WAP or router can use 5GHz and/or 2.4GHz frequencies. Some can even maintain fast connections to Wi-Fi N adapters on the 5GHz band even when slower 802.11b/g legacy devices are connected via 2.4GHz.
No matter what new equipment you buy, the optimization tips outlined in the previous section will still apply. They can help you maximize your new gear’s wireless performance right out of the box.