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How to improve your wireless network

By now, most tech-savvy households have installed some kind of wireless network. Whether you use it to download e-books to your Kindle, stream movies to your iPad, or just occasionally log on from the bedroom, a wireless network brings efficiency, convenience, and flexibility.

But it can also lead to frustration. While you may get a perfectly good signal in the bedroom, you’re lucky if you get any signal at all in the kitchen. And forget about the idea of working outside in the summer. The promise of high-speed Internet access gives way to dropped connections, constant buffering, and agonizingly slow Web browsing.

But there are some simple steps you can take to improve the range and performance of your wireless network – and they don’t involve buying expensive equipment or re-wiring your home. Try some of these tips and see if you notice an improvement.

  • Position the wireless router in a more central location.  While the home office may seem like the natural place to position your router, such rooms are often purposely located in a remote part of the house. Think about the other rooms you are trying to reach and locate the router accordingly.

  • Replace your router’s antenna.  The antennas that come with most routers are designed to broadcast a signal in all directions, which means that signals are often directed to closets and outside walls. As a result, much of the router’s power is wasted. If your router’s antenna is removable, you can upgrade to a ‘high-gain’ directional antenna, which focuses the wireless signals in the direction they are most needed. (D-Link, Linksys and Hawking are just three of the companies that manufacture high-gain antennas.)

  • Add a wireless repeater.  Wireless repeaters (sometimes referred to as boosters) can extend your wireless range without the need to install additional wiring. Just place the repeater in a location between the router and the area in which you want to boost the wireless signal and you should see an immediate improvement in performance.

  • Reduce wireless interference.  Heavy objects such as thick walls, metal filing cabinets, and screens can interfere with wireless signals. Try moving your router away from these obstructions or placing it higher in the room to promote a clearer signal. Similarly, other wireless devices such as cordless phones, baby monitors, and garage door openers can produce wireless “noise,” making it hard for your router’s signals to be heard. Reduce the number of other wireless devices in the vicinity of the router.

  • Update your software.  Router manufacturers regularly update the ‘firmware’ associated with their devices. Visit the manufacturer’s website to make sure you have the latest version. Similarly, if you are using Microsoft Windows, make sure you have the latest networking software updates for your operating system.

  • Replace your laptop’s network adapter.  If you have an older laptop without built-in wireless networking capability, consider replacing the card-based wireless network adapter with a USB wireless adapter. These can significantly improve the reception and signal capability of your laptop.

  • Make sure your wireless network is secure.  It may not improve performance but it will certainly help your peace of mind. Make sure your wireless network is secure, so that only you and your family can access it. The two most common network security options are WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). Both options require a network security key to identify and authenticate users. If you do not have a WPA or WEP key, talk to your broadband provider about upgrading your service.

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