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How Do I Best Extend My Wireless Network for Laptop Access?

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I have a basic D-Link “n” router. The signal does not penetrate well throughout my house. What is the best way to get excellent coverage everywhere? I was thinking of adding a wireless access point at the opposite end of the
house.

There are a couple of good approaches to extending your wireless network for your laptop or other wireless devices. Depending on the characteristics of your home, adding one or more wireless access points may well be the best
approach.

On the other hand, they’re not appropriate for all situations, so I’ll look at a couple of common alternatives as well.

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The common setup looks like this:

Basic Wireless Setup

The internet comes into a wireless router (which is nothing more than a combined router and access point), and the wireless connection is available to anyone in range.

The most common problem is either distance – when the laptop you want to connect wirelessly is too far away – or some kind of obstruction that blocks the wireless signal.
Basic wireless being blocked by something

That block can be anything from an actual wall to electrical equipment that just happens to also interfere with the wireless signal.

Additional Access Point

The “traditional”, and typically the best solution is to add an additional wired access point (not a router):
Wireless adding an access point

The access point connects via cable to one of the router’s available wired connections, and that cable then bypasses the interference, or bridges the distance, so that an additional access point can be placed closer to the laptop that needs it.

In general, if you can manage getting a cable in place to do it, this is generally the preferred approach, and the most robust. You can, for example, place a switch at the end of that cable and hook up additional wired equipment in addition to that wireless access point.

To address your plan: opposite ends of the house sounds like a good plan, but keep in mind where you expect the computers to be used the most and perhaps optimize placement for that. For example, my wireless access point sits in my family room, where my wife and I frequently use our laptops when at home.

Wireless Repeater

A wireless repeater is nothing more than a wireless device that hands off communication between two points:
Wireless Repeater

The repeater is placed “somewhere” between the wireless router and the computer you want to have connect wirelessly. I say “somewhere” because this can get tricky – it needs to be close enough to the wireless router to get a good signal, yet also close enough to the laptop or other computers connecting wirelessly to be able to provide them with a strong signal as well. In the diagram, I’ve placed the repeater on one side of the wall or interference, but in reality it could be just about anywhere as long as those two “close enough” criteria are met.

Placement can be an issue. I’ve also heard that wireless repeaters can adversely impact throughput in some cases. (Caveat: I’ve never used one myself, opting for the wired solution wherever necessary.)

Better Antennas

Another approach that is frequently mentioned is simply to get better antennas – either for the wireless router, the remote laptop, or both.
Bigger wireless antenna

By replacing or adding larger or directional antennas on the equipment involved you can occasionally increase the range of the wireless signal. A larger or directional antenna on the wireless router can produce a stronger or clearer signal. A larger or directional antenna on the remote device gives it “bigger ears” with which to hear the signal available.

I’ve heard of this solution working well in many circumstances – typically increasing the range of unobstructed wireless signals. But like the repeater, it can also be somewhat difficult to set up and get working. If a wired solution is not an option, and you have the ability to experiment with this solution I’d probably rank it as my number two choice – though a distant number two.

The specifics of what’s available will depend on your router, your laptop, and perhaps even your own ability to get creative (a common example cited is the “can-tenna” made out of a potato chip can that can create a highly directional – home made – antenna).

13 comments on “How Do I Best Extend My Wireless Network for Laptop Access?”

  1. Just yesterday, I installed DD-WRT firmware on an old Linksys WRT54G wireless router and turned it into a wireless repeater. In this particular case, the DD-WRT website explains that router throughput is reduced by 50%, but there is still a substantial improvement in overall performance, because one-half of the router throughput is still more than my ISP often provides. Equipment that is physically designed to be a repeater might not have this problem.

  2. Powerline technology uses your mains electricity house wiring to distribute the signal from your router. You need a “homeplug” which plugs into an electric socket adjacent to your router and also via an ethernt cable to the router. Then another homeplug in a remote socket on your wiring system can be connected by ethernet cable or wireless to your computer. There are various manufacturers of these in UK. Try googling Homeplug, Solwise, Davolo for a start. Also have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HomePlug_Powerline_Alliance
    I’m sure the system must be available throughout the world.

  3. I had little success changing the antenna on my wireless router. I noticed no improvement in the strength of the signal at the far end of my house. I did, however, successfully install a Linksys range expander. It was a pain to install — especially because the first one I bought was defective, and it took me quite a while to determine it wasn’t me but the unit that was the problem — but it does seem to work, and the family are no longer complaining about lack of signal strength. Every once in a blue moon, I get an error message from Windows alerting me to what it reports is an IP Address conflict on my network, but I see no ill effects.

  4. I upgraded from a Linksys WRT54G router which had dual antennas to a new antenna-less N-series router by the same maker. The difference is phenomenal. Coverage is far better as it spans two floors including cemented walls and a staircase. I’ve never had less than 4 signal bars at the farthest point in my house from the router where I was getting fair or poor coverage on the G series.
    These wireless problems might be that easy to resolve in the end. I now have the G unit to use as an access point if that need ever arises or I move to a mansion 🙂

  5. My solution was to move the router from the basement to a main-floor room. I discovered the reason I had bad signal was all the metal ducting for heating and cooling – an obvious interference. Once I moved away from that, my wireless lan was golden.

  6. Another alternative would be to use Power-line networking. We live in a home constructed in brick with steel I-beams throughout. As you can guess, wireless connectivity is a challenge. We put in a point-to-point Power-line network between the home office & the family room. There were a couple of gottcha’s but once resolved the connection is rock solid. The gottcha’s were: open ground, hot neutral reversal, requirement of connect directly to wall outlet – meaning no filtration allowed. When you live in an older home these can be daunting to find & fix but well worth the effort for not just networking but for your over-all electrical system as well.

    Powerline’s an interesting technology – I guess I’d lump it together with the wired approach to somehow get an additional access point elsewhere in the house (or perhaps just a wired connection to a single computer). Definitely worth investigating for many folks.

    Leo
    23-Jun-2010

  7. I have tried the wired access point solution in the past and I ended up with multiple instances of the network that confused the computer. For example, the laptop would recognize them as Linksys and Linksys2. They seemed to multiply over time if I tried to change something about the network and at times the computer seemed to see Linksys 3, 4 and 5. Did I do something wrong? How do I make sure that the computer realizes that this is the same network no matter where it picks up the signal from (e.g., if I am somewhere where it is receiving both a strong and a weak signal from the same network)? Thanks.

  8. i want to know all my users
    what he uses or browse and i want to details at all throug the firewall devices
    and i want to know in many time my internet speed is very slow

  9. Another potential solution is MOCA technology, which passes the Internet signal along the cable lines, not along the electricity lines. I don’t fully understand how it works, myself, but it has something to do separating the cable input from the Internet input. Whatever. Anyway, it works like a champ, and I haven’t EVER had a problem since I installed it a couple of years ago. I get a strong signal in every room I connect with MOCA. Highly recommended. . . . Even better if Leo can explain to us as clearly as he usually does.

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