24 Dec 05
Extending your range
The distance that you can be from your router varies greatly with each different router, wireless adapter, and the environment it is placed it. Some router manufacturers claim that their routers have an outdoor range of up to 300 ft. In my experience, an indoor range of about 100 ft. is more realistic. You may get less than that if you have thick walls or unique construction. So, what if you need more coverage? Just read on.
Devices such as cordless phones, microwaves, and ham radios can cause interference with wireless networks because they emit strong radio signals. Try to put cordless phone base stations at least on the opposite side of the room from your router or computer. You could also try changing the channel on both your phone and your router. Your router has 11 channels, and there should be an option to change it in the wireless configuration section where we set up the network. Although some computers will adjust automatically, you will probably have to change the channel on all of your computers to match what you set on the router.
Also, Newer microwaves have far better shielding than older ones. If you find that your microwave is interfering with your wireless network, you should consider buying a new one.
Position the router
Wireless network uses 2.4GHz radio frequencies to communicate between devices. This is well above VHF/UHF frequencies, so its distance is limited by line-of-sight. This means that the router can cover more area if it is placed higher. Don't get carried away and put it in your attic, but the basement or the bottom of your entertainment center are bad choices. Place it on top of a bookcase or on shelf. Just remember that you may occasionally have to power cycle the router by unplugging it and plugging it back in. This will be your first troubleshooting step anytime anything goes wrong with the network, so keep your router easy to reach.
I've also seen some people place their cable modem and router in their garage. While this keeps it out of the way, the garage is not a good place for these things. First, the weather is less than desirable for electronic equipment. Second, garages are usually full of concrete and rebar and metal vehicles, all of which can really hurt your wireless coverage. Place your router near the center of all the computers that will be accessing it. Usually, the living room or a hall closet works the best.
If you just can't extract enough performance from your router to cover all of your real estate, you may have to buy additional equipment to fill in the dead spots. All of the equipment I mention is available from local electronics stores and at online retailers such as newegg.com.
My first suggestion would be to upgrade to 802.11n if you are currently using 802.11b or g. The "n" standard provides for more speed and range. If you are already using wireless n and still don't have enough range, try getting a hi-gain antenna. This antenna replaces the one that came with your router and it is more efficient than the factory stock antenna. The range increase with a hi-gain antenna is marginal but noticeable, and you don't have to change the way your network is set up.
If that leaves you with some dead spots to cover, you have a few options. The simplest is a signal booster. A signal booster is hooked up between your wireless router and its antenna. It amplifies all radio signals going through it, which can improve your range dramatically. Just make sure that your router has a detachable antenna because you will have to take it off to hook the amplifier on. If your router is centrally located and you need better coverage on all sides, this is definitely your best option.
Another option is a new technology some manufacturers are building into routers know as MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output.) You can think of MIMO as having a router that comes with a signal boost and hi-gain antenna built in. Internally, the routers use multiple antennas to boost the signal. There are also MIMO wireless adapters for computers. MIMO equipment is completely compatible with standard wireless equipment. The 802.11n specification includes MIMO technology, but some manufacturers may use more antennas than others. The more antennas the better, so keep that in mind when selecting an antenna.
Sometimes, increasing the coverage of a single access point just isn't enough. You may need to extend your coverage more in one direction than another. The first option for this situation is a repeater. A repeater will simply repeat all of the wireless information it hears. Placing these repeaters at the edges of your coverage area can extend your range outward. If you need to increase your range slightly on one side of your coverage area, repeaters are for you.
There are situations where even a repeater doesn't reach far enough. There are two options to reach far flung areas outside the range of repeaters. The first is a wireless access point. These access points were originally designed to add wireless access to wired networks. They connect to your router through an ethernet cord. To use it as a range extender, simply use a longer ethernet cord. Ethernet cords can be up to 100 meters long, which will be outside the range of most wireless networks. If you can run an ethernet cord to your hard-to-reach areas, a wireless access point can provide that area with reliable wireless access.
What about when you can't run an ethernet cord? After all, the whole point of having a wireless network is so that you don't have to run wires... I have an answer to that.
Why not use the wires already in your walls - the electrical wires that is! This is one of the neatest ideas I've seen in a while. First, you need a ethernet-to-power line network bridge. This device plugs into your wall outlet like a normal power adapter. It also connects to your router through ethernet. It takes the network signals from the ethernet cord and transmits them over the electrical wiring in your home. You will need a power line wireless range extender at the other end, wherever you want the wireless network at. This one takes the signals off the electrical wiring and transmits a wireless signal, giving you wireless access.
As an alternative to the wireless power line range extender, you could buy additional wired power line-to-ethernet bridges, allowing any computer that has ethernet connection and is near an electrical outlet to communicate with your router over the power lines. With enough of these adapters, you wouldn't even need a wireless network at all. In fact, a power company in Texas is running trials on using this technology to replace cable modems. The only disadvantage of this method is that you need an adapter for each computer and the cost of that could add up if you have lots of computers.
For the ultimate coverage in distant spots of the house, you need HPNA gear. HPNA, or Home Phoneline Network Alliance, is a standard for adapters that allows you to network your computers using the phone lines in your house. HPNA 2.0 equipment has been shown to allow for speeds of up to 10Mb/s and distances of up to 1,000 feet. The recently announced HPNA 3.0 standard promises much faster speeds, but the gear is still hard to get because it is so new.
Questions or comments? - Contact me
24 Sept 07