How to Improve Your Wireless Network Performance
Wired Versus Wireless
I rarely see anybody mention this because it isn't really a wireless tip but you would be amazed at the people who never even consider this and think that wireless is as fast and reliable as wired. If that were the case I would not be spending hours writing this article. Two of my computers and my main television are plugged into the router by Ethernet cables for good reason. I don't have to worry about wireless quality while working and I get the best pings while gaming.
Like many of you we have plenty of wireless devices so why clog your wireless network any more than you have to? Someone asked on our forums once about poor gaming speed and admitted to having 11 devices connecting to the wireless. Today's broadband is faster than ever but I think people expect miracles from their Wi-Fi networks. Another hotly debated topic is how many devices are too many? I have even heard some ISPs only work best up to a certain number of devices. True or false really does not matter; the more connected devices, the less bandwidth you have. Period. I recently had a friend try to solve a wireless issue at a customer's home. The router was on the complete opposite end of this condominium from where the problem was and they were having trouble streaming NetFlix to a television at least 50 feet away. He explained all their options including using an Ethernet cable for the best performance but was told by the customer that the wireless signal was fine. Be open to suggestions.
The bottom line is that your wireless will work great from a couple feet away and the farther you go, the worse the performance will be. Make sure you are getting the performance you are paying for by using a computer connected by an Ethernet cable and doing a speed test at SpeedTest.Net. Everyone offers some sort of super-fast broadband but most give you what you pay for. Opinions vary but in my experience anything beyond 30 feet or so is too far for maximum performance.
Location, location, location
This should be obvious but there are some factors to consider. You want your router centrally located in your home. If you have a device that uses the router more than most then you can consider placing your router closest to that device. Do not rule out strange locations like an upper shelf on the first floor. You could even place your router in a closet if that's the best location.
Metal objects can kill your signal. If you ever took a device to the other side of a metal door you would see how much the signal quality fades. If your home has metal beams, consider this when placing the router. Walk or visualize the path that the signal has to take to get to your most important devices.
Update your firmware and network adapter drivers
Driver updates are usually the first place to go. New drivers often contain fixes for known issues (like you might be having), performance increases and more. On average most manufacturers update every few months. Tweaking.com System Information can identify your hardware if you do not know what type of wireless card you have.
I am not a big fan of updating your firmware. Updating the firmware uses a software download to change your hardware. You really need to know what you are doing, especially how to reset your router should the update fail. In the section below we discuss how to log into your router. This is where you will find the options to check for firmware. If it sounds like I am trying to scare you away from doing a firmware update, I am; save it for when all else fails. General rule on updating firmware is to only do it when it specifically addresses a problem you are having.
Change your wireless channel
This is a great tip especially if you are picking up a lot of other wireless signals. Most modern routers can automatically select the best channel but you can tweak this to force it on a channel that works best for you. In today's home you can be on the same channel as your cordless phone, microwave, garage door opener and many, many more. A lot of routers go out with the default channel 6 so changing your channel can be great just to get on a different channel than your neighbors.
If you read up on the best channel to choose it is a hot debate because everyone's situation is different. Why sit at your computer for hours and guess the best channel when you can use inSSIDer to see what channel is best? Download inSSIDer, install and scan. Set your channel as far away as possible from busy channels.
You will need to log in to your router to do this. Please check for your documentation or download it from your router manufacturer. Most routers ship with a basic or no password so consider setting up a new password once you login. Cisco has a nice tutorial that should work for many LinkSys routers and this is very similar to how any router login will work. Step 1 of that tutorial also includes a link on how to login to your router. Again, all routers are a little different but you will find that your router will be very similar to these instructions.
In addition, modern wireless N routers to come with a 5 GHz frequency and a 2.4 GHz frequency. It is advantageous to name each channel distinctly different names. (On a Cisco router log in, click Wireless> Wireless settings> Manual) for 2 reasons:
1: It is possible that you have a cordless phone system in your house running at 2.4 GHz, this can cause interference and hence you should switch to the 5 GHz frequency.
2: Although 5 GHz can send more data; it does not perform well though solid objects hence, the range of the 2.4 GHz is by far greater and some can be a better choice. Having different names will help you easily choose when you need / want to switch.
Optimize your internet connection
The latest Windows operating systems finally handle the internet well but not perfect. We have used SpeedGuide.net TCP Optimizer for as long as we can remember. Different factors may have changed your settings and you can use this program to set Windows back to default or optimal settings with a single click. Just be sure you select your wireless adapter from the drop down box. If you have an Ethernet connection (most of us do) it will typically select that adapter by default.
Try a high-gain antenna ($)
Many popular routers have high gain antennas available. They can extend the signal strength as well as allow you to point the antenna in the direction you want. This is a cheap, simple fix worth trying if you do not want to go with a repeater. Search Google for your router brand, model and follow that up with 'high gain antennaв'. You can also replace your card with a wireless card that includes a high gain antenna.
Replace your wireless card ($)
As mentioned you can purchase a new card with a high gain antenna or just purchase a card that supports the latest technology. All the cards I have seen are backward compatible so even if you can't use the latest mode you will be ready for the future. See below for a bit more on this.
Use a router and network card from the same manufacturer ($$$)
In a perfect world you can use any router and wireless card but it's not a perfect world. You might have purchased a router from LinkSys featuring proprietary technology with cool names like 'dual band', 'SpeedBoost' and so on. If your wireless card is from a different manufacturer then it will not support these features rendering them useless. Getting better speed might be as simple as using a router and wireless card from the same manufacturer.
Add a wireless repeater ($$)
I saved this for last because I don't see the point in adding another device unless you have to. If you have a long range to cover then this IS the solution for you. As I mentioned early in this article, most routers brag about going 100 feet when in reality that signal fades and fades fast by the time you get to about 30 feet. Simply place the repeater between the router and the devices with a poor signal and you are good to go.
If you happen to have 2 wireless routers handy, you can cable the two together to extend the range as described in our forums, but if not a wireless repeater can be much simpler to set up.