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Wi-Fi tweaks for speed freaks: 2013 edition

Brian Nadel | June 25, 2013
How many devices do you have on your home Wi-Fi? That many? Here are some strategies for optimizing your wireless performance.

That said, the best tip I can give anyone setting up or revamping a Wi-Fi network is to stick with the most stable platform you can get. Today, that's 802.11n.

(Another note: Take any and all performance specs with at least a grain of salt. It's been my experience that the best you can hope for is between half and a third of the throughput and range that any Wi-Fi protocol promises. For example, you can reasonably expect an 802.11n network to deliver up to about 200Mbps and have a range of between 75 and 125 feet indoors.)

So unless you live in (or can move to) one of those places that can get gigabit services directly from a fiber optic cable, the best thing you can do is tweak your existing equipment to wring out the last possible drop of throughput. With any luck, some of these tips will help.

Check along the way
Before you do anything, it's a good idea to make sure you're improving the situation with each step. So, check your network's throughput before and after you do anything significant, like changing the router. I use Speedtest.net's online benchmark because it measures actual usable Internet bandwidth delivered to the computer you're working with. There are also Wi-Fi-specific programs that can help measure throughput and signal strength.

Speedtest.net measures usable Internet bandwidth delivered to the computer you're working with.

Finally, when everything is up and running, take 10 minutes to mark where all the devices are. I wrote mine on a copy of the house's floor plan.

Part of a floor plan showing the location of where all the home's tech devices are.

This may seem rather old-fashioned, but it can help diagnose problems when they crop up. (If you feel embarrassed by dealing with hard copy, scan the marked-up floor plan and save it as a PDF or send it to your favorite cloud storage service.)

Positioning the gear
My first step was to replace my ancient Linksys WRT54GS 802.11g router with the Amped Wireless R20000G 802.11n router ($140). This gives me 802.11n compatibility and a 600-milliwatt transmitter, at least doubling the power output of the router it replaces.

Amped Wireless R20000G High Power Wireless-N 600mW Gigabit Dual Band Router

When it comes to Wi-Fi, where you put your gear is almost as important as the equipment itself. That's because most Wi-Fi routers radiate their transmitted data signals in a spherical shape and are subject to the inverse square law. For those who slept through high school physics, that means that as you move away from the source (in this case the router), the signal's strength declines rapidly based on the distance squared. If you double the distance, the signal is one-quarter as strong; triple the distance and you have only one-ninth the original signal strength.

 

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