June 25, 2011, 12:33 p.m.
posted by dcberk
Extend the Range of Your Wireless Network
The efficiency and throughput of WiFi networks can vary dramatically. Make sure you get maximum throughput from your wireless network.
If you have more than one PC at home, the best way to hook them together and share a high-speed Internet connection is via a wireless networkin particular, one based on the WiFi standard, which is actually a family of standards known under the umbrella term of 802.11x.
The biggest problem in setting up a home network usually involves running the wires between PCs and a residential gateway. If your PCs are on different floors of your house, you might have to drill holes in your walls, ceiling, and floors and run wire through them. Even when PCs are on the same floor, you have to deal with the problem of wires snaking along the floor.
That's the problem I've had in my 150-year-old home in Cambridge. Drill through a wall, ceiling, or floor here, and you never know what you'll find (horsehair insulation was only one of our many surprises). Even my electrician shudders when he has to take out the drill.
So, for me, a wireless network was a no-brainer. I now have a half dozen PCs and laptops and four printers situated in various parts of the house, all connected via a combination wired/wireless network and sharing a single broadband Internet connection. And when the weather is nice here (twice a year, by my last calculation), I take my laptop out on my back porch and work from there while still connected to the Internet and other PCs and printers in the house.
But there's a catch with all wireless networks, including mine. Wireless networks rarely deliver data at their rated bandwidth speed. One factor affecting bandwidth speed is the distance between the access point and the wirelessly equipped PC. Compaq, for example, notes that at a distance of 150 feet the throughput of its wireless access point drops from 11Mbps to 5.5Mbps, and at a distance of 300 feet it drops to 2Mbps. Even that significantly understates the drop-off in speed, and most people find that the drop-off is much more dramatic than that, most commonly by a factor of two.
Distance is only one factor affecting performance. Interference from other devices and the exact layout of the house or office can also affect it dramatically. However, there are things you can do to extend the range of your network and get more throughput throughout your home:
Centrally locate your wireless access point
This way, it's most likely that all your wirelessly equipped PCs will get reasonable throughput. If you put your wireless access point in one corner of the house, nearby PCs might get high throughput, but throughput for others might drop significantly.
Orient your access point's antennas vertically
As a general rule, transmission will be better when antennas are vertical rather than horizontal. Keep in mind, though, that this is only a starting point for positioning the antenna. The exact layout of your house might alter the best positioning of the antenna.
Point the antennas of your wireless PCs toward the access point
Although 802.11 technology does not require a direct line of sight, pointing antennas in this way tends to increase signal strength. USB wireless cards generally have small antennas that can be positioned, but frequently wireless PC cards don't, so you might have trouble figuring out the antenna orientation in a wireless PC card. If you have a wireless PC card that doesn't have what appears to be an antenna, the antenna is generally located at the periphery of the card itself, so point that at the access point.
Don't place your access point next to an outside wall
If you do that, you'll be broadcasting signals to the outside, not the inside, of the house. That's nice if you want to give your neighbors access to your network, but not great if you want to reach all the PCs in your house.
Avoid putting your access point or PCs near microwave ovens or cordless phones
Many microwave ovens and cordless phones operate in the same 2.4GHz part of the spectrum as 802.11b WiFi equipment does. So, microwave ovens and cordless phones can cause significant interference. Cordless phones tend to be the bigger problem.
Avoid placing the antennas of access points or PCs near filing cabinets and other large metal objects
Consider using external and booster antennas
Some PC cards, notably Orinoco cards, will accept external antennas that you can buy or build on your own. They have a small connector to which you attach a pigtail and wire and then attach that wire to an antenna. (For information about building your own antenna, see [Hack #65] .) Some access points often accept booster antennas that you can buy as well.
Try and try again
The ultimate way to find the best placement for your access point and wireless PCs is to continuously experiment and see what kind of throughput you get. Each house and office is so different that no single configuration can suit them all.
Carefully monitor your throughput as you make these changes so that you determine the best positioning for your access point and PCs. To determine your true throughput, use the free network analysis program Qcheck [Hack #67] .