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How can I improve the range on my Wi-Fi setup?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / June 28, 2007 9:13 AM PDT
Question

Hello. I recently moved into a three-story townhouse, and I want to improve the signal from my Linksys wireless router so that each area of the floors we can get a decent signal (some area are either too weak or nonexistent). It would be great if I could get the signal from my yard as well. What is the best location to place the router in? Is there hardware or software that I can use to improve the signal? There is one shared wall in our unit. What special considerations should I be aware of in terms of security? Thank you.

Submitted by John of Chicago

Answer voted most helpful by CNET members

WiFi that really Works

John, wireless networking can often end up seeming more like black magic than science when it comes to troubleshooting range and coverage problems. Wireless signals are affected by the distance between the router and the receiving computers, the type of wall and ceiling construction, objects in the room and interference from many other electronic items that could be in your home or a close neighbors. Depending on these and other factors, it is not uncommon to experience wireless ranges from as little as 20? to well over a hundred. But have no fear, with a little time and patience anyone can put together a good, reliable wireless network with limited resources.

You did not mention whether you are using laptops, desktops, how many total computers, if any of the computers will be in fixed locations or how important network speed is to you, so I will try to cover all the bases and take into consideration as many factors as possible. So let me apologize in advance for probably way more information then you had asked for. Many of the decisions you make will be affected by your exact wants and needs out of a wireless network. There are many ways to extend the range of a wireless network including: High-Gain Antennas, Repeaters, Power Booster, Multiple Access Points and upgrading to the newer N routers and cards. Regardless of the technologies that you may end up using to accomplish your networking goals, I would still recommend using the information below to find the optimum location for your router. I personally would prefer to have one well placed router than trying to configure a repeater or deal with aiming directional antennas.

The key to success is in the planning and the exact location of the router can be the most important part of the wireless installation. The very first thing you need to do is to perform a complete survey of the area that you want to have wireless coverage.

NETWORK SURVEY

1. Router Locations ? Map out all the possible locations for your modem and router. General guidelines for router placement usually recommend placing the wireless router as high as possible at a centrally located point in your house. Depending on the type of broadband internet service you have, how your house is wired now and your ability or willingness to run some extra Ethernet cable, you may have several viable locations for the placement of your modem and router. For example: If you have DSL service and your house already has phone jacks in every room, then any of these rooms could be potential Modem/Router locations. On the other hand, if you are using broadband through your cable company, your placement may be more limited. Depending on your cables signal strength and how your house is wired for cable, you may have only a few possible locations or maybe only one. The reason for this is that the cable modem often requires a direct cable line without any splits. The modem can give you problems if used on old or inferior wiring or on lines that have too many splitters. This is why the cable company will often run a clean new cable line just to the modem with only one signal split. The preferred wiring method for a cable modem is to have the cable come into the house and go into a high-quality 2-way splitter. One line from the splitter goes directly to the modem with nothing else on that line and the other side of the splitter goes to all of the rest the TV?s in the house. This way the modem receives the best possible signal. If you house or neighborhood happens to have really good signal strength from the cable company then you might get away with other configurations. NOTE: It is normally recommended to have at least one computer hard wired to your router. This will allow you to easily setup and maintain your network as well as troubleshoot problems later on.

2. Access your Home for possible interference - Many wireless networks fail due to interference from other wireless networks and/or cordless devices commonly found around the average home. In some cases, interference can even come from a close neighbor or attached apartment. The most common culprit is 2.4ghz cordless phones. These phones operate on the same frequency as most wireless networks and can reduce the effective range of your network or even prevent it from working altogether. Even though it is possible to get these two devices to play together, I recommend replacing any cordless phone systems with either the newer 5.8ghz models or the older 900mhz type. NOTE: To disable cordless phones that may be causing interference, you must unplug the base station and also remove the battery from all handsets. There are also many other wireless devices and appliances found around the home that you must take into account: Wireless alarms systems, Microwave Ovens, Wireless Video and Audio systems and baby monitors or intercoms. Typically only the items that use the 2.4ghz band will cause problems, but you should try to avoid placing all electrical devices too close to your router or wireless computers. Keep in mind that many wireless problems can be intermittent. I have had scenarios where everything was fine until a cordless phone rang, someone made a phone call or used the microwave oven. Some devices such as cordless phone can change channels automatically causing interference to come and go.

3. Survey the Area with a Wireless Laptop - If you have or can borrow a wireless laptop, this can be used as a tool to evaluate your entire home before you even start setting up your network. Most all wireless laptops have a wireless utility that will show you the signal strength of all nearby networks. If you are lucky, some utilities even display the wireless channel for each network which is real helpful when it comes to deciding what channel to set your router to. If your laptops built-in wireless utility is really lacking, you can also download a tool such as NetStumbler http://www.netstumbler.com/downloads/ . Without installing or even connecting your router to your broadband modem, simply plug the router into any electrical outlet. Most models will start transmitting within a few minutes and you can walk around the house with your laptop to evaluate the signal strength in various locations throughout the house. Try moving the router to different locations and test again. Once you find the ideal location, you can then run the wires and install the modem. Your laptop may find other networks in the area, so be careful to make sure you are checking your router and not the signal strength of someone else?s network.

