Why am I having so many problems with my wireless network?

Question

I am trying to install a wireless network in my house and am having problems getting a consistent connection. Is there something that I am doing wrong or did I buy bad equipment.

- Charan

Answer

This question was answered on February 20, 2003. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

With its low cost of deployment, ease of use and the fact that most homes were never wired for data networks when they were built, it’s no wonder why wireless networking has become so popular.

But this very popularity may be causing the problem that you are experiencing If, for instance, one of your neighbors is also using a wireless network, the two could interfere with on another.

Devices such as cordless phones, baby monitors, closed circuit cameras and even some microwave ovens operate at 2.4 Ghz (the frequency that is used by the most common wireless devices, 802.11b) and can also cause interference.

Once a wireless access point (the base station) experiences interference, it’s usually unable to perform properly until it is powered off and powered back on again It is not uncommon to have to power cycle an access point on a regular basis.

There are a number of things that you can try to reduce your chances of interference, starting with a check with your neighbors to see if they a wireless network If they do, see if turning off their access point allows yours to perform properly.

The general range of a wireless access point is about 100 to 150 feet in a normal residential setting, but it can go two or three times farther if there are no obstructions, such as walls or second floors Changing the location of the access point can sometimes help with interference.

Another thing to try is lower the speed at which the network is operating Wifi networks operate under two different schemes called Frequency Hopping and Direct Sequence The higher speeds (5.5 & 11Mbps) use Direct Sequence, which is much more susceptible to interference.

Frequency Hopping, which does what it implies, can only operate at a maximum speed of 2Mbps, but because it can detect interference on certain channels, it can avoid interference by not using those channels.

Most users assume that the highest speed is the best, but if you are experiencing reliability issues, start reducing the speed at which your network is trying to run until it seems to stabilize.

Since most users of wireless networks primarily want to share an Internet connection, event the 2Mbps speed is more than enough for that purpose, since residential Internet connections range from 56k to 1.5Mbps.

2Mbps on the Internet is blazingly fast, so unless you do a lot of file transfers between machines, you shouldn’t notice any performance decrease when surfing the Internet at the lower speed setting.

If none of those things work, you may have to spring for a newer wireless standard known as 802.11a, which operates at a much higher frequency (5.8Ghz). It has a faster rated speed (54Mbps) and because of its higher operating frequency, it completely avoids the crowded 2.4Ghz spectrum 802.11a is currently quite a bit more expensive and it will require you to purchase all new equipment, but as with all new technology, it will come down in price in a short time.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on February 20, 2003