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Improving Indoors Wi-Fi Reception? 76

Posted by Cliff
from the these-things-need-better-antennas dept.
VirtualUK asks: "I was given a WiFi base station and PCMCIA card for my laptop as a Christmas present so that I could read slashdot...urm I mean work, in any room in the house. When I read the manual it stated lofty figures of being able to work up to hundreds of feet inside office environments, so I felt that it would be more than capable of being able to allow me to stay connected in my tiny house. It seems however that the WiFi gods are against me as I tap this posting in the next room to the WiFi base station, a mere 20-30 feet away, just regular so-thin-I-can-hear-an-ant-fart walls, no kryptonite, no lead cladding and yet still I struggle to get a constant connection. I've found that shifting the laptop to face different directions sometimes helps, but as should it be this hard at such short range? Is there anything I can do to make my WiFi work better in a house environment?"
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Improving Indoors Wi-Fi Reception?

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  • Build a new antenna (Score:5, Informative)

    by jsimon12 (207119) <tzzhc4@yaBOHRhoo.com minus physicist> on Monday January 27, 2003 @10:27PM (#5171434) Homepage
    Here, this antenna rocks [tux.org], built one myself and it is well worth the effort and the 10 bucks or so it costs in parts. Heck I can use my wireless down the block (almost).
  • Brand? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cpthowdy (609034) on Monday January 27, 2003 @10:29PM (#5171448)
    It would help if we knew what brand your gear is, maybe there are some known issues, firmware/driver updates, etc.
  • Linksys Helps! (Score:4, Informative)

    by AllMightyPaul (553038) on Monday January 27, 2003 @10:31PM (#5171465)
    Linksys has a signal booster [linksys.com]. It looks expensive and I've never used it, but it claims to be great.
    • Actually, the Linksys signal booster isn't exspensive at all, Newegg lists it at only $85.00 [newegg.com].

      it only works on their 802.11b stuff, which is what the poster porbably has.
      Also, I have a friend who uses it, and get's access now to his garage (about 70 feet away) even though the WAP + signal booster lies in his basement. So it sounds like a good solution, one I'm using when my mother-in-law moves into the building we live in, so I can give her some cheap broadband.
    • Just got mine today. Signal went from crappy in most of my house to superb everywhere. Totally rocks, costs less than $90. Takes 30 seconds to install.
  • by Nathan Ramella (629875) on Monday January 27, 2003 @10:45PM (#5171546) Homepage
    If you notice the orientation of your pcmcia card, your radio signals are radiating out at a 90 degree angle from what would be optimal for talking to your AP.

    Could be part of the problem.. Try turning your laptop 90 degress onto it's side. :)

  • by missing000 (602285) on Monday January 27, 2003 @10:49PM (#5171570)
    like phones or a oft-used microwave?
  • by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Monday January 27, 2003 @10:54PM (#5171606) Homepage
    - experiment with moving the base station around

    I've found that some things (water, water pipes, metal of any kind, walls to some extent, some metallised windows absorb/reflect the microwaves extensively. Sometimes you can move the base station so that it peeps around the edge of stuff, and then you can find good coverage over the whole building.

    Also, try putting the aerial higher or lower, near a window or door may be good.

    - find out if there's any interference

    Some equipment, noteably, cordless phones; less likely microwave ovens (get your oven fixed if that's the case!) Bluetooth can also interfere.

    - get better equipment

    Ultimately I've found some equipment has poor range. You don't say what equipment you have. You may be able to modify the aerial on a base station, but try everything before doing that; it may make your equipment illegal.

    I've found ranges of 100 ft or so in a building is quite achievable, although sighting of the base station is sometimes critical.

    • I've found that some things (water, water pipes, metal of any kind...

      Exactly.. it took me a while before I figured out the fridge was causing my problems ;).

      I can get full power surrounded by tile in the bathroom, but the damn fridge blocks the bedroom.

  • Faraday. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tom7 (102298) on Monday January 27, 2003 @10:58PM (#5171634) Homepage Journal
    You might look into a "Faraday Cage," which I hear improves reception tremendously.

