How to improve a small Wi-Fi network
How can I extend the range of my Wi-Fi network?
By Becky Waring | PC World | Published: 11:00, 21 February 2007
A single access point can cover a house or a small office, but can need attention. First, make sure you are getting the most out of your current Wi-Fi router: Mount it in a central location in your house, preferably high on a wall; make sure that other 2.4-GHz devices such as cordless phones, wireless audio speakers, Bluetooth gadgets, and microwave ovens are not causing interference; and separate your router on the Wi-Fi spectrum, from routers in neighbouring buildings. If the office next door uses channel 1, for example, try channel 12 to minimise the chance of cross-channel interference.
If you still get a poor signal, consider upgrading to a router that incorporates MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) or Draft-N technology. (See recent reviews of Draft-N products from Apple, D-Link,Belkin, Linksys, Buffalo, and Netgear). These routers not only provide far greater range than standard 802.11b/g routers, but they also boost speed by as much as ten times.
Finally, if you have particular Wi-Fi trouble spots, attic, power-line networking can be a great way to serve those areas quickly and without running new cables. With power-line devices, you simply plug one adapter into a wall outlet and run an Ethernet cord to your router; then you plug another adapter into an outlet near the device you want to connect to the network and run an Ethernet cord to that device. You'll need reasonably clean power - free from excessive interference from other electrical devices - but the newest technologies , such as HomePlug AV and HD-PLC, work very well.
Should I upgrade to 802.11n?
Wi-Fi standards are continually evolving as technology advances. The first Wi-Fi routers were 802.11b, with a symbol rate of 11 Mbit/s and throughput considerably lower than that. Next, 802.11g increased the symbol rate to 54 Mbit/s, and throughput to around 20 Mbit/s. Now, MIMO and draft-802.11n routers have pushed the wireless frontier to 280 Mbit/s - with real throughput up to 90 Mbit/s, rivaling wired ethernet. This year, the Wi-Fi Alliance will start certifying draft-802.11n routers. If you are in the market for a new router, definitely buy one of these models.
But if your old router provides satisfactory performance throughout your house, you needn't upgrade immediately. Your current equipment will operate just fine with 802.11n devices as they begin to appear. Wait to upgrade until you really need the added performance for bandwidth-intensive applications such as streaming video. Prices will only go down in the meantime.
How do I share a printer or other device over a Wi-Fi network?
For about £50, you can buy an adapter that will convert any device that has a wired Ethernet port into a Wi-Fi-capable one. These Wi-Fi-to-Ethernet bridges are available from companies like D-Link and Netgear. They work with Ethernet printers and network security cameras.
Often the adapters work right out of the box if your Wi-Fi net, taking an IP address via DHCP. If it's not, you can set up an adapter by connecting it to your PC and then assigning an IP address.
For printers without Ethernet ports, you can buy a wireless print server, also available from companies like Belkin, D-Link, and Linksys. Be sure to choose a print server with ports (USB and/or parallel) that match your printers. Note, however, that multifunction devices usually lose all but their printing functions when networked this way.
Can I add a network hard drive to my Wi-Fi net?
There are two basic ways to add storage to your wireless network, but in either case, it's best to physically locate the drive(s) next to your router and connect them by wires rather than using a wireless adapter. Generally, you needn't put a network drive in a different room, and a wired connection is always faster and more reliable than wireless, especially if you have Gigabit Ethernet equipment.
What you are really looking for is access to your network storage over your Wi-Fi net, which you can achieve by connecting any Network Attached Storage (NAS) device to one of your router's ethernet ports. Alternatively, you can buy a device like the Linksys Network Storage Link NSLU2 , which connects two USB hard drives to any router via ethernet.
Can I use VOIP over Wi-Fi? What kind of quality will I get?
Voice over IP actually requires comparatively little bandwidth - under 100 kbit/s per call. The problem with VOIP over Wi-Fi is more an issue of priorities: If someone else on the network is downloading large files from the Internet at the same time that you are making a call, choppiness and delays can occur.
Although the faster your router is, the fewer problems you should have using VOIP, most late-model wireless routers also incorporate 802.11e QoS (quality of service) , that prioritiss streaming data ahead of regular data transfers. Be sure to get matching adapters that also support QoS, however.