4. Still Can Not Get a Good Signal ? If you still can not find an ideal location for the router that gives you full wireless coverage, then you will have to resort to the following other options:

a. Upgrade Router Only ? If you find that your wireless range is borderline, meaning that you have some signal everywhere but maybe just a little low in spots, you may benefit from the added range of an 802.11N router. Many of these routers will give you added range when used with regular B and G computers without having to purchase the matching cards. I have had great luck with the Belkin Pre N and now the N1 router.

b. Upgrade Router and Adapters ? If the range is still not acceptable or you just want some added speed, you can upgrade both the router and the wireless adapter in each computer. You could also upgrade the router and then upgrade the just the adapters in the computers that are out of range, having trouble or need extra speed.

c. Repeaters/Extenders ? Another option is to install a Wireless Repeater or Extender. These units are typically placed about half way between the router and the receiving computer(s) and picks up the wireless signal from the router and retransmits it onto the rest of the house. Some of these can be difficult to setup and may require that you have matching equipment from the same vendor. Note: Repeaters/Extenders will generally cut your network speed in half. http://www.hawkingtech.com/products/productlist.php?CatID=32&FamID=105&ProdID=293 or http://catalog.belkin.com/IWCatProductPage.process?Product_Id=278082

d. Extended Range Antennas ? I personally have not had the best of luck with many of the add-on antennas that claim increased range. But the theory is that many of these antennas focus the transmission into a more directional pattern thus improving the strength of the wireless signal where you need it. If you have just a marginal signal you may find some improvement with some of these antennas. But if you are getting no signal at all, then I would probably not bother. Here is an example of a super long range adapter from Hawking Technology http://www.hawkingtech.com/products/productlist.php?CatID=32&FamID=60&ProdID=280

e. PowerLine Networking ? There are also both Wireless and Wired versions of Powerline adapters that can send network signals through your electrical wiring in your home to remote rooms that are out of range. They consist of two plug-in units where one plugs into your current router and into a wall outlet and the other unit plugs into an power outlet in another room. Signals are then transmitted through your homes electrical wiring. Note: You can find more information on these at Netgear http://www.netgear.com/Products/PowerlineNetworking.aspx?for=Home+Networking or http://www.dlink.com/products/?sec=1&pid=533

f. PhoneLine Networking ? You can also extend your network using existing phone lines that may already run throughout you home. This was popular a few years ago but seems to be losing ground to powerline networking.

g. Second or Third Access Point ? Another option is to add a second or even a third Access Point (Wireless Router Set to AP mode) to your network. This is probably the best method of extending your wireless network although it will require some wiring between units. If you happen to have Ethernet jacks throughout your home, this could be very easy to implement. You could even send your signal to another location using a powerline Ethernet adapter and then run that into Access Point or just purchase this Powerline Wireless Unit from Netgear http://www.netgear.com/Products/PowerlineNetworking/PowerlineWirelessAccessPoints.aspx

You can mix and combine almost all of these technologies into single working network to fit almost any needs. In your particular case of a 3 floor townhouse, your best bet would normally be to place the wireless router on the second floor (directly in the middle of the coverage area). But if that is not possible and you can not run any wires, then you might try a wireless extender.

WIRELESS NETWORK SECURITY

You had asked about what you should be aware of when it comes to security? Let me first say that the default setting for most all wireless routers is NO SECURITY at all. So if you just plug it in and start using it, your network will be wide open for anyone to use or exploit. I highly recommend leaving all security OFF until after you have your network up and running. Make sure everything is working and stable before implementing security. It is a lot easier to troubleshoot problems and make changes without having to deal with security settings. Once you have everything working just the way you want, it is time to setup security. Depending on your level of paranoia, you can get as carried away as you want with implementing various security settings. You need to read the instructions for your specific router, but the basics are as follows:

SSID BROADCAST = This is the name that is sent out to identify your network. You have the choice to turn off broadcasting this name, making it more difficult for the casual user to find your network. At the very least, make sure you change the name of your network from the default setting which is usually something like linksys or netgear. I can?t tell you how many times I have found people connected to their neighbors network by mistake because they had the same default SSID name. I would normally suggest that you do not use anything that will identify your network as belonging to you, such as using your name or address. Just like I mentioned with security, I would not recommend turning off SSID broadcasting until you have made sure your network is working properly.

MAC FILTERING = Each Network adapter has a unique MAC address which is similar to having a serial number on each computer. You can tell your router to only connect to computers with a specific MAC address, thus limiting the ability of others to connect to your network. You just have to remember that if you purchase a new computer, change a network adapter or a friend stops by and wants to use your network, that you have to enter that computers MAC address into your router before use.

ENCRIPTION = There many types and levels of encryption and equally as many opinions as to which method is best. New methods are being developed all the time. WEP, WEP 64 bit, WEP 128 bit, WPA and WPA2 are just a few of the options. I would suggest using a minimum of WEP 128 or better still, WPA. See your router manual for details on how to change these settings.

TIME OF DAY = Many routers have the ability to set time of day usage, so I guess if you limit the amount of time your computers are connected to the internet, you are reducing your exposure.

FIREWALLS
Many routers today have a built-in hardware firewall, but for increased security you should consider a software firewall such as ZoneAlarm.

NOTE: Regardless of what you do, and given the time, if someone really wants to get into your network, they can. The usual goal is to make it as difficult as possible, keep out the casual hackers and prevent the neighbors from barrowing your Internet.


NETWORK SPEED

A few things to keep in mind if network speed is an issue. All the computers on your wireless network are sharing the total bandwidth, so the more you have connected wirelessly the slower. This would not normally be an issue for 3 or 4 wireless computers that are simply surfing the internet and retrieving email. But if you have heavy users or plan to use the network to move large amounts of data between computers, than you may want to take speed into account. Just to give you an idea, I performed some simple network speed tests a few years ago to see how fast I could transfer files from one computer to another.

I ran the tests by transferring a 28MB folder (about 20 medium quality digital photographs) from one computer to my server with an excellent signal and the router only 10 feet away. Individual results will vary depending on router settings, the distance to the wireless router and the number of wireless computers using the network. The speed of your connection drops as the distance between the router and the computer increases. With a poor wireless connection, these times could increase by a factor of 10.

Wireless 802.11G took 36 seconds
Wireless Pre-N took 12 seconds
Hard Wired 10/100 (100) took 4 seconds

Again, speed is usually not much of an issue unless you are copying large video files, streaming music to another room or backing up your computes over the network. This is another reason why it is best to hardwire as many computers as possible.

If you are really having problems and just can?t seem to find what is causing your interference, I purchased a little $200 device called WI SPY http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/electronic/80ce/ that turns your laptop into a low cost WiFi spectrum analyzer. This can help you determine the source of your interference as well as help you determine the best channel to set your router to. Of course you can also spend several thousand dollars on a real network analyzer from Fluke Instruments.

Good Luck!

