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Poor wireless signal? - how to improve the range of your wireless network

Poor wireless signal? - how to improve the range of your wireless network

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I recently set up a new wireless router at home and was disappointed to find that I couldn't connect to the network whilst upstairs. This didn't make a great deal of sense as I live in a house that's only ten years old so it's pretty much made of cardboard - hardly the stuff that's likely to block wireless signals!

The solution was pretty straight forward.

All I did was to connect to the wireless router (browse to - it's an SMC device), sign in, access the "wireless" settings and change the channel from the default of 11 to something else.

I re-connected to the wireless network from my Vista client and observed a much stronger signal - getting 4 out of 5 bars whilst upstairs.

Many of my neighbors have wireless access points that also default to channel 11 hence there was a great deal of contention.  

I wonder whether the signal will reach out to the garden...?

  • A few years back every piece of kit seemed to be on channel 1 by default, now they all seem to be 11. Switching to channel 6 is usually a good plan. Anything other than 1,6 or 11 will still suffer from some inteference from nearby channels, so use one of these three. (aside: contention would imply they were sharing your access point, Steve, whereas you were suffering from plain old interference).

    Another thing to bear in mind is the position and orientation of the antenna and where you need the signal to go.

    If you are nearly directly overhead of the wireless access point you will get almost no signal from a normal 'rubber duck' antenna in a vertical position.

    A dipole antenna radiates its signal to the sides, and not up and down.

    Try tilting the antenna onto its side (ie horizontal) and see if that makes any difference.

    The shape to have in your mind is that the signal goes out like the spokes of a very large and slightly fat wheel with the antenna as the wheel's hub*. Think like a hamster wheel but big enough for a horse (to get the scale about right).

    Imagine holding the axle of such a wheel and as you move that around the wheel can be in any direction such as:

       * over your head like a helicopter (like it probably is now), covering to both sides, in front and behind but not up and down

       * to one side like a wheelchair wheel (covering locations above, below, directly in front and directly behind you

       * and in front like a propeller covering locations above, below and to the sides

    You need to position the antenna so that your PC's wireless antenna cuts through this imaginary wheel when it is in the places you want to use it most.

    For comparison, my primary access point is in the loft with it's antenna horizontal and I get a great signal throughout the whole two storey, 1930's solid brick-built house,and out into the garden.

    *yes, I know that a lot of people describe the cross-section of the radio signal from a dipole as being a torus. While this is more accurate I find this confuses people as they can't understand what happens in the hole in the bagel shape they get in their head (nothing "happens" since there is no hole), nor why the signal stops at the boundary of the torus (it doesn't, this is an arbitrary cutoff where the signal is too weak to use, but the waves do carry on until absorbed by something).

    The only person I know who can truly imagine a ring doughnut as large as a house is Homer Simpson, and I don't think he got an A for "antennas and radio wave propagation" at school...

  • Before setting up a wireless network for a client I usually search for wireless networks first (these days it's just about all I use my PSP for). That way you can find out which channels are free.

    A few other tips;

    1) Change the SSID. There is no point in telling everyone what equipment you use and a lot of wireless routers default to the product name (eg. belkin54g). If your wireless network is going to be attacked there's no point in giving people a head start.

    2) Use encryption. WPA is best (at the moment), but even if you use WEP encryption it will prevent your neighbours from piggy-backing onto your network connection.

    3) Change the default password on the router. The good news is that it doesn't matter if you forget it - worse case scenario you can reset the router and enter the settings in again.

    I know these tips are obvious but I've come across too many people that just plug and pray.

  • B.Tabrah> Sadly they're not obvious... Thanks for contributing

  • Another option is to get a directional antenna, place that at one edge of your house, and have it blast signal just where you want it to go.

    Fon ( sell a very cheap directional antenna, the Fontenna, which I've found to be really effective. They also do a very cool, cheap, dual signal wireless AP - it broadcasts a public signal you can share with others, and a wpa protected signal that gets you full access to your own network. When you're buying one, the directional antenna is really cheap.

  • Nick> Fon actually gave away a whole load of their dual APs on a first come first served basis @ the start of the year

  • I managed to get two free Fon routers, one of the early linksys ones and then one of the new dual-APs. Alas they're no longer doing free ones, but they are doing them for 20 euros if you get an invite of an existing member.

    Give me a shout if you haven't already got one, and want an invite code. I've found them to have better than average signal strength even without the directional antenna, and excellent strength with :)

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