    FWIW, my little linksys base station gives me solid coverage all over my house, and even outside. Maybe it's the base station or card?
    • Re:Faraday. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aminorex (141494)
      I also have lousy wifi inside my house. Not quite so bad
      when using a dlink dwl-650+ with it's proprietary coding as
      using an orinoco card, but still nothing like what I've seen
      in office environments. Your faraday cage comment caught
      my attention, because my house has steel siding. I wonder
      if the walls are some sort of resonant cavity, creating
      feedback interference.
      • Re:Faraday. (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I have a lousy wifi in my house too. She won't even give me a blowjob.
        • Perhaps she's thinking of replacing her hubbi with a switchi.
          It's easy to do with some electrical tape and a pair of dykes.
      • I have a few APs here at work, a pro grade 3Com and a couple Cisco AP350s. All of them work great, great range, good data rates, the Cisco especially. I bought a 3Com "Home Wireless Gateway" about a year ago on sale for my home, and was very disappointed. I could barely get into the next room before my signal started going in and out.

        Tore the AP apart to look at the antenna. It doesn't even have a diversity antenna, and the antenna as it were is a PCB that is horizontal. The connector was something proprietary.

        I found an antenna with a similar connector and a length of coax from another AP at work. This is a proper antenna with a knuckle, no gain really. Just installing that on my access point gets me 5.5-11Mbps across the house. Works like a charm now.

        The point? Antennas in home equipment like that Linksys gear is crap. A decent one will do wonders.
  • I found with my laptops that the position of my hand with respect to the antenna affects link quality.

    On one laptop, the PCCard slot is toward the rear of the machine, so there is normally no effect unless I move my hand way over.

    On the other laptop, the PCCard slot is toward the front and I have to watch that I don't have my hand resting over the antenna when I am not typing.

    To check this, pull of the Link Info screen of your Wireless LAN Configuration Utility and watch the bar graphs as you move your hand.
  • Filing Cabinets? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jayrtfm (148260) <jslash@sophont.cCOFFEEom minus caffeine> on Monday January 27, 2003 @11:23PM (#5171765) Homepage Journal
    I had the same problem at a friend's house. Turned out it was a few filing cabinets that would block the signal when the ethernet adaptor (SMC2670W) was placed on the floor.
  • by ubiquitin (28396) on Monday January 27, 2003 @11:23PM (#5171767) Homepage Journal
    Check out the telex 2.4ghz antenna page [telexwireless.com] for some antennas which will get you some serious signal. I had great luck with their 9.5dbi omni and have strong signal (5 bars on a tibook) at about 30 meters, which is enough to cover my back yard. (Remember that decibel is a logarithmic scale.) They apparently don't advertise these things, but they should.
  • by OctaneZ (73357) <ben-slashdot2 AT uma DOT litech DOT org> on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @12:25AM (#5172097) Journal
    The judicious use of a sledgehammer!
    The removal of a few walls (I recomend avoiding weight-bearing walls)
    Really improved my signal reception!

    WARNING: you MAY not get your security deposit back

    -OZ
  • Laptop Antenna (Score:4, Informative)

    by Oculus Habent (562837) <oculus.habentNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @12:26AM (#5172106) Journal
    It could be your laptop's weak Wi-Fi antenna. A friend of mine has an Orinoco card, and I have an AirPort card. I tend to get better signal, which I believe is due to my PowerBook's internal antenna.

    I don't know how practical a solution it is, but you might be able to make/buy an antenna to attach to your laptop to improve signal.
    • Re:Laptop Antenna (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DiSKiLLeR (17651)
      Wierd :)

      I have an airport card in my powerbook, but i use an orinico card in the pcmcia slot because it has 3 to 4x the range!

      The airport card barely works around the house.

      The orinoco card works down to the street, past the 4 units out the front (we're a house behind 4 units).

      Really amazing how much further that little orinoco can go. And i have several orinocos (gold, bronze, white), they all have that range.

      Airport sucks.

