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Computer Care: Tweaking your wireless network
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Is your laptop across the house from your router or on a different floor? Do you get the same poor reception on your wireless network that you get on your cell phone?

I can't get a decent cell signal inside my house without standing in front of a window. Sometimes I place the phone on the windowsill and use my Bluetooth headset.

But on your wireless network, there is no reason you shouldn't have a good signal. Here are some tips to help you improve reception. Most are easy fixes and many are either free or inexpensive.

First try rearranging your modem and router. If it is one device, move it across the desk; if two devices, put some space between them. Keep them away from cordless telephones that use the 2.4 GHz frequency (the 900 MHz and 5 GHz models are OK).

Try to place them centrally in the house, not in an end room or by a window. Don't put them on the floor, near other electronics or by metal filing cabinets. A DSL modem can connect to any phone jack in the house and a cable modem can connect to any coaxial outlet. You can get splitters for both to accommodate your Internet while maintaining your phone and TV connections.

The signal is line-of-sight, so if it has to travel through block walls, walls with aluminum studs and microwave ovens, the signal will be affected. Higher is better; thus, the placement of cell towers on hills (for all the good it does in my house).

If your router has antennas, try adjusting them to a lower angle. I got good results with this reaching down stairs in my house.

If you want to cut the (Ethernet) cord on your desktop, you can purchase a PCI wireless card for less than $50. Open the case, push in the card on an empty PCI slot, screw on the antenna, load the driver and you're set.

Alternatively and easier to install is a USB wireless adapter for about the same price.

While any wireless adapter will connect to any router, sometimes you get more speed staying with the same manufacturer. If you have a Linksys adapter, try to get a Linksys router.

The standard for wireless is 802.11 and has types g, b or n, each being progressively faster than its predecessor. All will work and are backward compatible.

Another thing to try is updating your router's firmware. Make sure you download the correct version. See the label under the device to be certain. Also update the driver for the wireless adapter in your computer.

To extend the wireless range in your house, you may consider getting a repeater or a wireless access point. Again, stick to the same brand with these.

These won't make the signal stronger, but will stretch the distance it travels. Less expensive than buying a wireless access point, is buying a second wireless router, as the former can be pricey. For instructions on using a router as an access point, go here.

For a You Tube video on repeaters, go here. While there, look in the right margin for other tutorials that may be of assistance.

You could also swap out antennas on either or both the router and your wireless adapter. Depending on placement of the router, get either unidirectional or omnidirectional antenna replacements. These don't cost much and often yield great improvement.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, watch this short video tutorial. It's a good, cheap antenna fix.

Another option for getting better reception is to try changing channels in your router setup. Although many channels are listed, I suggest you stick with 1, 6 or 11.

To access router's setup, you need to type its IP address in your browser's address bar. Linksys for example, uses for the (private) IP address. D-Link uses for theirs. The User and Password for Linksys is "Admin," while for D-Link it is "Admin" for the user and the password is left blank.

If you want to determine your public or outside IP address, the easiest way is to go to
With wireless networks, be sure the information is encrypted. Setup usually does this for you. WEP encryption is good; WPA is better. If it is not encrypted, not only will your neighbors (or passers-by) be able to see your network, they will be able to log on to it.

You will then be sharing your bandwidth with them, experiencing a slower connection. If they can access your network, they can access your computer and your files. So yes, encryption is important.

I can't elaborate here. Like I've said before, that's another column.

So if your wireless network's reception is as bad as my cellular reception, try some of the changes I've suggested. I can check my e-mail all over the house. You should be able to as well.

Can you hear me now?

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly. Arthur welcomes your computer questions and ideas for future columns.