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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.

If you experience IP addressing errors, happily, the problem is easily fixed. Simply go ahead and assign a static IP address to the problematic device. It needs to be done in the device's network settings; be sure to keep a list of the addresses used so you won't assign any twice.

Changing channels
Let's say you did everything right and your coverage still is not good enough. You could be using the wrong channel. Check the channel configuration on the router and the client to see that they match. Most equipment comes set to Channel 6.

There's a nifty free app from Amped Wireless (available for Windows and Android) that sniffs out problems like this. Called Wi-Fi Analytics, it scans the network and provides information such as which Wi-Fi channels are in use and whether there is potential interference from nearby networks. My favorite feature shows a line graph of my network's signal strength in red along with the other networks in a variety of colors. (Apple iOS users can try Network Analyzer or IP Network Scanner.)

Save your settings
Take it as read: You're going to forget your router's key settings. Since you'll need them for any future tweaking, it's a good idea to save them somewhere. Doesn't matter how: You can send them to yourself in an email, save them in an Evernote note or whatever. (I usually write down the router's key settings on a sticky note and attach it to the bottom of the router.)

If you didn't save the info and you need it, then you'll have to reset the router to its factory settings and start over. (Windows users can recover the settings with NirSoft's WirelessKeyView, a free tool that finds the WEP or WPA encryption keys on your computer.)

Finally, take a walk through the house with a connected notebook or tablet and take a survey of your work. I usually use a streaming music service such as Spotify and listen for breaks in the music.

It's time to tell the family that Wi-Fi is back, better than ever.

Wi-Fi checklist
A checklist for the tips, tricks and techniques offered in this article.

  • Don't rely on a single way of distributing Wi-Fi. Use a router for basic coverage and augment it with a repeater.
  • Before you do anything, warn those who depend on the Wi-Fi network that it will not be available.
  • Check your network's throughput before and after you do anything significant, like changing the router.
  • Mark where all the network's devices are on a floor plan.
  • Put the router at the center of the house, if you can.
  • Steer clear of placing the router near a stone or brick wall or large metallic items.
  • When setting up a new router, use the same SSID, or network name.
  • Duplicate the router's base IP address on a new router.
  • Set up the same level of encryption and passcode as before.
  • If the router doesn't work on the first attempt, restart the broadband modem, wait a few minutes and try again.
  • Wi-Fi repeaters work best when they are close enough to the router to get a strong signal that they can retransmit.
  • Draw a line between the router and where you want coverage to be and put the repeater roughly at the middle of the line.
  • Use the same network name and encryption code for the repeater so you can roam throughout the house without losing contact.
  • If you can, get a router that can accept replaceable antennas, and make sure the connector on any substitute antenna matches the router's.
  • If you want to aim the signal to a specific location, get a unidirectional antenna.
  • When using Powerline equipment, plug it directly into the AC outlet rather than into a surge protector.
  • Configure the Powerline equipment next to the router and then move it to the chosen location. If the Powerline gear doesn't connect, try another nearby outlet.
  • Always use the most recent firmware for the router, repeaters and other gear.
  • Make sure the router is broadcasting at full power.
  • Get top speed by setting the router to 802.11n-only operations or use mixed mode for compatibility with older equipment.
  • If you get IP addressing errors, use static addressing; keep a list of the addresses.
  • Always use the same broadcast channel for the router and its clients.
  • Use a monitoring app to minimize interference.
  • Keep a record of the router's key settings.
  • Take a final walk through the house with a device to make sure it all works.


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