Dana
Wayland Computer

Submitted by Dana H. (aka waytron)

If you have an additional advice for John, let's hear them. Click on the "Reply" link to post. Please be detailed as possible in your answer and list all options available. Thanks!
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Better antennas, add an AP
by Technojunkie3 / June 29, 2007 10:23 AM PDT

The best thing you can do is swap in better antennas. 9dBi "rubber duck" antennas are the best bang for the buck. I bought mine on eBay. Make sure you get antennas with the correct connector (Reverse TNC for dual antenna Linksys models).

If you want to really do things right, buy a WRT54GL, flash the excellent DD-WRT firmware into it, and configure it as an access point as described here:

http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Wireless_Access_Point

Run Ethernet between it and your current router. Place the two near the opposite sides of the area you wish to cover. You might be able to do this with the stock Linksys firmware. I'm not sure.

Alternatively, if you can't link the Linksys boxes via Ethernet you could set up a WDS:

http://www.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/WDS_Linked_router_network

But Ethernet is ideal.

Linksys also makes range extenders, which may or may not be simpler than the above approaches. I doubt they're as effective.

The WRT54GL is Linksys' Linux based router. It's superior to the cheaper WRT54G. My WRT54GL with DD-WRT firmware had over 200 days uptime. The stock Linksys firmware could have probably done the same. DD-WRT adds quite a few additional features. I highly recommend DD-WRT for the technically minded. Everyone else should probably stick with the stock firmware.

Security: change the admin password, disable SSID broadcast, enable WPA2 encryption, and consider enabling MAC address filtering to only allow specific machines to connect wirelessly. Just don't forget that you enabled MAC filtering when you buy a new machine. https://www.grc.com/passwords.htm will generate a very nice random encryption key for you.

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Take advantage of your bathroom plumbing ...
by hellochip / June 29, 2007 10:44 AM PDT

The best place to put your wireless router is on top of or behind the toilet. All of the piping in your house will then act as an antenna and reach every floor. Since the pipes run inside the wall, you are never more than one-half of a wall away.

Just be careful in the middle of the night if you take a wiz ...

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Improve your wireless router range
by ou81to / June 29, 2007 10:55 AM PDT

John,
I had a similar situation where I wanted internet access in my basement exercise room and access in my office on the second floor(3rd floor up from the basement). I did a lot of research and followed the advice of many experts including those of the c/net group. Which I will pass along. Since you are looking at purchasing additional equipment you might as well get the best router(in my mind)on the market the Belkin Wireless Pre-N Router selling at less than $100. I have used this router for over three years and have outstanding throughtput in my basement, 108Mbps using the Wireless Pre-N Network card, and a solid 54Mbps with my laptop. I also use my laptop outside on our deck often and have taken my laptop to my neighbors house over 200 ft away and still have an excellent signal. I don't remember the Mbps since it wasn't an issue when I was there. This brings up an other issue since the coverage area is so good security is paramount and the Belkin Pre-N has all the state-of-the-art secuity protection features. The Router has no gaming bypass feature though and maybe a negative if you are a gamer.

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802.11g or better; try several locations
by DaddyBean / June 29, 2007 11:06 AM PDT

If the router and/or your wireless card are older 802.11b models, upgrade to have them both at 802.11g or better (for about $40 each as necessary) and I think you'll be pleased with the results. I know I was; with a "b" card (and "g" router), my wireless connection was spotty or nonexistent at the far ends of the house. With a new "g" card and the same router, I've got 5 bars from one end to the other.

Personally, I don't think there's really anything to be gained by spending the extra dough on 802.11n or "pre-n", unless you're going to be constantly moving large files around within your own network; a cheaper "g" wireless connection is almost certainly faster than your internet connection anyway. If you'll be using wireless mostly for internet access, then spending extra for a faster speed you can't really use is just a waste.

As for placement, think about all the areas you're likely to use it. You'll want the router reasonably close to the center of that three-dimensional zone - probably on the second floor, probably close to an exterior wall to get the signal to reach the yard. I'd suggest getting the wireless configured up, then just walk around with the laptop and see how the signal looks as you move around the house. If it doesn't reach where you'd like it to reach, try moving it somewhere else. As you choose new locations to try, think about how you'll get the router connected to your cable / DSL modem at that location, but don't bother moving the cable / DSL modem just yet. Move the router first, and see how the signal looks. That'll save a lot of fooling around if you have to move it a couple of times before finding the location with the best range given your particular local geography. When you find somewhere you like, THEN go to the trouble of moving the cable / DSL modem as necessary.

As for security, there are a lot of options. First & foremost, change the default admin password!! It's amazing how many people don't. Second, change the SSID (the "name" of your router), and try turning off the SSID advertisement - this is the router sending out a notification to every wireless device within 300 feet that there's a network here. In my experience, some cards / operating systems / etc simply won't work properly with an unadvertised network SSID, and some routers don't offer the choice to turn off advertising in the first place, so you may not have a choice here. Try it and see. See the owner's manual or manufacturer's website for details.

I'm also a fan of turning on the wireless access list in the router, configuring it to only accept connections from specific devices. This will prevent most people from using your wireless without your knowledge or permission; yes, it can be defeated, but I think very few people have the knowledge or inclination to go to the trouble. It's just not very likely someone with that kind of talent & determination lives within 300 feet. See the owner's manual or manufacturer's website for details on turning on this option as well.

If you're REALLY concerned about security, you can turn on various levels of encryption, but it comes at a price of slightly slower performance and (allegedly) uses up your laptop's battery faster. I just rely on the wireless access list to keep the neighbor's kid from tapping my router, and don't worry about someone being sophisticated enough to crack the access list or snoop on my packets as they go whizzing through the air like Mike Teevee.

Good luck!

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site survey
by cho034442 / June 29, 2007 11:20 AM PDT

If you would like to do this on your own, try doing a ?site survey? using a portable Notebook or Laptop?s Wireless Adapter utility. Install the Router at the middle of the second floor (on the wall) and then open the Notebook?s Wireless Utility, search for the available connection and your Router ?s SSID (wireless name) should come up and showing signal strength. Walk around the house and see where you can get signal and where you can?t. I would suggest that you have at least 50% signal at the location where you would like to put your wireless computers. From there, you can move the Router to different location and then see if the signal improves at these locations.
If you have desktop PC that has wireless adapter, relocate the adapter?s antenna from the PC to desktop to get better reception.

