Spread the net

We live in a wireless world. There’s no way around it: The convenience, simplicity, and speeds of a cable-free environment rival, if not beat, the best that wired networking has to offer. But that doesn’t mean that wireless networking is flawless solution in each and every occurrence. One of the biggest challenges that stems from switching from a wired to wireless setup is consistency: Unlike a cable, which rarely fails in delivering a strong connection, wireless signals can be a bit more finicky.

It’s bad enough to lose your overall connection to a wireless network when the signal falters. But more frustrating are the slowdowns that can come from a less-than-ideal wireless setup. Thankfully, there are a number of techniques you can use to ensure that your wireless network is top-notch, optimized to handle all the traffic you throw its way without interrupting your digital life with connection headaches.

Picking the Right Wireless Protocol

There are two primary wireless protocols to worry about: Wireless-G, or 802.11g, and Wireless-N, or 802.11n. Not only do they differ in the raw speeds they’re able to support – Wireless-G caps out at 54 *megabits a second, or around 6.75 megabytes per second, whereas most home Wireless-N networking equipment tops out at 300 megabits per second, or 37.5 megabytes per second – but they also differ in the overall connective range and quality that they can dish out.

Devices based on the Wireless-N protocol use multiple technologies to achieve a greater connective kick than their Wireless-G peers. For example, spatial multiplexing, or the use of multiple antennas to transmit multiple data streams, allows Wireless-N devices to increase their throughput to a far greater degree than Wireless-G device can support. In other words, Wireless-N networks achieve greater performance: Faster speeds, longer ranges, and stronger consistency.

But that’s not all. Wireless-N networks can also support dual-band networking, or the use of both the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz channels to deliver wireless signals to connected devices. Since a number of consumer products (and other wireless networks) tend to operate in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, switching a Wireless-N network over to the 5.0 GHz channel can decrease the potential interference posed by other devices in your home. You can achieve a more consistent connection at the mere flick of an option in your router’s configuration settings.

Extend Your Coverage

Your wireless network is only as good as the signal emanating from wherever you’ve deployed your primary networking devices. But a wireless network doesn’t have to be just a single router: If you’ve found that areas of your household lack a consistent coverage no matter how beefy your primary wireless router’s signal is, it might be time to add secondary devices into the mix to amplify your accessibility.

For example, devices like wireless bridges and wireless access points can open up new connection options for areas otherwise underserved by your primary wireless signal. A wireless bridge allows you to connect wired-only devices up to your existing wireless bubble, whereas wireless access points use a wired connection to your primary wireless router to help you deploy new areas of wireless coverage anywhere around your household.

You can even add a second wireless router into your existing setup to extend your coverage and ensure greater wireless consistency for your connected devices. So long as you’ve disabled the router’s dynamic IP addressing functionality – to prevent all sorts of confusion between devices connected to your second router, which is itself connected to your first router – you’ll be able to tap into the wireless network created by this second device. Just like an access point, you’ll still have to connect it to your existing setup using wired Ethernet cable.

Testing Out

One of the best ways to ensure a consistent connection to your wireless network is to make sure that you’ve placed your various networking devices in the appropriate locations such that they can deliver the best signals throughout your household. And the best way to go about doing this isn’t by reading a manual or an online setup guide: It’s trial and error.

Grab a freeware application like InSSIDer, fire it up on your laptop (or wireless desktop connection, if you’re so equipped), and test the connective capabilities of your wireless network in the various locations you access it from most. If you’re finding that the signal quality just isn’t to your liking, shuffle the source around – perhaps further away from the wall, or relocated to a higher vantage point than the floor or desk – until you’ve found an acceptable solution to your lower connectivity.

If you want to get hardcore, you can also investigate add-on antennas for your wireless router. Be they beefed-up omnidirectional antennas, which extend wireless coverage in a sphere around the antenna itself, or directional antennas, which pinpoint a wireless signal akin to a laser beam, you might be able to put a little more kick into your wireless coverage by adding a more powerful antenna into the mix.

It’s easy to build a great wireless network, but it’s a bit tougher to truly maximize its effectiveness around all the locations where you most need coverage. But with a little know-how, a little testing, and a few additions to you existing network, you can blanket an area with consistent, wireless coverage for all of your connected devices. From there, the Web is truly at your disposal.

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