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Extending Your Wireless Home Network

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Most families today have wireless networks set up in their homes. All you need is a wireless router connected to your Internet modem, and you’re ready to share that Internet connection with all the computers (and iPhones and iPads) in your house. But what do you do when you can’t receive a strong wireless signal at the far end of your house? In this article, Michael Miller, author of Windows 7 Your Way and Wireless Networking with Windows Vista, discusses several ways to extend the range of your wireless home network — and stay connected everywhere in your house.
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If you have more than one computer in your house and an Internet connection to share, chances are you have a home network set up. All you need is a wireless router connected to your Internet modem, and you’re ready to share that Internet connection with all the computers (and iPhones and iPads) in your house.

But if your house is big enough, that might be a problem. For example, I have my wireless router in my home office at one end of a pretty big house, and the signal is pretty weak (or sometimes non-existent) at the other end of the house, especially upstairs or in the basement. Wireless routers, after all, have a limited range; get too far away, or put too many obstacles in the way, and connecting to the router becomes difficult.

How, then, can you extend the range of your router to cover a larger area? There are several things you can do, from moving your existing router to installing a second one, and we’ll cover them all in this article.

Understanding Transmission Range

Let’s start by taking a quick look at the transmission range of a wireless network. All wireless routers transmit data using radio frequency (RF) signals. These signals don't suddenly stop when they get out of range; they weaken as you get further away from the transmitter.

So if your router has a theoretical 100-foot range, its signals don’t go dead when you get 101 feet away. Instead, the network’s data transfer rate decreases as the signal decreases. Get 110 or 120 feet away from that 100-foot router, and you're likely to find your transfer rate decreasing from 54 Mbps to something approach 11 Mbps. Like I said, it’s not an immediate drop off, it’s something more gradual.

Another issue with RF-based wireless networks is that other devices in your home might operate in the same RF band—and interfere with your network signal. This is especially true of 802.11g routers (more on those numbers in a minute) that operate in the 2.4 GHz RF band. This is the same band used by some wireless phones, baby monitors, and microwave ovens. (The 2.4 GHz band is unlicensed, which means any type of device can use these frequencies.) It’s possible that any or all of these devices might be creating interference on your wireless network; you may need to change channels on these devices, if that’s an option, or on your router. You may also need to turn off an offending device.

Wireless networks can also be affected by geography. That is, if your wireless router or adapter is located too near the ground, you may experience a lower-than-expected signal strength. For that matter, locating a router or adapter too close to other electronic equipment, including your desktop computer monitor, can also reduce the transmission range. Put the router up higher and in clear sight to maximize its effectiveness.

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