I work from home. Often I hate it. That’s because my link to the world is over a wireless router. If the router signal misbehaves, my world spins out of control: Mail refuses to download, I can’t manage projects that require online collaboration tools, Skype goes dead, documents can’t be shared with clients, I can’t reach my personal online library of reference material sitting in a shared service, I am unable to listen to podcasts and the already jerky YouTube videos freeze. I get the feeling I am stranded on an island.
Now, there is a universe of unfairly advantaged folks in offices who have an IT department to call and browbeat if their connectivity turns spotty. I don’t. I have to manage things myself. It is possible you too may have a wireless router at home that misbehaves. Or maybe it does not give you top performance. Maybe the 2 Mbps connection you pay for is underpeforming, thanks to a poor wireless router. If so, you need to read on.
Strong signal: A router with adaptive antenna technology works well even if placed in a corner of the room.
There are several reasons for poor connectivity. Truth be told, the reasons run into thousands, so it’s pointless trying to list them. But some of the more frequent and simple reasons are:
•Too many programs on your computer are using your Internet connection. Typically, an antivirus program may be trying to update itself and that can result in slowing down your connection. Or other computers are using the same connection and that affects download speeds. End result? Sporadic impact on your connectivity speed.
• Sometimes you can tell that there is nothing sporadic about the impact. Your speed never seems to improve. That could be because you have an old modem. Any piece of solid state electronics tends to underperform as it is subject to the heat it generates. As your modem grows old, it will find it increasingly difficult to maintain a good connection. Solution? Replace the hardware.
• Ever noticed that your connectivity gets affected when you receive a call on your cordless phone? Cordless phones use the same frequency band—2.4 and 5 Ghz—and interfere with your router signal, affecting connectivity when the phone is in operation (ditto with wireless cameras). Check your phone and wireless camera. If it says 2.4 Ghz, 3.6 Ghz or 5 Ghz, then it may be the reason for the interference.
But a most fascinating meeting with B.N. Venkatesh, Bangalore-based senior technical consultant for the India region of Ruckus Wireless, a technology company providing Wi-Fi solutions to the enterprise and service provider markets, taught me a couple of astonishing things. Venkatesh took one look at where my wireless router was located (in a corner of the room) and where my laptop accessing the connection was located (at the other end of the house) and gave up. He pointed out that even the microwave, when it was heating up my tea—and I do that almost five times a day—was affecting my connectivity. Ruckus makes some of the most sophisticated enterprise class wireless routers. Ruckus has the world’s largest Wi-Fi deployment in India over 30 cities. He should know.
Here are the top four tips for better connectivity using a wireless router, some of them gleaned from Venkatesh:
•Don’t keep the router in a corner of the room: Place it in the middle of your home or office. Make sure there are as few objects and walls as possible between the router and the computers that access it. Placing it in the middle of your home means that you need to invest in a stylish-looking router.
•Minimize the use of other wireless devices if you can: Cordless phones, wireless cameras, household appliances, medical devices, etc., play spoilsport.
•Add additional Wireless Access Points (WAPs) to your home or office: WAPs are devices that act like “boosters” by repeating the wireless signal, improve its strength and extend the distance over which your wireless router can work. WAPs are relatively expensive, but can make life easy.
•Replace the antenna on your router: Most routers—such as the Linksys, NetGear, Belkin and D-Link—come with omni-directional antennas. This means they transmit their signal in an ever-widening circle. If the router is placed in a corner of the room or against a wall, a large part of the signal is just banging against a wall. What a waste. You can replace the antenna with a high-gain antenna that directs the signal in a chosen direction.
Of course, the real luxury is a wireless router with adaptive antenna technology, like the Ruckus MediaFlex 2200 that not only focuses the signal but intelligently figures out where your computer is located and uses beamforming technology to arrive at just the right path to send the signal on. This means that if your computer moves, the router smartly changes the path of the signal. It’s not just a self-learning router, but as you may have realized, it is indifferent to placement. The router can sit in a corner of the house and yet perform just as if it were in the middle.
Arun Katiyar is a content and communication consultant with a focus on technology companies. He is a published author with HarperCollins and has extensive media experience spanning music, print, radio, the Internet and mobile phones.
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