Fix your Wi-Fi: Free tweaks and major overhauls
Is your trusty Wi-Fi network faltering? Are you encountering problems with streaming media, online games, or network backups? As more people turn to Wi-Fi for tasks that depend on high bandwidth and low latency, the technology's weaknesses--a limited ability to accommodate multiple neighboring networks and multimedia-related design issues, among others--have become more apparent.
Tackling these problems may involve purchasing new gear, but you might just need to adjust your router settings. Here are a few common problems and some fixes.
Fix Your Wi-Fi for Free
If you're having serious difficulties with your Wi-Fi range or streaming media, you might have to spend some money to fix them. Before you buy anything, however, make sure that you're doing the best you can with the gear you already own.
Start with the position of your router. You should place it as centrally to the location of your networked gear as possible. If you're using 802.11b, g, or n equipment on the 2.4GHz band, try to keep the router away from potential sources of interference, such as microwave ovens and some cordless phones. If possible, place it higher rather than lower--closer to the ceiling than to the floor. In general, it's best to position the router far from any sources of electrical interference.
Speaking of interference, be aware of it. Try not to use the microwave while you're watching a video. Bluetooth also runs on the 2.4GHz band, so consider putting away your Bluetooth headset.
Try using channels other than the defaults. Again, this is primarily an issue only for 2.4GHz networks, which have just three nonoverlapping channels (1, 6, and 11). Many routers have an Auto setting that's supposed to figure out which channel is the least crowded, but you can experiment with setting a specific channel. Make sure that the adapters on all other networked devices are set to the same channel.
It goes without saying that setting security is important, not just to protect privacy but also to keep bandwidth thieves away. Even if you have set up WPA2 encryption, it's a good idea to check on whether any unauthorized gear is using your network. Most routers have a status page in their firmware that lets you look at active DHCP clients--take a peek from time to time.
Extend Your Wi-Fi Signal
The breadth of your Wi-Fi coverage depends on a lot of variables, including everything from the distance and number of walls between a networked device and the Wi-Fi router to the weather and time of day. If your Wi-Fi reception is okay up close but iffy a room or two away, you may find that boosting the signal helps--especially if you're still using an older 802.11b/g router (802.11n gear significantly improves coverage).
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