If you would like to increase the coverage area, you can install high-gain antenna. Find the one that has connector that fits your Router. If your Router?s antennas are fixed, then you are out of luck. The option is to replace it with one with detachable antenna(s).
There are two kinds of antenna, one is omni directional and the other is directional. Omni directional antenna covers 360 degree and the Directional antenna in general covers about 45 degree horizontally and vertically at the direction where it is facing. After installing the antenna, you would do the site survey again and see if it meets your need.

You could also add Access Point at the location that has week signal from the Router. You would connect the Access Point to the Router?s LAN port using Ethernet cable. If laying cable is not possible, you can try PowerLine Access Point and Adapters. Convert the Router?s network to your power line. This could get complicate, I suggest that you call the network device vendor to get a better picture of what you need to accomplish. Keep in mind that if you have multiple Access Point or Wireless Router within 75 feet radius, make sure that you don?t use the same channel on these devices. It is the best to use channel 1, 6, and 11 for these devices and avoid using the same channel for devices that are 25 feet away. With multiple Access Point in the network, you would set them us with the same SSID (wireless name) and different channel. This way, you have a roaming wireless network and the Wireless PC would connect to the next available Access Point when it is out of the range of the one that it connected previously.

Another option is to replace the Router with 11N Router, which has better coverage area due to the multiple input and output mechanism, but there might still be dead spots.

As for security, most of the Routers now have ?SSID broadcast disabled? feature, meaning that when broadcast is disabled, the Wireless Adapters would not be able to see your Router as an available connection. Second, use WPA security, instead of WEP, but make sure that your Wireless Router and Adapter support this feature. The next would be to enable the ?MAC Address Filter? on the Router to only allow your Wireless Adapters to connect to the Router.

It could be frustrated when it comes to setting up wireless network, simply because you can?t ?see? the radio signal. To do the site survey correctly, you would need a ?spectrum analyzer? and installation experiences. For small office/home office wireless network, the information above should help.

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range extenders
by jeslshire85 / June 29, 2007 12:16 PM PDT

one easy solution would be the range extenders that just plug into power outlets. they also make larger antennas for the linksys as well. a central location away from any major appliances will help as well.

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WiFi Router (or Access Point) placment
by Watzman / June 29, 2007 12:17 PM PDT

John, the bad news is that there is no way to answer your question about router or access point (AP) location. There is no way to predict what location will work best, and any location may have "dead spots" (I've seen cases where it wouldn't work in the same room but would work 60 feet away on another floor). It's just not possible to determine in advance the effects of other devices (cordless phones, microwave, wiring in walls, metal objects (possibly in the walls), etc. You just have to experiment, there is no real substitute. In general, it makes sense to start at the center of the residence, both vertically and horizontally. But sometimes, starting at a corner with a directional antenna can produce superior results.

As to security, security is always an issue with WiFi. You neighbors will be able to pickup your signal if they want to, so you need to make your system secure. The real "must" here is that you need to turn on WPA encryption. There are some other things you can do that will increase security but not really provide it (like disabling SSID broadcast or using a MAC address list), but in th end there is no real substitute for using WPA encryption security.

[Also, be sure that you change and do not use the default SSID and channel.]

By the way, there are lots of reasons for using wireless networking, but if you have a choice of wired or wireless connections, especially to fixed desktops, wired is always better.

Barry Watzman
Watzman@neo.rr.com

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router enhancement
by go_for_it4 / June 29, 2007 12:26 PM PDT

John, To answer your question, their is hardware that can help you, but it might be hard to track down. The item is an antenna that you hook up to the router. It's not that big-maybe 1&1/2 cm and 6 in. tall.
I don't know exactly how well it works, but it should get the job done.

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Improving WLAN coverage in a three story townhouse
by saacstudent4 / June 29, 2007 1:11 PM PDT

There are several things you can do to optimize coverage in your multistory home.

1. Move the wireless router to the middle of the middle floor, if you can.
2. If there are walls or floors in your home with lots of metal, they could cause gaps in your coverage. Stucco walls may contain metal mesh. Air conditioning ductwork will contain metal and will block your signal.
3. With some wireless routers, you can add a gain antenna and possibly close up some of the gaps.
4. A wireless repeater is also a good way to extend your coverage. Put the repeater at the edge of your apparent coverage (use your wireless laptop to find out where the edge is).
5. My favorite method is to use a power line bridge (Netgear WXGB102) to carry the ethernet signal to an additional wireless access point.
6. One other thing that could decrease your coverage is channel interference. In the US, channels 1, 6, and 11 are sufficiently widely spaced so they don't interfere. If you use another channel, for example channel 5, you will interfere a lot with a nearby channel 6 user and a little with a channel 1 user.
7. You might also want to try some wireless-n gear. It's not clear whether wireless-n routers, cards, access points, etc., are interoperable (between vendors), because the vendors have rushed those products to market, so that may not help much.
8. An additional network-stretcher is a wireless print server, such as the ones made by Linksys and Netgear.

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Yup
by santuccie / June 29, 2007 1:38 PM PDT
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Wireless placement
by percy / June 29, 2007 1:56 PM PDT

A great number of factors effect the wireless signal, and therefore the placement of your access point(Metal studs,reinforced concrete,plaster over metal mesh are all problematic). If possible I would start with locating it near your stairwell, giving it the most open area to all floors, locating it on the middle floor would probably be best. Another option would be to add range extenders to your existing access point. these are little stand alone repeaters that can double the range of your system. No matter what route you go, be prepared to spend a fair amount of time tweaking the location to get the best performance possible

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Linksys is Ideal
by Syd Salter / June 29, 2007 1:57 PM PDT

If you have a linksys Modem /Router then it is a simple task to fit a Linksys WRT300N Router / Switch, this will increase your power and range straight away and with the use of the security within no one will be able to enter your network unless you give the electronic key to other people. An ideal setup is..
Linksys WAG300N Wireless N Gateway
Linksys WRT300N Broadband Router
WMP300N PCI Card and or WPC300N PCMCIA Card for laptops
I have installed the WRT300N in the roofspace of my home and i can now get a "Very Good" signal from 100 feet in my garden.

