Expand your wi-fi Internet Coverage (without buying a new Router)

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By Ed

Hey, point that thing somewhere else!

Robin was sitting by the back door earlier this summer - literally, right by the back door.  If a kid had come running out of the house, she would have been dinged.  I was about to ask what the deal was, but when I saw her waving her tablet around at the house like a 5-year old trying to catch a butterfly in a net, it became clear:  Internet coverage.

Our Wifi works reasonably well all over our house.  The router is shoved away in the basement, out of sight, but functional.  When you go out to the front porch or out into the back yard, to say, oh, I don't know, enjoy the promises of a wireless world and summer at the same time, the coverage is spotty at best.  Our brick house with plaster walls seems to block the signal fairly well.

I figured our old router (5 years! old being a relative measure - tech ages faster than Alaskan Malamutes) was the issue.  It is wireless G and even if you are a non-nerd, a casual glance through the tech-store flyer will tell you that something called wireless N has replaced it.

So I did some research...

It turns out that while N has replaced G, many of the selling features it promises are not entirely guaranteed.  N promises greater speed and coverage - 6 to 10 times faster and 3 times the range in some cases.  The caveat - the device you are receiving with must be N compatible and (here is a big AND) this is assuming no interference from walls, ducts, etc.

Basically, on a football field, N has better coverage and speed than G.  In your house?  All bets are off.  I couldn't find a single expert who would claim that N is better than the rest all the time under all conditions.

So, what can help your wireless speed and coverage?


No matter what type of Router you have, here are some considerations:

  • Firstly, your Internet connection will be the big limiting factor.  Very few Internet Service Providers offer speeds (even their super deluxe ones) that will come close to maxing any G or N Router's capacity.  Bell Canada's "Fibe" Internet offers 10Mbps speed (If you don't know what Mbps means, ignore it and just look at the numbers).  Our Router streams wirelessly at 54 Mbps max.  The Internet Provider is clearly the bottleneck there.  Rogers offers a 75Mbps package ($100/month!).  If you have that, you might need an N router.  You might also be reading the wrong blog.
  • Second, your Router should be somewhere central (i.e. not the basement) and elevated.  Given they are ugly, we didn't consider this an option.  But if you are looking for more juice without spending any money, try relocating.
  • The final option you may consider is adding an external antenna.  This is what we did.  Here it is:

$20 ain't free, but it is better than a new router (which may not actually improve range)


How does an External Antenna change a Router's range?  


Here is the (preposterously easy) How-To:

1.  Remove the old antenna.  

Every wireless router I have ever seen has a simple screw off Antenna.  You may want to check yours before ordering your new antenna though, on the off chance yours is different.   Also, for photographing ease, I unplugged my router and all the cables attached to it.  If you do this, make note of what goes where for reconnecting.  You might be able to swap antennas without disconnecting the router at all (I did this on my first dry run for this post with no ill effects).

 2.  Size Matters. 
Here is the difference between the old and new Antennas.  If it is going to be hidden in the basement, the UG-factor doesn't matter, but the size will certainly improve the range.  

3.  Screw the connector to your router where the old antenna came off. 
 The new antenna (if it is like all the ones I have seen) will come with a length of cable to aid in placement. 

 4.  Re-install the router. 
In our case, in the basement.  If you removed and unplugged everything from it, remember to plug it all back in in the same locations.  Ours hides up between the floor joists in our old laundry room.

5.  Finally, locate the Antenna somewhere nearby.
The cable will give you options.  Ours also came with a magnetic base, so it attached nicely to a piece of duct.  It was fully prepared to do some fiddling around with location to get the best range we could get, but this spot worked just fine.

Even the spiders deserve decent Internet connectivity.

Lastly, if you are as (or more) nerdy than me, you are likely spotting piles of issues in this post.  I have simplified a number of things for simple simplicity.  For example, speed and range are two different things, but you will have to agree that better coverage (more "Bars") most often translates into better speed for the Wi-Fi things we do most often (browsing and email).  Also, I know my router and antenna are in pretty much the worst possible cluster of interference and obstacles - but it still works flawlessly.  If you were to upgrade your antenna on a router already in a good location, I imagine your wifi could reach down the block.  We didn't need that, but go for it if you like.

Now you can surf and get some fresh air at the same time!

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