How to fix Wireless Network Problems

Wireless Cconnection Problems

Netgear WGR614UK Wireless 54G Cable RouterIt is fairly easy to build a wireless network as nearly all of the broadband providers throw in a free wireless router with their installation packages. All you need is a wireless network adapter in your computer. If you have a fairly recent computer, especially a laptop, you will already have wireless networking built in. If not, you will have to buy a USB wireless network adapter. With this plugged in, a wireless connection can be established with your wireless router.

While they are fairly easy to install, wireless networks often have performance problems that are not always easy to solve. For example, your PC may indicate that you have a very weak or intermittent signal strength.

So here are a few suggestions on what to look for and what to do.

Move it away from other wireless equipment

Older cordless telephones and other communication devices can interfere with your router’s signals. You can try moving your router away from such equipment (or the equipment away from the router).

Move the router to a different location

The biggest culprit for weak signals is the location of routers. Many routers are installed at less than ideal locations - under tables, in closets, in corners on the floor, and even in basements.

Many routers are installed near the outer wall of a building which often leads to weak signals at the other end of the building.

It is often difficult to move a router too far away once it is installed. But it may be possible to move it by a couple of feet. Try moving it off the floor and away from the walls. If it is inside a closet, you may be able to get it out simply by drilling a hole in the wall for the cable.

Get a high-gain antenna for your router

If you can’t move the router, you can try replacing your router’s antenna with a high-gain antenna.

Antennas on most routers have 360 degree coverage. If your router is located in one corner of the building, a good part of its coverage area will lie outside the building. In such cases, you can get unidirectional high-gain antennas which transmit signals in 180 or even 90 degrees.

You can’t replace antennas on all the different makes and models of routers, but you can do so on many of the newer models.

Install a repeater

A repeater is a device for boosting wireless signals across a far greater distance.

If your wireless router’s signal is weak in a certain location of your building, you can place a repeater half way between the router and that 'weak signal location' to boost the signal strength. For example, you may have one access point in a home or small office that doesn't quite cover the entire area where connectivity is needed, such as a basement or patio. The placement of a repeater between the covered and uncovered areas will provide connectivity throughout the entire space. The wireless repeater fills holes in coverage, enabling seamless Internet roaming.

One downside of wireless repeaters is that they slightly reduce throughput over the wireless local area network. A repeater must receive and retransmit each frame on the same RF channel, which doubles the number of frames that are sent. This problem gets even worse if you use multiple repeaters because each repeater will duplicate the number of frames sent.

Try changing your router’s broadcast channel

You may be experiencing weak or noisy signals simply because your router broadcasts on a channel that does not work well at your location. Try changing the channel. You should find an option to change the channel in your router’s online administration interface.

Upgrade your router’s firmware

Most people install routers and forget about them. You may be surprised to find that your router has several firmware upgrades that you haven’t applied. So Log in to your router’s online administration interface and check to see if there are any upgrades you can apply.

Update the network adapter on your computer

If you have a desktop computer with an internal network card, try using a USB network adapter instead. These adapters usually have an antenna of their own to better capture signals.

Laptops with on-board network adapters are usually fine and you won't have to replace them. But if you use a plug in card adapter with your laptop, try getting one that has an external antenna.

Update your PC’s network adapter drivers

Just as a router has firmware upgrades, the network adapter in your computer will have driver updates. You can find driver updates at the adapter manufacturer’s website or at the Windows Update web site.

Software Problems

Another reason for a poor connections, or none at all, is buggy or incompatible network adapter software that will not run on your version of Windows. For example, you might find that all is well under Windows XP but as soon as you upgrade to Windows Vista or Windows 7 problems begin to appear.

If any 3rd party software is used to control the network adapter inside your computer try disabling or uninstalling it so we can use the drivers built into Windows to see if these improve matters. Once the 3rd party divers are disabled or removed, open Windows Network Connections, right click your wireless adaptor, click Properties and select the the Wireless Networks Tab. If it is not already selected, tick 'Use Windows to configure my wireless network settings', then click OK.