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Increasing Wireless Range
by samlopez / June 29, 2007 1:58 PM PDT

The fastest and easiest way is to change the antenna on the wireless router or switch.
There are quiet a few on the market

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Higher gain antrennas could make coverage worse
by jtowle2001 / June 30, 2007 12:01 AM PDT

Higher gain really means gain in the direction perpendicular to the antenna. This is okay for a single floor solution (although a cellular approach with more APs with LESS coverage each is still better to avoid hidden node interference).

Higher gain reduces the signal strength in some directions, to enhance it in others. For a multi-story solution, the signal needs to be more evenly distributed especially if trying to solve the problem with a single access point in a multi-story scenario.

When an antenna is rated with higher gain over a simple point radiator, the total signal isn't improved, only the signal in certain directions is improved, by degrading the signal in some parts of the pattern to focus more energy and coverage in other directions. Works fine for flat environments, but isn't going to be very helpful to improve both horizontal (same floor) and vertical (different floors) coverage.

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Increasing range on wireless router
by tomerous / July 6, 2007 9:32 PM PDT

Thru trial and error I have found it best to add a signal repeater/extender. It looks like a regular router. Difference is takes the signal and repeats it from your existing router. Keep the 2 routers away from each other ie, base router in basement and repeater on second floor. WIth both with them on you will get great reception from both no matter where you are.They work great. Enjoy!

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Extending Wireless Router Range
by ctrobins / June 29, 2007 2:29 PM PDT

Hi John,

This is the WiFi motherload question! Each new generation of WiFi touts greater range, so my first recommendation would be to spent a hundred bucks or less and upgrade equipment.

BUT, you probably already know that and would rather keep the hundred bucks. I don't blame you especially since there are so many solutions that don't cost nearly that much!!!

1) Rabbit Ears: Wearing a pair of these beauties will make you a hit at parties, and they will go with your rabbit's foot. After a few more upgrades you may have a whole rabbit!

2) Wires: Wireless - Shmireless I say. If I want LAN/WAN access from my garden nothing beats a long hunk of Cat5 cable with an exposed RJ-45 jack coming out of the ground near the tomatos. Just make sure you don't have a wireless sprinkler system on the same freq as your WiFi. We wouldn't want any aquatic accidents while surfing.

3) Homemade Dish: Ingredients: 1-Salad bowl, 1 piece of aluminum foil, 1- tripod, 3 feet of antenea extension wire. 1-Drill, 1 soldering iron. No, this is not the recipe for a fine dining experience (unless you add lettuce) Rather following these instructions you can build your own hi-gain WiFi signal collector!
First Drill a hole in your laptop until you find a flat circuit board with a wire on it. There is a 22% chance you'll find this on the first hole. If you already know how to open the case of your laptop to find the WiFi card and it's antennea you can just patch/paint the holes you've drilled. Once you've identifed the antennea lead, simply solder your wire to it. Make a dish, on the tripod and point it at your Linksys. If all goes well you'll enjoy an 'Excellent' Signal...

... If all doesn't go well, you'll need to spent a hundred bucks on a new router and a thousand or more on a new laptop. Upgrading is best when you have a legitimate reason to do it! And it's hard to find a better reason than having a laptop with a bunch of holes in it.

I hope this advice leads you to a better solution!
- Craig

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Antenna, placement
by AmigoNico / June 29, 2007 3:48 PM PDT

I just bought one of these antennas for my Linksys WRT54G; there happens to be a good rebate right now, but it expires soon:

http://www.buy.com/prod/d-link-7dbi-omni-directional-indoor-antenna-802-11-b-g-base-ant24-0700/q/loc/101/10403540.html

It helped quite a bit in my case. Read the directions telling where to place the antenna -- away from electronics and electrical equipment, metal, etc. Part of the gain is the antenna itself, and part is the fact that it is on a wire, allowing you to move it away from objects that cause interference. Bring up the Status window for your wireless network so you can see how many bars you are getting, and move the antenna around (hold it in each place for a few seconds to see the effect).

Of course it helps if you can place the router so as to minimize 1) distance (signal strength decreases with the square of the distance) and 2) the amount and density of material the signal must pass through. You said you live in a 3-story townhouse, so I suspect you will want it on the second floor, near the wall to your back yard so that the signal doesn't have to pass through the floor and the wall to reach you outside. Since your arrangement is fairly vertical, you will probably want to put the antenna at an angle, not perpendicular to the ground. You will probably want to angle it a little toward the back yard, for starters. In general imagine looking at the antenna from all the places you are going to connect; you don't want to be looking at it end-on, so that there is little cross-sectional area.

If you do buy an antenna, make sure it has the kind of connector you need. The one I mentioned above comes with an adapter such that it fits the two connector types in common use, but not all come with such an adapter, so be careful.

Good luck!

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Center Stage
by Frentix / June 29, 2007 6:35 PM PDT

First of all, congrats on the new house.

Anyways:
You will need to first place the AP (access point or router) in "center stage", the middle of everything, so if you need all three floors and a back yard, then I would recommend placing it on a desk on the second floor towards the back of the house. After this, I would also make sure your AP is transmitting at full power (check your model manual) and the receive sensitivity is maxed as well. If this is insufficient, I would recommend certain hardware upgrades. This includes long range antennas for the AP (ie. linksys HGA7S or other, depends on antenna connector), a range extender or repeater (linksys WRE54G or similar), high power/sensitivity network cards and better antennas for those too. I'm simply using linksys products as an example because you have one (I'm a D-Link guy myself). There are many, many other products that can help you but these are the most common. As for your security concerns, I don't recommend too much concern, I wouldn't leave it unsecured, but a low level encryption will do, a shared-WEP encryption is simple and doesn't slow the network (though WPA lag time is negligible).

