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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.

There is another way, though, that often works for long, narrow houses like mine. While the WA12 is an omni-directional antenna that pushes the signal out in roughly a spherical pattern in every direction, there are also directional antennas that send most of the signal in one direction.

Hawking Technology HAI6SDP Indoor Directional Antenna

I installed a pair of Hawking Technology HAI6SDP directional antennas (which retail for about $50). They aren't as powerful as the WA12, but you can aim their coverage where you need it. You need to be careful pointing them because the beam of connectivity varies based on where they're pointed. I set them up to push the signal across the house.

There is also a security advantage to using directional antennas: The Wi-Fi network's footprint better matches the house so that there is less signal "leaking" out of the north end of the house. This makes the network less prone to being invaded by a roving hacker.

So the house was covered -- but the basement had its own issues. I had a plan for that as well.

Powerline to Wi-Fi
The final frontier for me was the basement, which had many places that were getting less than 1Mbps. This was because the kitchen floor, which the signal has to travel through, is made of concrete and is likely blocking most of the signal.

The worst spot was a guest bedroom at the south end of the basement that doubles as a gaming room with a PlayStation console connected to a TV. The area used to be a garage and has a thick layer of stone separating it from the rest of the house. The family gamers were not pleased with the situation.

To fill in this last Wi-Fi dead spot, my trick was to use the house's electrical grid and AC outlets. The Linksys PLWK400 Powerline extender ($90) uses the HomePlug AV standard to send a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi signal over the dwelling's internal power grid.

The system comes with two devices:

  • A network adapter that plugs into one of your router's Ethernet ports and into a nearby AC outlet. It then piggybacks the data onto the electricity's 60-hertz alternating current.
  • A Wi-Fi transmitter that plugs into an AC outlet elsewhere in the house and broadcasts a fresh Wi-Fi signal.

A tip: I've found that using a power strip diminishes the data signal that Powerline equipment can generate. In other words, always plug the two Powerline devices directly into AC outlets.

Linksys PLWK400 Powerline AV Wireless Network Extender Kit

In addition, Powerline devices will only work with electric wiring that is 300 feet in length and less, which is probably good enough for most homes. However, in some older homes the power cable routing can be quite convoluted, so that one outlet might work fine but another right next to it might not.


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