Cantrell’s Computer Sales & Service: Wireless Networks Can be Tricky
Wireless Networks Can be Tricky
Wireless network technology has advanced significantly over the last decade and its reliability has improved. However, it remains less reliable than wired networks and has additional challenges when setting up or troubleshooting. Sometimes the solutions are not obvious. This blog will discuss a few of the challenges that can be encountered when setting up or troubleshooting wireless networks, with their solutions. As you will see, some solutions that greatly improve the signal strength and reliability are free, or cost very little money. First, we need to obtain the proper diagnosis.
Troubleshooting wireless networks can be tricky because the quality of the wireless signal can be affected by the surrounding environment. Much of the surrounding environment is outside your control and varies throughout the day. We have helped two customers in the past few weeks solve poor wireless network issues.
One customer has a wireless network in their home that includes a wireless router and an access point. They use their wireless network to connect two office computers, and a roving laptop. Plus they use wireless to stream content for their downstairs TV. This customer was experiencing poor Internet connectivity primarily at one of their office computers located upstairs and down the hall from the router.
The second customer is a private school that has three Comcast lines coming into the campus at different locations. While some of the office computers and the computer lab are connected via network (CAT5e) wiring, the majority of the classroom electronic whiteboards (Smart Boards) and notebook computers gain Internet access from a variety of strategically paced wireless routers, access points and repeaters.
We helped both of these customers by first correctly diagnosing the causes of the wireless network problems, then deploying inexpensive solutions. For both customers, we first checked the signal strength of the wireless routers, access points and repeaters at each destination device. There are various ways to do this check and I currently use an android application called “Wi-Fi Analyzer” to check wireless signal strength. “Wi-Fi Analyzer” checks the signal strength of the router, access point and repeater compared to competing signals from the surrounding area. It also provides details on the local Wi-Fi channels (think of TV channels) to determine which channels are crowded with competing Wi-Fi signals. In the case of the home user, the exact Wi-Fi channel that her wireless router was broadcasting was competing with numerous and relatively strong Wi-Fi signals broadcasting in her neighborhood. These competing Wi-Fi signals on the same channel were creating noise, and reducing the quality and speed of her Wi-Fi connection at one of the office computers. She randomly experienced this slowdown because the noise created from competing signals were not consistent. At this point the solution was quite simple. We checked to see which Wi-Fi channels were not crowded and proceeded to change her Wi-Fi router channel to one of those less crowded channels. This free solution sufficiently reduced the interference from the surrounding broadcasts, and thus improved the quality of her Wi-Fi signal and Internet access. At this point no further work needs to be completed at this time.
The wireless problems at the school were more complicated. When we were contacted by the school, the quality of the wireless signal was so poor and the disruption in the classroom was so great, they were considering employing us to install hundreds of feet of wired cat five cabling throughout part of their campus. The new cabling runs were not easy to install and would have required many man-hours and cost thousands of dollars. The affected area included 4 classrooms. They were getting very poor wireless Internet for their classroom smart boards which are used throughout the day for instruction content. During our investigation, we used the same Wifi Analyzer app and our laptop to record the signal strength and quality throughout the campus. We found that one of the wireless extenders in this area was bad and needed to be replaced. We replaced this extender with a new extender and upgraded the antenna with a 9db high gain antenna to improve signal strength. Then, in order to boost the overall signal, we installed a high gain antenna on the main router that sends the signal to the extender. The resulting signal was much stronger and Internet content is now broadcast effectively to all of the affected classrooms. Total parts cost was less than $250.
If you need help checking your Wi-Fi signal or improving your wireless signal strength, please give us a call to set up an appointment.
Cantrell’s Computer Sales and Service
1936 Linda Drive
Pleasant Hill, California 94523