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Common Wireless Problems

Oftentimes I get called into a client's home or business to solve a problem with a wireless network. This article will discuss some of the most common problems I find.

First, if you are using a wireless network and you have problems getting the network to connect, especially when the computer and wireless router are within the same room (such as the living room), chances are that you have a cordless phone in the house. Check around and see if any of your cordless phones anywhere operate at 2.4GHz. If they do, unplug their bases from power and take the batteries out of the handsets. You need to do both of these to run this test.

Once you have done both tasks to completely and totally "kill" the phones, see if your wireless network comes back and works the way it should. If so, then you have found your problem. Wireless networks work in the 2.4GHz frequency range and 2.4GHz cordless phones interfere with this communication. The reason you need to pull the batteries as well as the power cords is that even when a cordless phone is not actively on a call, both the base and handset are still in constant communication over that frequency. The signal between base and handset is much stronger than that between computer and router, so the frequency range gets flooded by the cordless phone system which takes down the network. The solution: replace your cordless phones with those operating at 900MHz, 5.8GHz, or are designed around the new DECT 6.0 technology (which operates at 1.9GHz).

Another common problem related to the cordless phone issue above is baby monitors. If you have baby monitors in the house, do the same test as described above. Many of them work at 2.4GHz as well. As such, if they turn out to be the problem, replace them with another kind of monitor that works at an alternate frequency.

A third problem is environmental interference. An example is that one client put his router in the utility closet, right next to the blower for the AC/furnace unit. Not only is it a bad idea to have a router, which is a sensitive electronic piece of hardware surrounded by cheap plastic, next to a huge heat source such as a heater (and most utility closets have their water heaters right alongside as well) but the blower unit itself puts out all sorts of electromagnetic interference when it is operating. That interference will take down the network anytime that the air conditioner or heater starts up and the network will return when the circulation system shuts off again. Of course, the heat will eventually take its toll on the router as well. So, when thinking about putting your router in such an environment, take a simple word of advice: Don't!

Another environmental problem is location. When one is putting together a wireless network, one needs to think about the straight-line paths that the communication will go. Remember, this is a high-frequency (2.4GHz) signal. It's not going to overcome terrain such as AM radio does. If it cannot get to its destination intact in a straight path, it won't get there at all. Every exposed electrical line, concrete retaining wall, interior wall, fireplace, and fluorescent light ballast that gets in the way degrades the signal that much more. What can be done to alleviate this problem? Well, there are a few solutions: (1) relocate the router to someplace that will accomplish the communication needs necessary, (2) install another Access Point, (3) put in one or more range extenders, or (4) go to a wired solution.

The first solution is easy enough, assuming that the environment allows for it. The best idea is to have the wireless router as close to the center of the home or office as possible so that it minimizes the distances that the signal travels as well as the number of barriers that any one station's signal must cross to communicate with the router.

The second is just about as easy. An access point is basically a wireless router without the router part built in. Access points were originally designed to be a way to give wired routers wireless capability. However, they can also be attached to wireless routers to provide a stronger signal in an area that cannot be reached by the router itself. The only drawback to this solution is that there must be an Ethernet cable connecting the wireless router and the access point. Thus, it is potentially a less elegant solution if cabling cannot be installed or hidden very easily. A slight variation on this is actually using a second wireless router instead of an access point. It accomplishes the same goal as the access point but there is a slight caveat: while the computers behind the second router can use the network resources connected to the first router, the opposite is not true unless the second router is properly configured. (The way to do that changes from one router to another. Please consult us at Best Deal Computers or, if not in our service area, another network specialist for assistance.)

The range extender is a more elegant solution for those situations in which running cable to connect an access point to the router is not possible. The range extender communicates with the router, uses the same wireless network name (SSID) and the same wireless channel, and acts the same as the router as far as the computer is concerned. It has the same security as the router also. Basically, once the range extender is configured correctly, the computers that could not reach the router now are able to do so. As far as the computers are concerned, the router has moved closer to them. The range extenders communicate wirelessly with the router as well as with the computers. The only external connection they need is power. When installing, they should be located someplace that allows them to have good communication with the router and broadcast a signal for use by the computers. Also, if necessary, they can be daisy-chained, though that is not preferable.

The final solution, of course, is to run cables to the computers that cannot communicate wireless with the router. All wireless routers have at least one Ethernet port, if not four or eight, on the back, so they can be used in a hybrid network (wired and wireless). If you happen to need more ports than what the router has available, a cable can be run from one of those ports to an Ethernet switch. Eight-port network (also called workgroup) switches are common and fairly cheap. If you need one, let us know and we will gladly get it for you.

There are other problems that can arise, of course, but these tend to be the most common. If you wish BDC to come out to your home or business and evaluate your problems with an existing network or advise you about installing a new wireless network, get in touch with us. We will be happy to assist you.