      D.
      • Maybe it's my friend's PB 1400. :)
      • Re:Laptop Antenna (Score:2, Informative)

        by iuyterw (255460)
        I don't know a lot about Macs but I did find this post on a MacNet bulletin board when I was looking for some info on 802.11b, maybe this would fix your airport card problem if you use a tibook.
        Making this quick, I just got off the phone with Apple tech support. I called to ask if there's anything I can do to improve my Ti's Airport range. After some questions about distance and interference like microwaves, cordless phones, and walls, the tech told me to shut down my powerbook and flip it over. I was next instructed to eject the battery and look at the right side wall of the battery compartment where I was supposed to find an approximately 5 cm long plastic strip. (My particular powerbook doesn't have this visible -- instead, there is a plate with the serial number, etc...) Still, he told me to firmly press the side wall of the powerbook against the frame, just slowly and firmly pressing along its length several times for about 10 seconds. Next, he told me to replace the battery and start her back up. I can't believe it, but my Airport's range is now like my iBook's!! I never could have done this from out here by the pool before, but here I am.
  • Higher (Score:3, Informative)

    by Zelet (515452) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:00AM (#5172282) Journal
    The higher the better. Always put it above 6' at least. Mounting from the ceiling works well too. Also, make sure that when you go through a wall it is straight not catycorner (sp?).

    Good luck.
    • I drastically improved my signal when I mounted it under my basement stairs. I think the key is the degree of displacement from horizontal.
  • WiFi Vendors (Score:3, Informative)

    by vandel405 (609163) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @01:07AM (#5172315) Homepage Journal
    I've got a good deal of WiFi equipment, a linksys AP, a netgear AP (two locations), a Netgear PCMCIA card, a microsoft USB WiFi adapter, a Netgear PCI card, an AirPort card in my iBook, and two Orinico (Lucent WaveLAN) cards.

    I run windows XP/2k and Mac OS X. It is my experience that the Microsoft and Netgear products are worthless as far as client adapters are concerned.

    The microsoft USB device seems to JAM my net everytime i set it up. If i turn it on, no new clients can join the network. Both netgear adapters can't keep a TCP connection for more than a minure (with 100% reception).

    Now, the Lucent stuff is GREAT! it work everywhere flawlessly, same for AirPort (although i think that they use the same chipset). Both the netgear and linksys APs work great.

    So, cheapo client adapters are a no go. Stick with Lucent stuff.
    • hmmmm .... I'm using a Netgear PCMCIA card with a Netgear access point from a laptop running Windows XP and it works fine. Where i normally use it in the house i get aprox. 70-80% signal strength and am able to access the network for many hours in this way.

      I think its less of a case of staying clear of "cheapo client adapters" but more 'your mileage may vary' ....

      Tim
  • by Craigj0 (10745)
    The simplest and most enjoyable way is to simply increse the chances of line of sight.

    Step one find sledge hammer
    Step two move hammer at rapid velocity at wall
    Step three Come up with good excuse for spouse/land lord/parents
    Step four enjoy incresed range of WiFi
  • by Maller (21311) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:30AM (#5172639)
    I had the same problem (Linksys AP, Linksys PCMCIA, and Ambicom PCMCIA) where tilting my laptop made my reception noticably better. Moving the AP (higher) was the biggest no cost boost. Changing the antennae config helped, too. Getting better antennae, however, is the way to go (at least in my house). I got some off an old Proxim rangelan base station and now I get great reception all over the house. These may not have been the originals, as the AP was donated by my old CS department for Robocup 98.
  • Change Channels (Score:2, Informative)

    by okie_rhce (224078)
    I had a similar problem with my setup when I first installed it. I would get strengths below 50% and frequent drop offs. The first thing I did was change the channel the gear was using and my probems went away.
  • Multipath problems? (Score:4, Informative)

    by toybuilder (161045) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @04:10AM (#5172940)

    There's a terrific graph in the 802.11 Handbook [amazon.com] (the IEEE companion guide to the 802.11 standard) which simulate the signal strength of the signal in a typical environment by using raytracing techniques [amazon.com].

