Adjacent Wi-Fi channels often interfere with each other and, of the 13 channels, all but 1, 6 and 11 overlap. If two access points are using the same channel, bandwidth will suffer. Many routers default to channel 6; if your neighbour’s Wi-Fi uses this, pick a number that’s as far away as possible.
To change your channel, open a web browser and navigate to the settings page of your router or AP (access point). It will typically have an IP address of 192.168.0.1 or similar. If you’re unsure of your IP address, open a command prompt and type IPCONFIG
Routers’ layouts differ but all Netgear hardware has the same basic menu structure. Click on Wireless Settings in the blue pane on the left. Towards the top of the centre pane is the Wireless Network group of options. Select a different channel from the drop-down menu, then hit Apply to save the changes.
Wi-Fi signals are broadcast omnidirectionally by an access point, and location is everything. To evenly reach the four corners of your house, your router is best located somewhere near the centre rather than in a corner room. If possible mount it high up on the ground floor, or low down on the first floor.
Most Wi-Fi access points and routers are sold with a feeble 2dB antenna. Many have a fixed antenna, but some use screw-ons and can be upgraded – as can most wireless NICs (network interface cards). Try a larger antenna with a 7dB gain. This trebles the power and increases throughput and range by up to 75 percent.
While the typical Wi-Fi antenna is omnidirectional, the router actually offers better coverage horizontally than vertically in single-floor buildings. Always place the antenna vertically, at right angles to the router. This is particularly relevant to laptop users with horizontal PC Card Wi-Fi adaptors. It’s much better to have a USB adaptor with a hinged antenna, or to have the antenna built into the lid. In multistorey buildings, placing the antenna diagonally or parallel to
the floor will prove most effective.
Wi-Fi performance is adversely affected by radio interference. It’s a good idea to keep your access point at least 2ft from anything that emits radio waves, particularly in the 2.4GHz waveband. Metageek.net sells a spectrum analyser called Wi-Spy that can help you locate interference.
Check your router maker’s site regularly to see whether updated firmware or driver software is available. Manufacturers regularly make improvements to their router and adaptor firmware that can boost performance and reliability. While the latter can be delivered by Windows Update, router firmware won’t be.
Although ‘Wi-Fi certified’ hardware is 100 percent interoperable, not much Wi-Fi kit carries this badge.
If your router has proprietary 54G hardware that pumps out 108 or 125Mbps (megabits per second) rather than 54Mbps, you ought to have the same vendor’s hardware on your PC.
One way to increase the range of your Wi-Fi is to upgrade your hardware either to an 802.11g Mimo (multiple input, multiple output) system or to pre- or draft-N (such as the Belkin N1, above), which incorporates Mimo technology. Mimo uses two or more ‘smart’ antennae to fine-tune Wi-Fi reception.
If you live in a large house and have particularly bad reception, consider investing in PowerLine extender hardware, which pumps network data through your mains wiring. It then broadcasts Wi-Fi from a module that plugs into a power socket close to where you wish to receive it.
The further away from an access point you are, the less bandwidth you’ll get. If all you want to do is surf the net, you can manually reduce the transmission speed of most access points. This will improve range by up to 40 percent. If you’re using an 802.11g router, setting protocol back to ‘b only’ may help.
WPA encryption incurs a small bandwidth penalty. You can restrict network access by using a list of ‘trusted wireless stations’. The list is based on the MAC (media access control) address of the network card of the PC requesting access. This is set up on your access point and it’s easy to add PCs to the list.
SSID (service set ID) broadcasting makes it easy to connect to new access points. However, your neighbour’s Wi-Fi may lock on to it and automatically try to connect several times a second; this can cause a noticeable reduction in performance. In this case, turn off SSID broadcasting and change the default SSID.