Good Luck!
Keith

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My recommendations
by Pcfreakske2000 / June 29, 2007 8:23 PM PDT

Hi John,


Well, you mentioned that you are on a three-story townhouse.
I don't have experience with wireless connections, but I guess it might be wise to set a wireless router on every floor, so that the signal covers all three stories of the house.

About the security issues : you need to use WEP or WPA to secure your wireless network.

That way nobody else can use your wireless network.

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Add Access Points where needed
by jtowle2001 / June 29, 2007 11:44 PM PDT

Simplest solution is to run a wire to another floor, then hookup another wireless router (or access point, but routers are actually cheaper). Run the wire to one of the router's existing LAN connectors (not the WAN connection). This allows any connections to the wireless port to be visible on the LAN side, and to the internet if wired to your main router -- the one with the cable modem, or DSL modem.

TURN OFF DHCP on all secondary access points (ir using routers). Any wireless device connecting to any of your wireless access points will get their IP address from the main router, which should have DHCP turned ON of course, as you probably have it now.

You can then use that second and third and fourth wireless router (remember, use the LAN connectors, not the WAN port on the router) and interconnect all of these using cables that run to the LAN connectors on the wireless routers.

This trick avoids the need for more expensive Access Point only solutions, which are also great if you want to spend the extra money. But they too have to be connected to the wired network, to provide wireless coverage to an area, and then pipe the packets in and out of the wireless side into the wired network, that goes out on the internet through your main router and cable/dsl modem.

Another possible answer is to use wireless repeaters, that do not require a wired connection, but they DO require that they can connect by wireless to your main router. For 3 floors, this is unlikely.

If you setup the wireless devices to use different 'channels' (collections of frequencies) the wider the spacing, the less channel overlap. Channels 1, 6, 11 use a different set of frequencies for the spread spectrum, frequency hopping, but even a collection of wireless devices on the same channel will work, with some interterference, but still workable due to the frequency hopping approach.

A wireless client will switch to the strongest signal, so don't be concerned if access point (AP) 1 is on a different channel than AP 2, or AP 3, your wireless client (computer, handheld, etc) will find them.

Another side benefit if you wish: Use WEP or MAC address filtering to keep unauthorized access to your wireless system. However, you can add yet another Wireless router hooked to it's WAN port, to expose wireless connectivity through it for guests, be sure to set that router's base IP addres outside of your existing class C network (e.g. if your existing router hands out address in the range of 192.168.1.xx, set the new router to 192.168.2.1 and let it DHCP to clients passing out adddress in that block. Let it DHCP on the WAN side, it will get a 'public' address of 192.168.1.xx) This allows users to have use of your internet bandwidth, but their packets will be forwarded to your gateway router, and NOT into your existing LAN. It's a nice trick to expose some bandwidth, without exposing your computers. I do this with an older wireless router, that runs 10 Mbit Wireless-B, and my newer wireless system is Wireless G, providing more speed to my own client computers. On some routers, you can set QOS (quality of service) and degrade packet bandwith to your exposed 'public' access point that you setup for visitors.

PS: For your main router, you really don't need to use a wireless router, build your system around access points that can be located where they provide the best coverage.

A wireless router is just a plain old router with a built-in access point. You can accomplish the same thing with separate devices, a router, and a separate access point (but it costs more).

Jeff

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Expanding Linksys Wireless Network
by drivered / June 30, 2007 3:09 AM PDT

I also have a three story townhouse. I have the Verizon FIOS network which enters my premise in the garage. My Linksys WRT54G router is connected to the Verizon FIOS modem in the garage and provides excellent coverage for my basement and first level as well as the outside area around the building. I use a Linksys WRE54G Wireless G-range expander on the second floor which provides an excellent signal for all the bedrooms on that level. Both units have been working flawless for a couple years. The initial set up of the expander is best done with all security disabled at first. Once it is communicating with the router, you can enable WEP and MAC filtering on the router and set WEP security on the expander. I haven't tested the range of my network outdoors, but I would say I could probably go at least 50 yards in any direction from my townhouse.

I also have a second wireless network for two Tivo recorders operating under a different SSID. They don't connect to the Internet, but they do transfer recordings back and forth at a very high speed using a combination of wired USB adapters with a wireless router and wireless bridge (that's another story). I used to have the Tivo's on my pc wireless network, but I seemed to lose connections more frequently when I was transferring recordings. It's been more stable since I separated everything.

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Better WiFi performance in 3 story townhouse
by hchilds / June 30, 2007 3:52 AM PDT

John,

You can do this easily enough, but you will have to shell out some more $$. Your router is basically a low power radio transmitter/receiver that uses 2.4 gig or 5 gig as the center frequency. The computer data packets are transmitted and received via very small antennae in the router (and your laptop adapter card). These are microwave frequencies with very short wave lengths that are easily adsorbed, blocked,or reflected by solid walls, wiring, plumbing pipes, and AC ducting.

Better antenna systems always give you better signals. 'Nuff said about that, but that is part of your solution.

I would place the router on the second floor, choosing a location near the center of the room but away from any walls that have a lot of the things mentioned above in them.

Check your signal strength with your laptop (look at the bars on the wifi utility that came with your card or laptop...the more the better). Check all floors to see if you get at least 3 bars. If you can, at least where you will use your computer, that's it. If you don't, the first thing to do is to get an external indoor antenna for the router and connect it in place of the little stubby antenna. Check your signal strength on all floors again. You should see an appreciable increase in signal strength.

If that does not give you enough, you will have try moving the router or changing the angle of the external antenna from vertical to off-vertical. Again, test as you change things.

As a last resort, you can add wifi repeaters on the first and third floors. These are easy to set up and use, and will almost guarantee good signal strength on each floor.

For going outside, try your laptap and check signal strength in the yard at your favorite spot. You may already have an adequate signal. If it is not adequate, you will have to place another antenna outside on the wall (preferably near a window). Be sure to get an outdoor antenna that can take the elements. Note that if your router only has one antenna connection, you will have use a splitter to connect the two antennae (one inside, one outside) to the router.

With a little trial and error, you should have every spot you need wifi covered with good signal strength.