    Basically, it's not necessarily the wall right in between you and the AP, but other potential radio reflectors that are affecting your signal. Moving the access point up, down, left, or right by a few inches could make all the difference. So move it around!

  • Some of the newer APs and cards use a completely f'ed up version of 802.11b which they claim gives you 22 MB throughput instead of 11 MB (the standard). These will NOT work with any standard-compliant 802.11b 11MB device, AP or Card. The 22MB devices just don't play nice and compliant devices will drop every other packet, thereby completely killing any signal you might actually be getting.

    So if you already have compliant devices, stay away from non-standard devices.

    Hope this helps someone who may have had a confusing experience because of this.

    • Just to state a counter-example, I'm using a D-Link 614+ (22Mbs) which works perfectly with my iBook (airport - 11Mbs)

      The access point has got two external antennas and gives me a great coverage in the whole house. I was thinking about getting external antennas before, but I'm not going to need it =)

      Now everything I'm waiting for is for the 22Mbs cards to get supported under Linux. The drivers are out, but I prefer knowing they work well before buying the hardware ...
  • Are you certain that the AP has a reliable power source?

    Does anyone in your local area use WiFi? Try changing the channel the AP uses.
  • Depending on the (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Y Ddraig Goch (596795) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @08:55AM (#5173488)
    age of your house you may have metal studs in the walls. This could cause problems. All of the other sugestions are great too. You may just have to play around with the position of the WAP and it's antenae.
    • Re:Depending on the (Score:3, Informative)

      by Muad'Dave (255648)
      ...age of your house, you might have plaster walls with wire mesh in them! My house was built in '55, and the recption is poor due to the metal mesh over the lath strips.

  • Which brand? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@corne[ ]edu ['ll.' in gap]> on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @09:52AM (#5173759) Homepage
    You don't mention which brand of WiFi card you use.

    While there doesn't seem to be TOO much difference between APs. (Or at least, even cheap APs like those from Linksys, D-Link, etc. perform far better than even high-end client cards), some client cards are MUCH better than others. While Lucent Orinoco cards are not specced as having much higher transmit power than your run-of-the-mill Prism2 (Linksys, D-Link, Belkin, etc etc.), their receiver is much more sensitive. As a result, with the same AP, an Orinoco gets much better range. I have both D-Link DWL-650s, a Belkin Prism2 card, and an Orinoco Silver. The Orinoco beats the other cards, hands-down.

    If you want the best range possible at all costs, most Cisco cards have 100 mW transmit (as opposed to 20-25 for most others) and the highest receive sensitivity of the mainstream cards. The only better card I've seen is the Demarctech Reliawave (One of the few good Prism-based cards - Best receive sensitivity AND the highest transmit power I've seen.) Ciscos are also the most likely to work in an office environment if you want to bring it to work, since many corporations only trust LEAP and none of the other 802.1x solutions so far.

    Orinocos are now $50-60 if you search hard enough. Get one. You won't regret it. If that doesn't work, THEN look into boosting the AP signal with a Linksys booster, but the most important is to have a good client first.
  • It's your card (Score:3, Informative)

    by Spackler (223562) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @09:53AM (#5173764) Journal
    Plain and simple. It's the card.

    I say that, because I had the exact same problem when I got my wireless setup (linksys card and router). Sitting on the couch (about 25 feet from the AP), I would have to tilt the laptop on my lap, just to get a signal. It was quite awkward, and I was REALLY unimpressed after reading on the box that I should get hundreds of feet, and yet, it lost connection if I put it down on the coffee table.

    I read some online forums, and saw people who had much better luck with Orinoco cards. I called where I had ordered it from, and got an RMA for the linksys card, and bought a brand new Orinoco silver card. I can now be anywhere in the house, and 300 feet down the street with perfect signal.

    This made wireless just what I thought it should be. Stable, and good signals everywhere. I kept the linksys AP, because that seemed to work great with the Orinoco card.

    Find a friend who has an Orinoco card, and try it on your laptop. You will buy one that night.