On the General Tab ensure that the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) is present and ticked. Click Configure, select the Advanced Tab and check that the various property settings for the adaptor correspond with the settings on the online configuration page of your wireless router. If in doubt, you should be safe setting everything to the defaults.

Also, while you are looking at the router's wireless configuration internet page ensure that SSID Broadcast is enabled, and that the wireless mode matches the selection on the laptop. And check that the wireless security option matches the laptops capabilities. All wireless adaptors should support WEP; some may not yet support WPA or WPA2.

Get a new router

If the signal strength of your wireless connection still doesn't improve, you could try replacing your wireless router and network cards. If you have an older router which is based on the 802.11b networking standard the move to the newer 802.11i standard could be a good idea, because the newer standard is several times faster than the old. (802.11b devices operate an 11Mbps while 802.11i devices operate at 54 Mbps.)

Linksys by Cisco WRT54GL Wireless-G Broadband Router802.11i devices are also backward compatible with 802.11b devices. In other words, if you buy a new 802.11i router, it will still work with the 802.11b network adapters in your computer. However, if you do upgrade your router to 802.11i, you should certainly consider upgrading the network adapter in your computer to 802.11i as well, because this will provide the best overall results.

The Really Technical Stuff

WEP

WEP is short for Wired Equivalent Privacy, a security protocol for wireless local area networks (WLAN's) defined in the 802.11x standard.

WEP is designed to provide the same level of security as that of local area networks (LAN).

LAN's are inherently more secure than WLAN's because LAN's are somewhat protected by the physical of their location, having some or all part of the network inside a building that can be protected from unauthorised access. WLAN's, which are sent over radio waves, do not have the same physical structure and are therefore more vulnerable to tampering.

WEP however does aim to provide security by encrypting data over radio waves so that it is protected as it is transmitted from one end point to another. Unfortunately, WEP is not as secure as was once believed. As WEP is used at the two lowest layers of the OSI model - the data link and physical layers - it does not offer secure end-to-end security.

WPA

WPA is short for Wi-Fi Protected Access, a Wi-Fi standard that was designed to improve upon the security features of WEP.

The WPA protocol implements the majority of the IEEE 802.11i standard,

The technology is designed to work with existing Wi-Fi products that have been enabled with WEP (i.e., as a software upgrade to existing hardware), but the technology includes two improvements over WEP:

  • Improved data encryption through the temporal key integrity protocol (TKIP). TKIP scrambles the keys using a hashing algorithm and, by adding an integrity-checking feature, ensures that the keys have not been tampered with.

  • User authentication, through the extensible authentication protocol (EAP). WEP regulates access to a wireless network based on a computer’s hardware-specific MAC address, which is relatively insecure. In contrast, EAP is built on a more secure public-key encryption system to ensure that only authorized network users can access the network.

It should be noted that WPA was an interim standard that has been replaced with the IEEE’s 802.11i standard.

WPA2

WPA2 has replaced WPA.

WPA2 supports the 802.11i encryption standards that have been ratified by the IEEE. These are the commercial-grade encryption products that are available on enterprise-class products.

There are two encryption methods that WPA2 adds: one called Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and one called Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP). Both of these allow for stronger encryption.

The WPA2 protocol creates a new encryption key for each and every session, while the older encryption standards, like WEP, used the same key for everybody - which is why they were a lot easier to crack.

Also part of the new standard is Pairwise Master Key caching, where faster connections occur when a client goes back to a wireless access point to which the client already is authenticated. There is also a Pre-Shared Key or PSK. The WPA2 standard supports two different authentication mechanisms: one using standard RADIUS servers and the other with a shared key, similar to how WEP works.

See this great Computer World tutorial on how to set up WPA2 on your wireless network.

Tip: When you buy a Wireless Router make sure that it comes with a built in ADSL Modem so you can plug it into your telephone point.

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