Once this is done, you will have a wide open system, unsecured, available to anyone who wants to join your network unless you install a good security system. Think hard about buying a good wifi security program and setting it up on every machine in your household. Use 128 bit security, even if slows you down a little, and use a really random password. You might even consider a really strange name for your wifi network too, as additional security.

In closing, I encourage you to do this. It is not really hard to do, and you will enjoy accessing your wifi from anywhere in your house.

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Networking in old properties
by Chichen_george / June 30, 2007 3:54 AM PDT

I have a similar problem to John, namely 2 foot thick walls! Even cortdless phones won't work more than one room apart. I have purchased a pair of "home plugs" which conect through the earth wire of the mains. They do work and very successfully. You can get varying speeds and protocols from Maplins and other such vendors.

Good luck

Mike

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Hardware is a possibility
by hhanley007 / June 30, 2007 3:57 AM PDT

You could try increasing your router's signal strength. I have a 2Wire 1701HG gateway router on the second story in the back of the house that I changed the power from 4 to 10 on, and now I can detect it from down the street and in neighbor's houses. I am not sure if this is a possibility for Linksys routers because while a few of my friends have them, I do not, however you may want to at least try this approach.

If Linksys doesn't support his kind of customization, you have a few other options. You could get a high gain antenna, and put the router in the middle of the second floor and see if that works, or you could use a wireless repeater or two. Personally, I would probably set up the modem and router on the first floor near the back of the house. In my experience, a Linksys router can effectively cover one floor through many walls, but floors seem to present more of a problem. With the router being sufficient to cover the first floor placing it near the back door or a window would give you greater signal strength in the yard as well. I would then place repeaters, such as the Linksys WRE54G, on the second and third stories in the same approximate place as the router. These WRE54G's should effectively repeat the signal to and from the router and computer on any floor.

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Location of wireless router
by jlsquires / June 30, 2007 5:11 AM PDT

Three years ago I mounted a dLink router on top of a bookshelf near the ceiling in my office about 15 feet from my desk. It worked fairly well up to about 18' but I was never fully satisfied until I stumbled onto a 7db booster at Radio Shack. What is the point of having a wireless computer if you have to be really close to the router? The results of replacing the little standard antenna were very good. What is perhaps more significant is the variation in quality of the wireless technology in each of my three laptops. I have a dLink PCMCIA card in my 3 year old Toshiba M35 - that works very well. My HP dv4100 has a very weak built in wifi. It "sort of" works but is not dependable. My new HP dv9000 is excellent! I have a range of about 40',even through wood floors. Prior to the antenna change my cable tv company had replaced all cable tv wire ends and put in a signal booster with some improved service. The key was the 7db gain antenna. Good luck, I hope my experience has been helpful. Jim Squires

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Antennas
by chuckblah / June 30, 2007 7:29 AM PDT

John,

Did you know you can purchase larger antennas for the Linksys routers. You can get them at any electronics or department store that sell the Linksys routers. I installed one on my Wirless G 2.4 GHZ router and I can take my laptop all the way to the back part of my yard (not exactly how far but probabaly around 200' and it still works with an excellent signal. This signal has to go through the living room, bedroom, and back hallway and out to the yard. Not sure what the pct. is that it increased the signal but I know it imporved a lot. Hope this helps.

Chuck

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Wireless Networking In a Multi-story House
by Wolfie2k5 / June 30, 2007 3:33 PM PDT

John,

Let me start out by saying how strong a signal you will get in various parts of the house largely will depend on what it's made of. Some materials block radio waves better than others - which, in this case, is not a good thing. Your mileage will vary. If your walls are made of say, wood 2x4's covered with chicken wire that's covered in plaster, you've basically got what's called a Faraday cage which is a radio trap. The same wall made with drywall will be a lot less of a problem.

Now then, where you place your router largely will depend on the layout of your townhouse. Given the lack of blueprints and materials lists, it's pretty close to impossible to say exactly where to locate your router. However, common sense would tend to dictate that the 2nd floor would be the logical place to start. Of course, you will need to have at least two things available in close proximity of each other - 1.) a place to plug the router into the wall and 2.) access to whatever broadband source you've got - be it a phone jack for DSL, a cable from your cable service, etc... If you don't have access to the broadband source on the 2nd floor, you'll probably want to have it installed.

Ideally, you should be able to test for signal strength without the broadband connection in place. You just need to plug the router in and go to various spots in the house where you think you're likely to use your computer and check the signal strength. If the signal isn't very strong, move the router until you've got it's as good as it's going to get. If you're using Windows XP, checking the signal strength is as simple as opening the Connect to a Wireless network box. You should see the networks that are available to you. You may see more than one - your neighbors may have one set up as well.

Move the router around until you get the best possible signal in ALL of the spots you want to work with your computer.

Radio signal strength is measured in Decibels - just like sound. Most typical routers have a 2 or 3 dB rating. If you're still not getting enough strength in the locations you want to work, you may (depending on the model of your router) be able to replace the antenna with a more powerful one. Most of your better routers allow for the antenna to be unscrewed at the base. Most of your better electronics superstores will have more powerful (high gain) antennae in the 7 to 10 dB range. This will expand the ability of the router to punch a signal through walls, floors, etc... It's like turning up your stereo to 11. The benefit here is the high gain antenna produces a stronger signal going out but it's more sensitive to whatever your computer or laptop has coming back in. It also has the benefit of making connections closer to the router more reliable.

Another technology you might want to look at would be a wireless range expander. These are relay points that listen for communication coming from the router and relay the signal to the remote computer and vice versa. The downside to this, unfortunately, the remote side's speed is cut in half. With 802.11g wireless (54 Mb), this is an issue, though not nearly as bad as cutting an 802.11b (11 Mb) connection in half.

Additionally, there are companies that make outdoor antennae you can install outside, if you're still not getting enough of a signal when you're outside. If you've got two antennae on your router, you can use one for the inside and connect one to one you can hang outside and you should be good to go. Your better electronics stores should have these as well.

As far as security is concerned, make sure you've got WAP or WAP2 enabled and you're using it. It's far more secure than WEP which can be cracked in a matter of minutes by a determined hacker. WAP and WAP2, if your router supports them, are a lot harder to crack.