    --Spack
  • I've had to troubleshoot this one a few times and I know that a mirror can seriously screw with wireless reception. It was a simple setup; a student had a laptop on a desk directly across from the door to their dorm room. With the door open, the signal was perfect, full strength. With the door closed, the signal was gone. On the back of the door? A tall mirror. Taking down the mirror solved the problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Unfortunately, many of the "bargain" Wi-Fi access points have rather low power outputs compared to the more serious brands like Symbol, Cisco, Lucent. But, don't dispare, I have found a solution.

    It's a simple cheap hack that makes a world of difference. First, run down to your hardware store and pick up a three pronged, twist lock electrical plug. they run about $7. Next replace the wall wart on your access point with the new twist lock plug. Finally, locate your access point in the laundry room and plug it into the twist lock receptacle next to your clothes dryer.

    That's all there is to it, you'll be able to roam all over your block with a good solid signal.

    One note of caution, with this increased power output, your neighbors will also be able to use your signal. So, make sure that you turn on the high security features of WEP on your access point. TTFN :)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      For those that are really thinking about plugging your AP into a 220v dryer outlet... don't do it.

      You'll just end up being listed in the Darwin awards at worst, at best you'll likely start a fire.
  • Firmware (Score:2, Informative)

    by Savafan1 (3969)
    I had the same problem when I first got my SMC wireless router, and upgrading the firmware fixed the problem.
  • NYC Wireless (Score:2, Informative)

    by kfs27 (261031)
    www.nycwireless.com has a good intro to setting up a hotspot and what equiptment can extend your rage, i'm sure all of this info can also be applied to an indoor setup.

    give it a try
  • I set up a linksys access point in my house. Orrigionally I had put the access point on the 2nd floor and I had been working on my laptops and desktops essentially below the access point. I tried moving the antennas but that seemed to have no affect. A friend mentioned to me that the wireless field is affected by the earth's magnetic/gravitational field. This seemed really strange and I didn't really believe the explanation, but I tried moving the access point down to the basement. I was then able to recieve great reception throught the entire house. I have since then replicated this same experiment and found the same results. Below the access point has bad reception and above has great reception.
    • The behaviour you noticed is because probably the antennas are optimised to transmit the signal in a half-sphere. If you had mounted the AP upside down on the ceiling, or turned the antenna upside down (might or might not be possible on your AP) you would probably see the same results as having the AP in the basement.
  • If you don't want to add an antenna, you may want to try a card from http://www.engeniustech.com/
    They offer client cards that run at 200mw, about %50 more range (theoretically) than a Cisco card (which is also very good at 100mw).
  • Aluminium foil? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheLink (130905) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @02:53PM (#5176043) Journal
    Has anyone tried sticking pieces of aluminium foil on the corners of their room or wherever that works?

    The idea is so the signals between the AP and your WiFi card have a better chance of bouncing off the foil and around walls and other obstacles. If you can find some inconspicuous areas it might not look too ugly.

    This apparently helps for IR remote controls. Not sure if it works for WiFi.
  • is always good to try. This is where the antenna is parallel with the ground.

    Horozontal antennas tend to be much better at transmitting/recieving at low angles when they are fairly close to the ground when compared to vertical antennas.

    One disadvantage is the fact that there are two nulls. These will be off the ends of the antenna, so you have to stay around the front or back of the antenna (front would be looking at the antenna so it is at it's widest. like ---------.

    Just something to try.
  • I have asked this before, with no solid results...


    I have two buildings I'm trying to bridge...
    I have 2 WAP11 v2.2 units... tried to bridge them
    THey houses are about 400 feet apart... there is a row of trees in between.

    What are the odds that I can get that to connect without trenching fiber? Hopefully some wireless guru can help me

    T

    • Make a pringles can antenna (well two, actually.) Google it.

      400 feet is nothing for one of these once you get em built and pointed at each other. I think the record using shotgun antennas (what the pringles can antennas emulate) is like > 100km.

      • How about someone makes them for me and sells them? I don't have the time to tinker with all this crap.

