10 quick and easy ways to boost your Wi-Fi
22nd Feb 2010 | 12:50
Simple tweaks to boost your wireless signal strength
How to boost your Wi-Fi coverage
It might have taken the best part of a decade to ratify but the 802.11n wireless standard was worth the wait.
It also helps that we've all been able to enjoy the benefits for the last few years while t's were crossed and i's were dotted.
But that's not to say we all get a perfect wireless experience even with the immense cleverness of MIMO. So no matter if you're running a wireless network new or old here are our top tips for tweaking more out of your signal.
1. Switch channels
You might think that with up to 14 channels available there'd be plenty of free ones for everyone. Unfortunately physics is a harsh master: the channels are only allocated 5MHz apart and cross-channel interference can affect up to 11MHz either side.
This effectively means only channels 1, 6 and 11 are adequately separated, though depending on your environmental situations interim channels might be optimal. For instance is all are taken but 1 and 6 are less powerful, then channel 3 would be best.
2. The fat channel
As part of the 802.11n specification there's the option for 40MHz channels. Idealistically this is designed for 5GHz systems as this region has far more available channels, however it can be activated at the 2.4GHz level but it's pretty much guaranteed to interfere with anything else nearby taking up the majority of available channels. We'll leave it up to your conscience but most routers enable you to force 40MHz channels.
3. Go 'N' only
The 802.11n standard is very sympathetic to older standards. It maintains a lot of backwards compatibility and anti-interference features so as not to disrupt 802.11b/g networks. This is rubbish! If you're lucky enough, switch your router to 802.11n only, plus opt to use WPA2 security with AES encryption.
WPA2 with AES offers the best encryption option, though it may not be supported by older routers as it requires additional hardware. Similarly once switched to 'N mode' you may find an Extra Wireless Protection mode - turn this off as it's about reducing interference to 802.11b networks.
4. Check your adaptor's power settings
A lot of the time your wireless adaptor will, rightly so, adjust itself to your laptop or PC's power settings. This is fine but what if you're in a poor reception situation? Windows 7 and Vista offer controls via the Control Panel > Power Options > Change plan settings > Change advanced power settings > Wireless Adapter Settings.
You might want to go straight to the horse's mouth and directly adjust power settings via the Device Manager: select Start > Run > type devmgmt.msc and click OK. Locate your wireless adaptor under Network adapters, double click it and select the Advanced tab.
5. Avoid interference
The majority of us are running 2.4GHz equipment - it's a noisy place to live and it's a frequency that's absorbed and reflected by specific things. Ideally, avoid brick walls - going through wood floors or interior drywalls is much more preferable.
Water is an issue, it absorbs this spectrum hence why microwave ovens run at the same frequency. If you have water tanks, avoid them. Microwaves are also a dead zone, as their shielding will block signals.
Mirrors are also an issue, along with radiators that are metal and full of water. DECT phones in Europe operate at 1.9GHz, but in the US there are three bands of 900MHz, 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz. So it's best to opt for the higher or lower models in that territory.
Five more ways to boost your Wi-Fi coverage
6. Angle your dipoles
The antennae that ship with most routers are called dipoles - they produce a circular 'omni' signal in the shape of a 3D doughnut, with the strongest segment of signal on the same plane as the router. This means is you're above or below the router, it's best to angle the antenna towards your position, so they're perpendicular.
7. Make a paper antenna
It's been around for years but we love this. The geniuses at freeantennas.com have a paper-craft template for a directional parabolic antenna. Just print it out and with some scissors and glue you'll soon have a signal booster for your router or adaptor.
We found putting a USB adaptor in the centre worked, as well as mounted on a dipole antenna. It's cheap, easy, doesn't require any modification to your hardware and works.
8. Make a cantenna
The paper antenna is a great quick-fix but surely something involving maths and metal would do a better job? Well, you're right - enter the cantenna, made from a 10cm diameter smooth can it hugely boost your reception.
The maths bit is that a 31mm copper antenna is installed 44mm from the sealed end for optimal signal strength. This site has a calculator for different size. The main problem is you need to buy or build a 'pigtail' connector, so you can connect it to the reverse polarity SMA connector used by routers and adaptors.
9. Get a high-gain antenna
If all of that man-crafting sounds like too much like hard work, splash out on a directional or high-gain antenna. These are designed to push the power output closer to the 20dB EU legal limit, usually from 2dBi up to 7dBi.
Great for you, not so great for any Wi-Fi neighbours, as it increases interference. An increase of 3dBi equates to a doubling in output power. If you're using 5GHz equipment you'll need compatible antennas, as most are designed for 2.4GHz equipment.
10. Update firmware and drivers
It's an oldie but goodie. At this stage all wireless kit should offer good interoperability without real issues. But in the past we have had serious connection issues fixed by either a router firmware update or adaptor driver update. So if you're buying older adaptors or routers this might be the case. It's similar to the advice about buying equipment form the same manufacturer, although thankfully this is less of an issue today.
Liked this? Then check out The ultimate guide to home networking
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