Wireless networking is one of the most useful tools in our modern world, allowing levels of convenience and flexibility that would have seemed like science fiction only a couple of decades ago. But, it can sometimes be problematic. In this blog post, we cover some of the common problems that WiFi users experience.
Ask yourself: "Could I use a network cable instead?"
If WiFi is being problematic, always examine whether or not an ethernet cable could be used instead. Wired connectivity is always going to be more reliable, and faster, than wireless connectivity. It may sound like a defeatist suggestion, but where reliability and maximum performance are required, a cable is always the best method of delivery.
Running cables to every place in every room will often be impractical, and in the case of some portable devices (lacking the relevant network socket), actually impossible.
But every device moved onto a cabled connection (and having had its wireless interface properly shut down) is one less device tying up the wireless channel. So moving all the devices that you possibly can onto wired connections may actually benefit all those left on WiFi.
This may not be as daunting as it sounds - you do not need to run a separate cable from every device back to a central point (the router). High speed (gigabit) switches are surprisingly cheap, and can even be powered over the Ethernet cable, so getting one cable behind the TV could easily power a switch with 4 ports that connect to TV, gaming console, streaming device and so on without even needing an extra power socket. Our staff will be happy to explain options with switches and cables if you need them.
The structure of your home
Buildings with brick, concrete or stone walls usually have problems with WiFi signal between rooms. That is to say, a laptop being used in one room, with the access point in another room, is likely to have a lower than ideal signal level. But, on the other hand, the attenuation of the outside walls help reduce stray signals from neighboring wireless networks.
Buildings with timber/drywall stud walls often make WiFi connectivity between rooms easier, unless any 'foil backed' drywall has been used, which always makes matters far worse.
Also take into consideration the size of your home. If your home is two levels or a larger home, you may need a wireless extender or repeater to help optimize the reach of your Wifi signal.
Understanding your router
Antennas: One antenna, two antennas, three antennas, four
How many antennas does it take to get a good signal? Do you need antennas at all? Whether you can see them or not, all WiFi routers have a transmit and a receive antenna, which are used to communicate wirelessly with your devices — from your laptops and smartphones to your new smart thermometer.
Intuitively, it makes sense that more antennas on a router correlates with better signal directionality and optimum speeds. This is true, to an extent. Multiple antennas create several streams for sharing data over radio channels, which brings more bandwidth to your devices. However, additional external antennas aren’t necessarily important — the software that drives the antennas is what really matters. When purchasing a router, think less about the number of antennas and more about added functionality. Specs like MIMO and MU-MIMO increase a router’s capacity to transmit and receive data, which makes your network faster. If you're not sure what type of router you have or need, we are here to point you towards a solution.
Frequency channels: Battle of the bands
Single, dual, and tri-band refers to the frequency channels of a router. Single band routers operate at a lower frequency — on the 2.4GHz band — which has fewer channels and is therefore more crowded. In fact, most household appliances — such as your microwave, cordless phone, bluetooth devices, older computers — also operate on this frequency. Dual band routers support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. The 5GHz band is capable of transmitting more data at higher speeds, but has a hard time routing around walls and furniture and can’t travel as far. Tri-band routers support a third band on the 5GHz channel.
Whether your internet activity is limited to checking a few emails and scrolling through Facebook, or you’re one of the 75 million Netflix power-streamers, dual band is your best bet. By utilizing both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz channels, a dual band router provides better speed and coverage, which is what matters most for great WiFi everywhere in your home. While tri-band routers may seem tempting, due to the limitations of the 5GHz band, you’ll only see minimal improvement in device performance. As the technology continues to improve, this will change in the future.
Speed: The tortoise, the hare, and Mbps
Routers have all sorts of speeds listed on their packaging — from 8Mbps (megabits per second) to 1900Mbps. In theory, the higher the number, the faster your internet speed — but don’t get too caught up here. When comparing routers, you’ll likely see labels like AC1200, AC1750, AC3200, and so on. The “AC” refers to the wireless standard, while the number refers to the speed. For example, a router with a maximum link rate of 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1,300Mbps on the 5GHz band is considered an AC1750 router. But no individual client device, like your Apple TV, uses all that bandwidth at the same time, and each device can only use one band or the other. Plus, for normal WiFi usage you only really need 50 Mbps down consistently throughout your home.
It’s important to note that the speeds advertised on most traditional router packaging are theoretical maximums. The actual speeds you’ll see in your home depend on a variety of factors: your ISP (Internet Service Provider) connection, your modem, the layout and construction of your home, and much more. To choose a speed, consider your internet activity. Still lost to what you need? We can help you figure out how to boost your home internet.
Security: WEP, WPA, and WPA2, oh my!
WEP is considered outdated and a piece of cake for any basic computer hacker to crack. WPA is better and more secure than WEP, but most experts and service providers recommend WPA2 security. Luckily, most modern routers are equipped with this protocol, but double-check for this when making your decision. Bottom line: if it doesn’t have WPA2, don’t buy it!
We strive to help all our clients
The service we sell is computer support, and we work hard to ensure the performance of that service is the best it can be. But Wifi is a fickle creature that relies on the broadband router, and internet provider. When it come down to it, the equipment you connect to your internet service can only do so much. Understanding the limits of a router's pathways is important.If your router only supports 4 pathways, then it has to priorities who gets access to the internet. If you computer keeps dropping off, then it's time to find out how many pathways your router supports.
We sell routers that are specific to your individual needs based on signal strength, devices, and speed needed. Ultimately, we can never guarantee that a particular router will be able to cover a given property due to the numerous reasons given in the paragraphs above. Our goal is to find a way to optimize your internet access with multiple tools and devices.
We can also never guarantee that a WiFi network will continue to work indefinitely. We have experienced situations where the environment around a customer's property has changed (for example, an increase in the number of neighbors running WiFi networks, causing more congestion on the channels). Obviously a neighbor's activities are entirely outside of our control. We can usually improve matters by coming out and addressing your new needs according to the new factors.