The average wireless network can be both a blessing and a curse at the same time. On one hand, it is often possible to connect everything from laptops, Skype phones, and even set top boxes (STBs) to a single wireless network. This enables sharing of resources such as files on computers, NAS boxes, countless digital devices, and of course, the latest and greatest broadband connections that are set to become incredibly fast data pipes before the end of the decade. Some services, such as AT&T’s U-verse and Verizon’s Fios already integrate amazing features that rely on wireless networks. The downside is that wireless networks do not always work as advertised, and troubleshooting them can be a daunting task for those who do not even know where to begin.
Fear not, what follows is a basic overview of a typical wireless network and how to determine what is going wrong so that a solution can be found. This being the first part of a wireless network troubleshooting series, the main emphasis will be placed on understanding the typical wireless network. Further installments in the series will answer specific questions, so feel free to leave questions in the comments section.
Wires Be Gone!
There are many times when wires are just not a great idea. If one is renting a house or apartment, the idea of tearing up the carpeting might seem daunting or impractical on some level. The downside is that wires are very reliable in terms of a medium, but air is far less so. Not only can the physical properties of air change (density, temperature, humidity, and so on), but there can also be interference from other devices and even weather conditions that can disrupt a wireless network.
The first troubleshooting tip for anyone experiencing a flaky wireless connection would be to try to remove as many of the environmental variable as possible. If the windows are open, try closing them as they allow environmental factors to be an issue and they allow radio waves to easily propagate inside the volume of air that the wireless network is trying to use. There are also specialized windows, sealers and paints that block electromagnetic transmissions from entering a property, but not everyone has access to these. Furthermore, committing time and money to such projects is probably not advisable at this stage; there are a few other tricks to determine whether interference is an issue.
Many forms of interference start with items in the home. Many microwave ovens emit powerful yet invisible forms of energy that can utterly decimate a wireless connection for a short period of time. Likewise, many cordless phones operate on the same 2.4 GHz frequency that many home networking devices use. A simple test would be to unplug anything in the house that might be using or creating electromagnetic waves. Microwaves, radios, mobile phones, and chargers of any kind should all be unplugged to see if they are interfering with network. It is also worth noting that some motion sensing systems that are integrated into home security devices are also likely to emit potentially disruptive forms of energy.
If unplugging everything results in a more stable network with higher connectivity rates (usually wirelessly connected devices will display this in some way), then it should be easy to find the culprit(s) by plugging devices in one at a time and seeing which device(s) creates problems on the wireless network. Note that some wireless devices themselves can be damaged or poorly designed, and may themselves be causing problems with the wireless network. When in doubt, start with a single device and the wireless router.
Change the Frequency!
The problem is that while many wireless routers can use a new 5 GHz portion of the band, not all devices that can connect to such routers on that frequency. This problem has been getting better with each and every hardware revision, but not all devices are entirely ready for the new 5 GHz spectrum. Affordable, quality 5 GHz band routers are just now becoming readily available, and affordable devices are following suit. Gaming consoles, wireless printers, and electronics of all types supporting the 5 GHz spectrum are cropping up almost every day, which might make shopping for wireless network components easier over time. The good news is that by keeping the entire wireless network on one frequency, and other devices such as cordless phones on another, it is possible to have everything plugged in at once without devices causing interference with one another. Less interference can also translate into a faster wireless network as well, which is also important for gamers and home entertainment enthusiasts who feed their passion with broadband.
More Next Time
This won’t be the last time that High Speed Experts takes a look at troubleshooting connections and devices. We’ve heard the questions people have asked us via e-mail, and hope that this guide and the guides that follow will serve as invaluable troubleshoot tools. Getting a home theater and/or home network running smoothly can be a real challenge, and it is no secret the technicians cost a bundle. If anything can be taken away from this first guide, it should be that the easiest way to troubleshoot any wireless connection is to be aware of potential sources/causes, and remove them all before systematically turning wireless devices back on individually. This is generally referred to as ‘going vanilla’ and in our next installment there will be additional topics covered, mostly relating to signal strength and how a stronger signal can help keep a wirelessly connected house or businesses running strong.