Wednesday, July 4, 2012

WiFi Router Problems - How to Improve home wireless connection

If you live in a densely populated area, where many of your neighbors use WiFi, and your connection keeps dropping, or it is intermittent and unstable, there is a solution for you.

The issues that this post will address are related to wireless (or WiFi) instability, frequent disconnects, network issues which are mainly affecting iPad and are bringing the "no internet connection" error message.

Wireless or WiFi is a communication protocol that is defined under a standard called 802.11 , this standard is using two main frequencies to transmit over the air, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.

Under the sub standard called 802.11g, which is the most common protocol in residential networks these days, the transmission is being done using the 2.4GHZ method. The problem is that this frequency only allow 11 channels for the entire spectrum and only three usable (non overlapping).

In short, a WiFi user can only use channels 1, 6 or 11 in the United States, based on the current standards. As long as there are only three wireless routers around, that's not a problem, since every router can use one of the channels and no conflict will be happening. 
If there are more than three routers around, channels need to be shared and in a high share environment, devices will disconnect from the router.

How can you tell if this is the reason to your disconnects, check how many available wireless networks are showing up when you enter the network settings and if you see more than five, there is a good chance that this is your problem.

Here is a snip of what I see in my windows 7 wireless network connections window (network names were deleted for privacy):

This exact thing was happening to me and was mostly experienced while using the ipad, where the ipad would constantly disconnect from the network and display the 'choose a network' dialog.

What can you do? there is a solution for that, use a wireless protocol that operates in the 5 GHz frequency. Why would it matter? because 5 GHz  gives you twenty more channels to use (total of twenty three) and reduces the potential channel clogging that happens in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. The wireless protocol that can be used to take advantage of this is the 802.11n.

The 802.11n can work on either 2.4 or 5 GHz and it is the most recent standardized WiFi protocol (until 802.11ac gets approved). In order to use 802.11n over the 5 GHz frequency, you need a special router that can provide this functionality.

If you are already an owner of that sort of wireless router, all you need to do is use the SSID for the 5 GHz and your issues should stop, if not you need to purchase a router that can provide this functionality.

The device I purchased for that purpose is the Cisco/Linksys E2500 router:

Other routers that are dual band can also provide that functionality, but from my experience this specific router did the job.

Once the router is available, it can either replace your existing WiFi router, or if you have a router that is also a cable modem (has a coax cable connected to it, like the Verizon FiOS router), you can configure it to act as an access point by selecting the Bridge Mode in the 'internet connection' settings and plugging it to the back of your router.

That's it for this post, if you find it helpful but need more details about how to setup the router, comment below and I'll answer or create another post with more details.

*** Update: here is a link to a post about how to configure the linksys ruter for bridge mode Linksys wireless router config for bridge mode