Ten Essential Tips for Wireless Network Dominance

Avoid the common pitfalls of wireless network setup with these great tips.

Setting up a wireless network shouldn’t have to take more than an hour or two. The key is to avoid the most common pitfalls by committing a few good tips to memory. Or better yet, why not print them out?

Here are 10 essential tips to protect your sanity while setting up a wireless network worthy of your busy home office or small business.

Tip #1: Wireless Router Location Counts

Many people assume a wireless router can send its signals anywhere with ease. The truth is, walls and dense materials can kill a wireless signal in its tracks, leaving users without coverage in their own homes. One of the simplest ways to avoid this problem is to pick a good location for your router. Choose a spot close to the areas where you will most often need a signal — and far from obstacles and solid objects that might slow down all those bits and bytes.

Tip #2: Reduce Wireless Interference

Not everything that interferes with a wireless signal is made of brick or metal; radio signals from other devices can spoil the job just as well. Many of the electronics in our homes and offices operate on the same frequency as most wireless routers: 2.4 GHz. If your router is near a wireless phone, a microwave or even a garage-door transmitter, consider a change of locale. You may also want to try changing the wireless channel on your router by going directly into the control panel on your computer and switching between channels 1, 6 and 11. Often one signal will be better than another, and you can lock it in.

Tip #3: Boost Your Wireless Signal

Wireless signals typically operate at a fairly low power level, but there are plenty of ways to address this problem. For instance, you can swap the antenna out for a high-gain version from manufacturers like Linksys or Cisco. If your laptop is using a wireless card to connect, you can try an external USB dongle instead. Or, if your home or office is just too big for the router to handle, you can always add a wireless repeater to catch and boost that signal to other parts of the building.

Tip #4: Secure the Wireless Network

One of the most common concerns about wireless networks is security, and rightly so. Without good security protocols and an excellent password, your network may be vulnerable to hacking attacks. When setting up your wireless network, make sure to select WPA/WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access) security. Change the default password to repel outside attacks, and set your wireless password to something extremely difficult to guess: a minimum of 10 digits, both numbers and letters, chosen at random.

Tip #5: Share the Printer

One of the great advantages of a small network is that you can print from anywhere. Desktops, laptops, tablets and even smartphones can send files to a networked printer, provided you have it set up for shared access. Right-click the printer icon on your computer and check for a tab devoted to sharing. This single step can make your printer visible across the network.

Tip #6: Share Your Files

Windows 7 machines also allow you to set up one computer as a network drive, which means any other computer on the network can share, save and open files to and from this drive. Setting your Homegroup PC is as easy as turning on this function in the control panel. Go to Start > Control Panel > Network and Internet > Homegroup. Then, select what you’d like to share and what kind of access you want to grant other devices.

Tip #7: Update Computer Software

What if you have everything set up just the way you like it, but still aren’t getting the speeds you want? There are a few ways to increase your speed without spending hundreds of dollars. The first and easiest is to check all your software for any available upgrades. PC drivers are frequently updated to speed up communications, and router manufacturers regularly release firmware upgrades to enhance the network as well. Check for both of these before you move on to other steps.

Tip #8: Try One Manufacturer “Family”

Strange but true: several computer experts have confirmed that many routers work best with network adapters that come from the same manufacturer. Whether you have a cable modem or a DSL adapter, consider keeping all your equipment “in the family” by investing in a router with the same logo on the front.

Tip #9: Upgrade the Wi-Fi

These days, it's all about “N” — 802.11n, specifically. This protocol is the fastest wireless network yet, more than twice as fast as its predecessor, 802.11g. If you own a router capable of 802.11n, by all means switch it on, and make sure your various laptops and connected devices can handle the same speeds. (If they can’t, don’t worry — 802.11n is backwards-compatible to cover older antennas.)

Tip #10: Get a New Wireless Router

If all else fails and you still need better speeds and greater power, it may finally be time to invest in a whole new router. Stick with the big names in this area (e.g., Linksys and Cisco) to ensure that you get industry-standard support and upgrades. Look for 802.11n if you don't already have it. Be sure to check for user-friendly features if you consider yourself anything less than an intermediate computer wonk. Visit our Networking Research Center for more information about choosing a router.

With the right equipment and these simple tips, you can get your home or office network humming along in one afternoon. From there, wireless dominance awaits.

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