One of the most common networking questions is "How do I increase the range of my wireless connection?" There's nothing more frustrating than no connection, dropped connections, or poor throughput—all of which can be caused by a signal that's not reaching from your router to your laptop or netbook. The problem is, there are any number of reasons why the signal might be too weak.
Maybe it's sheer distance. You may have a room in your home or office that is simply too far from your wireless router. Maybe it's the layout of your home: If the signals have to bounce around too many corners to reach your endpoints, that can cause problems. Maybe it's interference with the signal. If you live in an apartment building, your home might be inundated with signals from everyone else's routers. Maybe it's structural interference. If your furnace, washing machine, and dryer are all between your router and your laptop, that doesn't help. Maybe it's the software you're using. Routers need software updates just like everything else—and sometimes the firmware they initially ship with is surprisingly buggy.
Those are just a few of the possible reasons your connection might be poor (or nonexistent). Fortunately, there are many ways to extend your wireless signal, and most of them simply involve a bit of tweaking to your wireless network or adding some affordable components. We'll walk you through ten of the most useful fixes for your connectivity woes.10. Free: Change the channel
Not the TV's; your router's. Wi-Fi routers operate on specific channels. When you set up a typical router, it usually chooses a certain channel by default. Some routers choose the least-crowded channel, but yours may not have. Check for yourself which Wi-Fi channel is the least crowded to boost the router's performance, perhaps boosting signal range. A good, free tool to use is inSSIDer. Don't be put off by the graphs and excess information. What you want to focus on is the column "Channel." See how many routers in this area are on channel 6 in the slide above? If your router is on the same channel, you want to switch it to a less-crowded one, like 4 or 1. You can change the channel of your router by going into its interface. All routers have different ways to access the interface, so check with your manufacturer.
9: Free: Update router firmware
Updating router firmware is often overlooked by home users. Business networking devices usually display some sort of notification when newer software for the device is available for download. Consumer products such as home wireless routers, especially older routers, don't always offer this notification. Check often for firmware updates for your router. There is typically a section in the router's interface for upgrading the firmware. However, you often have to go the router manufacturer's website and search for the firmware (most vendor make searching for firmware pretty easy) and then upload it through the router's interface. There's often accompanying release notes that tell you what the firmware helps to fix; often the fixes are for connectivity problems.
8: Free: Update adapter firmware
Just like routers, network adapters on PCs and laptops also are subject to firmware updates. Remember, good wireless range and performance is dictated not just by the router but by the network adapter on clients (as well as other factors, but these are the two biggies.) Most laptops have on-board adapters. Go into your Network settings to find the name of the adapter (via Control Panel in Windows OS') and then to that adapter's manufacturer's site to make sure you have the latest firmware.
7: Free: Change position
Do you have your wireless router nestled up against your broadband modem tucked away in your entertainment center in your basement that's converted into the family den? Move it, if you have range issues. You don't have to have the router in close proximity to your modem. Ideally, a Wi-Fi router should be in a central location. You can purchase custom length Ethernet Cat 5 cable from Best Buy or any place that services computers (although if you do that, this is technically no longer a free options) if you need more flexibility in centrally positioning the router.
6: Free: DD-WRT
For the adventurous; DD-WRT is open-source software for routers. It's known to ramp up router performance and extend the feature set beyond what typically comes with most routers. Not every router supports it, but the number of routers that are supported keeps growing. Warning; installing DD-WRT may quite possibly invalidate your router's warranty. Many manufacturers will not help you troubleshoot router issues once you have DD-WRT on them. Hence, this is not a recommended option for routers under warranty or in a business network. There are also no guarantees that DD-WRT upgrades won't negatively affect a router. However, many users are finding it a free way to trick-out their routers. So, if you have an older, spare router laying around, or want to take the plunge to see if DD-WRT firmware helps your range issues on a newer router, check if it's supported on the DD-WRT site. Also note, it's not easy to remove DD-WRT from some routers without doing a lot research.
5: Cheap: Set up a second router as an access point or repeater
You can set up just about any router as a wireless access point. To do so, you need to connect the second router's LAN port to the primary router's LAN port. On the second router, you will want to give it the same addressing information as the primary router. For example, if you primary router's IP address is 192.168.2.1 and its netmask is 255.255.255.0; then you could make the second router's IP 192.168.2.2 and use the same netmask. It's also important that you assign the same SSID and security on the second router and turn DHCP off on the second one as well.
Newer routers make this process easier. If you have a second router that's only about a year old, most of them can be set to operate in "access point" or repeater mode. Configuring is as simple as clicking a button. Check with your router's manufacturer or documentation. You can also just purchase a dedicated access point such as Linksys By Cisco's Wireless-N Access Point with Dual Band WAP610N. This is a more expensive option, but will likely save you some network configuration headaches. Best bet, if you go this route; use an access point from the same manufacturer of your router.
4: Cheap: Antennas
Newer 802.11n Wi-Fi routers are increasingly coming with internal antennas. There are some that still have or support external ones, and these antennas can often be upgraded. Consider a hi-gain antenna, which you can position so that the Wi-Fi signal goes in the direction you want. Hawking Technology offers the HAI15SC Hi-Gain Wireless Corner Antenna. Though, we have yet to test it; Hawking claims it boosts wireless signal strength from a standard 2dBi to 15dBi. Antennas like these can attach to most routers that have external antennas connectors. Hi-gain or "booster" antennas range in pricing from $40 to $100 dollars.
3: More Expensive: Repeaters/Extenders
Most major wireless networking vendors offer devices that act as repeaters or wireless extenders. While they can extend a Wi-Fi signal, they can be tricky to setup, can cause interference with the signal and can be expensive. A good repeater or extender can you set you back almost $200.
2: More Expensive: New Router/Adapters
How about getting new routers and adapters, altogether? Upgrading your home network to 802.11n and using the 5 GHz band should give noticeable performance improvement. 2.4 GHz is said to actually have greater range than the 5 GHz band, but that only becomes apparent when supplying wireless coverage to large areas such as college campuses or municipalities. In a number of our router testing, for smaller areas, like in a typical home network, 802.11n and the 5 Ghz band kept better throughout than 2.4 GHz with most routers, at greater distances. It's a more expensive option, but if wireless connectivity is crucial for you, it's a plausible one. If you go with an 802.11n router, you will of course, need to update client adapters that support "N" as well. USB-based 802.11 N adapters are convenient ways to update a laptop that may have an older on-board adapter.
1: More Expensive: Single Vendor Solution
Vendors are quick to say that their product will work with other vendor's products. But it just makes sense: Cisco network adapters will work better with Cisco routers; Belkin adapters work optimally with Belkin routers and etc. If possible, try to limit your network devices to one vendor; that means not only your router or adapter, but antennas, repeaters and access points.
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