        T

        • http://www.fab-corp.com/

          These guys make / sell the stuff. I haven't had any experience with them so YMMV. They don't list the pringles can mod, but have some other things for sale.

          http://www.peopletechnologyonline.com/_jpmaurer. co m/projects/WiFi%20Antenna/

          That site also has a list of mod'ers at the bottom, maybe one of them will build you a set :)
          • http://www.oreillynet.com/cs/weblog/view/wlg/448

            This guy has a killer tutorial. Enjoy.
          • My problem, actually, is less where to buy something than how I need to set up everything, because I'm going through trees. I don't want to buy something worth $200 and then have it not work. I need someone to do a site survey at my house to determine what will actually work (well).

            T

    • It depends on the tree... If the tree has needles like a pine and those needles are the right length they will absolutely kill all wavelengths for which that needle is a harmonic of. I have heard of stories from RF engineers in Seattle that there have been problems with designing PCS (1900Mhz) netowrks up there because the needles on the tree are perfectly matched and absorb the signal.
  • I admit. I am an 802.11b idiot. Like all idiots, I have a question. If I have an 802.11b base station, and my neighbor has an 802.11b base station, can we communicate between our base stations? (Any particular configuration trick?) Or is only an access card designed to talk with a base station? (For that matter, can two access cards just communicate with each other?)
    • by man_ls (248470) on Tuesday January 28, 2003 @10:48PM (#5178983)
      [[If I have an 802.11b base station, and my neighbor has an 802.11b base station, can we communicate between our base stations?]]

      Yes, set the APs to bridge to each other's MAC addresses. You've created a wireless bridge between two networks.

      [[For that matter, can two access cards just communicate with each other]]

      Yes, this is called "Ad-Hoc" mode. It's a checkbox when you're setting the network up; in Windows XP it reads something like "This is a computer-to-computer (ad-hoc) wireless network that does not use an access point." At which point you just worry about SSID and WEP keys if any.
  • I had this exact problem. The signal wouldn't reach 15 feet (through two interior walls). I downloaded the latest drivers from Orinco's website and my reception improved drastically. I guess the older drivers were buggy or something.
  • I have the original Linksys WAP11 access point and use Linksys WPC11 PCMCIA cards. I have a small 1-bedroom apartment, and can barely maintain a signal when I lay in bed with my laptop (the access point is on the other side of my apt in the living room--total distance
    I was shocked and seriously disappointed with the horrible signal strength, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot that I can do without modifying the equipment. I know that rotating my laptop so that the PCMCIA card is pointed towards the AP helps, but of course, when I am in bed, the antenna is on the 'wrong' side.

    Raising the height of the AP, along with rotating the AP (so that the antennae are towards the center of the apt.) seems to help a little, but it is marginal.

    A friend (also with a WAP11) purchased an antenna that claimed to boost the signal, but it simply didn't work with the WAP11. They also refused to reply to his e-mails asking for a refund. So I've been reluctant to purchase a replacement antenna that claims to increase AP power.

    At this point, I would say that making my own is the only thing I would be willing to try.
  • by tkrabec (84267)
    Make sure the AP is not located near bunches of metal like say a computer or lamps or any stray electrical chords

    -- TIm
  • Run RG6-QS coaxial cable between your base station and the pc card. The cable is a little stiff, but you get awesome reception.
    • But seriously folks, are those things made to drive a 75 Ohm or a 50 Ohm load? (One of these days I'm gonna slap a couple of "rubber duckie" antennas on some old 10base2 cards and see if that works.)
  • Have a look at the ARRL handbook (Radio Shack used to carry it) -- ham radio operator's bible from the Amateur Radio Relay League. Old copies ok. There are people who send RF to the other side of the globe on 1 watt transcievers, using clever antenna design. Good antenna design can make up for low power devices.
  • One of my customers had an office set up in a tiny little house. 802.11a reception was crappy at best, even when the AP was directly the other side of the wall from the laptop. We concluded there were two things going against us: plaster and lead-based paint. (Plaster often is mixed with sand as an aggregate.)

    Eventually the company moved to larger, more open offices with sheetrock walls and only one layer of modern latex paint and everything is much better.

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