HowTo: Optimizing your Home Wireless Network

SNAGHTML25d5ade1So now that we have Joey figured out in the last article – I got pinged by @kjb_Photography on twitter yesterday – asking about extending coverage in his home wireless networking environment. I could take the consultant answer easy out and reply “it depends” but hey – this is a learning environment, let me share what I did in my house and what you can do to yours to improve your WiFi experience at home with consumer hardware.

First off – I don’t proclaim to be a wireless expert in any sense of the word. I read the manuals (on occasion) or ping my friends who actually ARE wireless experts who implement secure wireless solutions for the likes of various acronym “security agencies” here in Canada.

Where would I start? Know your Antennas.

WRT54G_Linksys_Router_with_7_dBi_AntennasMost home networking routers have your typical antennas that should be for the most part oriented straight up (or down if ceiling mounted) and away from any dense structures like walls or metal filing cabinets. To keep this simple – the signal strength emanates outwards from these antennas for the most part as a circle (or ellipse) and when they are upwards or downwards facing – the signal extends horizontally in all directions (omnidirectional). If you rotate the antenna to ne horizontal – it would go vertical in all directions – if you get my drift. Here’s a picture of my main router bad boy Linksys with upgraded 7 dbi antennas. More dbi – more power (I feel like Tim the Toolman right now). Wireless N routers with multiple antennas or internal antennas are different with their spread – but whatever modem you purchased probably came with a manual or online link to a manual talking about placement and antenna coverage. Go dig it out and find it – RTFM.

The single most screwed up reason why WiFi sucks at your house?

Location… Location… Location!

Get yourself a good LONG cable to put your main AccessPoint/Router wherever you are going to get the best coverage for your home / office layout. Don’t put it up against a wall unless you want less coverage behind that wall – especially if it is a cement wall or in my case a double layer brick wall (live in a century home). You know that you should chuck out that dinky little 2 foot Ethernet cable that comes with your internet modem or router and get a 50 footer or whatever suits your needs to optimally place your router for coverage.

WirelessDiagram

I approached wireless in my house the same way I would approach fitting up an office. Where would you put wireless access points with antennas to cover the best signal horizontally (not vertically)? I have that big dual 7 dbi Linksys as the main internet router and Wireless AccessPoint at the back on the second floor. I then run a cable up to the home office on the 3rd floor to my main switch where I have a generic dLink router/wireless combo device plugged in for 3rd floor coverage. My second run goes down under the kitchen into the basement and up into the middle of the 1st floor. my Linksys 610N sits on top of a bookshelf – away from the exterior walls.

Ideally I would put the main router in the middle of the second floor – but I chose the back for two reasons – it gives me signal in the back yard and it is where the main internet line comes into the house.

That’s a lot of AccessPoints!

imageYes – I am “Tim the ToolMan” excessive with coverage in my house – but I had old routers laying around. The trick to make everyone happy is to have each router configured with the same SSID and the same WPA2 password. I also choose channels and frequencies where there is less congestion with my neighbours (more on this later). I  can “roam” from floor to floor, inside and out without an issue.  To configure the two AP devices (again – just regular routers I had laying around) I configured each so they had unique IP addresses – I use the 192.168.10.x network so something as simple as 192.168.10.1 for main router, 192.168.10.2 for dining room and 192.168.10.3 for the home office.  Each was plugged in to the INTERNAL bank of Ethernet ports – not the INTERNET port that is usually plugged in to the internet provider. I also turned off all DHCP servers except for the main Linksys.

You own router might have specific modes where it acts just as an Access Point – mine didn’t so I went the manual route I described above.  I didn’t have to go out and purchase APs directly for additional cost – I just used what I had at hand. Likewise – you can BUY AccessPoints that are not routers and all they do is serve up wireless networks.  I strategically placed my new Linksys 610N on the main floor so I could run a cable from it directly to my xBox – can’t do that with a simple AccessPoint.

So – a long story to say that the quickest and easiest way to extend your wireless network is a two step process:

  1. Properly place the first router/Wi-Fi point in your house centrally for coverage.
  2. get yourself a long cable to plug into the first router networking ports and run the cable to second Wi-Fi router / Access Point where you need more coverage.
    1. just make sure you configure the second router to not serve up DHCP
    2. have a proper IP address that is different then your main router
    3. plug the cable into the regular networking ports – not the INTERNET port
    4. duplicate the SSID and WPA2 password as the first router

A second option is to opt for a Wireless Repeater type of Access Point – but I’m not a fan of these – mainly because your second device that is placed further away from the main AccessPoint will be “serving up” a connection that will have a bottle neck of however fast / however reliable the WiFi is at it’s location.  So sure – you have strong signal, but you have a choke point of throughput as it relays the network traffic to the 1st Access Point.  Go with cable – cheap and Fast.

Do you know if you have Spectrum Congestion?

Lastly – I mentioned Channels and less congestion. Everyone has wireless devices in your neighbourhood and they all talk on the same frequency and similar channels of that frequency.  More chatter = crappier speed and reliability. Best solution for you to find the right spectrum from multiple points in your house?  A laptop with a free copy of inSSIDer 2 running to help you determine what your local spectrum looks like for congestion.

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You can see I live in a congested area and I currently have strong signal in my house over the channels I have the wireless set to use.  However – what you don’t see is that even though there are at least 6 routers that support Wireless N technology – none of them are configured to use the 5 GHz range which is currently Free and Clear to use.

Looks like I need to upgrade my wireless networking gear.

What does your wireless architecture look like?

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Rick

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  • Rick, something I am going to be trying it using an Engenius AP at home and mounting it on my TV antenna tower to give me WiFi outside and be stronger inside as well. I used this gear to run internet at a friends milking barn, (their milking equipment needs internet access for tests) and to run a connection to their new house across the road. (The parents have internet which feeds the barn and house.) I could get a connection about 1 mile away, so pretty decent stuff.