5 Tips for Pain-Free Wireless Home Networking

Like the popular new restaurant that suddenly can't turn out a decent meal, home networking is a victim of its own success

Hair-pullingly bad experiences with wireless networking have led me to formulate Snyder's First Law of Home Networking: No matter who sells you the router, you'll have at least one excruciating session with tech support before you have an Internet connection.

Well, I'm surprised and happy to say that I've finally found an exception: Cisco's new Valet home router, billed as "home wireless made easy" actually works as advertised. Be still my beating heart. (More about the Valet later.)

Like the popular new restaurant that suddenly can't turn out a decent meal, home networking is a victim of its own success. The more devices we add to our networks, and the more demanding applications we want to run across them, the tougher it is to have a good experience.

The Truth About Broadband Speeds

Movies and videos are certainly the worst offenders in this regard, but streaming music can slow down your network, or cause connections to drop so frequently you want to toss the device out the window.

Here are five tips that will help take the pain out of wireless networking.

1. Buy an "n" router

As you've probably noticed, routers come in a number of flavors that are identified by a letter following the ubiquitous 802.11 designation. The newest flavor is "n," and there's no reason to buy a "b" or "g" router that isn't "n" compatible.

It is possible that you have an older PC that doesn't support "n," but that shouldn't be a problem. Nearly all of the wireless standards are backwardly compatible, so buy "n" and be ready for your next computer, which will certainly support it. Be aware, though, that a network will run at the speed of its slowest component, so you won't get all the benefits of the new standard.

"N" is faster than older standards -- hitting speeds as fast as 300 Mbs, compared to about 54Mbps for "g" routers. A few months ago, I wrote about the broadband speed gotcha, the annoying difference between a download speed that vendors sell as "up to" a certain number and the slower, real-world performance. That's also true in wireless networking. You won't get 300 Mbs.

A box that's been sitting on a store shelf for a while may say that the router supports "Draft n." That's a legacy of the long time it took for the IEEE to agree on a final standard, but it's not something that will affect compatibility or performance.

2. Multiple antennas and multiple bands works best

Because we're talking wireless networking here, there are a few complications. More expensive 'n" routers use three or more antennas; cheaper ones use fewer. It's not a drop dead requirement, but more antennas will give you better coverage and better performance.

You might not think that microwaves, baby monitors, cordless phones and routers don't have much in common -- but they do. All use the 2.4GHz radio band and can interfere with each other.

Dual-band routers operate in both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Some, called single-radio models make you choose one band or the other, while simultaneous or two-radio models support devices that connect in both bands at the same time.

Devices on the 5 GHz band won't trip over the microwave, and that could help avoid annoying dropped connections. However, the 5 GHz signal is more likely to slow when it goes through a wall, so you've got a few possible tradeoffs here. I have a dual band router, and have never needed to switch to the 5 GHz mode, but if interference does seem to be a problem in your home, a dual-band router might be the solution.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Wi-FiNetworking

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Bill Snyder

CIO (US)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?