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Wireless signal
by DJHRVV / June 30, 2007 3:48 PM PDT

One thing I can tell you is before you activate your wireless, you had better turn on your fire wall and have the latest virus proction activated. Because the first time you go on line you going to get hit. If you are getting a low or no signal it usually menans that there is to much interference. I would highly suggest you go hard wired. Wireless is nice but if your in an area that has little or no signal then why have it? I have tried wireless and for myself I don't care for it. Because the least little interference and your siganl is gone. Just like a cell phone, if you are not in a good reception area then you can't get out. Wireless works on the same manner. Alot of it has to do with your cable company, Are they geared for wireless? Did you get the code from them to activate your wireless routher? I know wired is a pain as you are limited to where you can go, but in my expierence as a computer tech, I will stay with hard wired.Which version of Linksys router did you get? Hope you get your signal and the right setup for your wireless.

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Perhaps this will work:
by forfun34 / June 30, 2007 11:53 PM PDT

Wireless routers work best the higher up they are. Place your router as high as possible to allow the "ocean waves of the internet" to spread out better. Another option that you may want to consider is purchasing an extended antenna, and attaching it to your router. This should increase the radius in which the waves travel. That's all I have, good luck.

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Beware of higher gain antennas & more power.
by jtowle2001 / July 1, 2007 1:47 AM PDT

A few of the suggestions involve higher gain antennas, more power, larger coverage area. Beware of such solution.

While they seem intuitively as good solutions, but there are inherent problems.

The reason these devices have simple antennas is to assure that the area near the wireless device is flooded with signal. The higher the gain of an antenna, the more concentrated the signal is in some directions, at the expense of signal strength (coverage) in other directions. A high gain antenna doesn't add overall power, it changes the way coverage is distributed. If the gain is high enough, the only coverage would be in the plane created perpendicular to the antenna (for vertical antennas). High gain antennas do not increase overall power, they simply change the way power is delivered spacially, which may or may not produce desired results.

Higher overall power is also problematic. It will create higher signal levels at greater distances, not necessarily improving the reception of the device, but increasing it's impact on other wireless coverage areas.

The best design to achieve wireless coverage over a broad area is to use multiple CELLULAR coverage access points, without creating a lot of overlap. The simplest way to achieve this is to use a wired 'backbone' or wired network to interconnect wireless access points. There is a reason for this.

The way wireless works is simple to understand. A node in the wireless coverage area transmits, other nodes decode a signal and do NOT transmit simultaneously. Ideally, all nodes should be able to detect transmissions from other nodes, to avoid trashing packets by transmitting simultaneously. This is 'carrier sense' and a node will NOT begin transmitting if it senses a carrier.

The second principle is 'multiple access' which is basically that several nodes can access the channels to achieve connectivity, but they use random wait times after sensing a carrier, and hopefully reduce the probability of two stations starting to transmit at the same time, which trashes packets. After such interference, and with no handshake response, a node will again wait some random time before attempting again. Combined with 'carrier sense' the theory is that several stations can use a single channel, to connect to an access point, because they can hear (sense) each other and reduce the chance of simultaneous transmissions (and interference).

Now, increase the coverage of some access point with higher power, and a bigger antenna. Here's what happens.

1. When the access point transmits, all stations that can sense the carrier and with higher power and a bigger coverage area, more stations or nodes are affected and refrain from transmitting. Yes, the frequency hopping nature of 802.11b/g helps in channel sharing, but if nodes are all trying to access the same access point, they are all going to follow the same frequency hopping sequence. Only nodes accessing different access points will be using a different sequence.

2. When a user node transmits back to the access point, if other nodes are also using that same access point, but cannot detect each other (like an AP in the middle of an area, with big signal and antenna, but nodes are at different ends of the coverage area). The nodes that cannot detect (hear) other nodes using the same higher power, higher coverage AP, they will very likely start transmitting while another node is also transmitting, creating interference, and REDUCING the effectiveness of the wireless coverage area.

Hidden nodes is the term used to describe this, it means Node A cannot hear Node B, but the AP node can hear both. Expand this to multiple nodes that cannnot detect each other, but can detect this overpowered, high coverage AP, and you can create a situation where throughput is radically compromised.

This is why cellular telephones use cell sites, instead of putting their antennas on mountain tops or tall towers where many cell phones could potentially access the cell site, but can't detect each other, and the cell site will hear (detect) numerous cell phones, and may quickly overlead it's capacity to handle calls.

The whole idea of cellular design is to avoid overlap, provide good coverage IN the cell, but avoid overlapping coverage between cells (reduce it) and interconnect the cell sites on a backbone (wired or wireless between cells).

You can achieve this cellular design in a home, or business, by using multiple APs with cellular coverage, that service nodes (users) that are in closer proximity, so they can all work together to avoid interference. This is the CSMA part of CSMA/CD that is used on ethernet networks. The /CD part means 'carrier detect' while transmitting, and this is only possible with devices that can HEAR packets at the SAME time as they are transmitting. 802.11b/g systems are half duplex, that is, they are either transmitting or receiving, but not both, hence the best we can do is Carrier Sense, and Multiple Access, but not Carrier Detect while transmitting.

Large antennas do not really solve coverage problems in a 3-D world. They work okay on a flat plane (an office floor, or one story house) but the antenna pattern will create problems of poor coverage in some areas, and extended coverage in areas that you really don't need or want in your wireless network.

Large power also just increases the cell overlap, introducing a potential problem with other nearby wireless coverage area.

If you really want more coverage, create additional coverage areas with added access points interconnected by wire. This is the ONLY way to assure good service to a smaller area, avoid the hidden node problem, and overall, increase the service to any node accessing your wireless system (a system of access points).

Do not waste your money on higher gain antennas unless you are solving a problem on a flat plane of coverage. And consider other wireless networks that may be nearby, and avoid overlapping your coverage into their converage area, it just creates more interference.

Maybe this will make sense to some, without offending anyone who is trying to create a super access point with higher power and higher gain (a misnomer) antennas. (The misnomer: Higher gain means higher gain in some directions, but lower gain in others. It does not mean higher gain everywhere).

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