Monday, 20 February 2012

Fix slow or no wifi in your appartment or hotel room with a range extender

For me having wifi in my room is a kind of must. In a public room it's hard to concentrate on my job.
When I move around, especially to a new accomodation, it's always a pleasant surprise to find out everything is in order, and I have a high speed connection. It can be a big hassle however when reception shows just one or two bars. Asking to move rooms is not always a possibility or doesn't improve a lot. When I was in the Netherlands for a 'yearly report', I decided to buy a so called wifi range extender and I must say that so far I'm very happy with it.
What a range-extender does is that it picks up a specific wifi channel and amplies it back and forth, so that maximal distance can be improved. The signal can also be guided to so-called dead spots. Overall, poor connection speed will improve.
My original choise was the Netgear WN3000NP (see below), since it looked like a compact plug and play device. The plug and play is however only partially true when using modern routers with a so called push-and-connect feature. Even if this feature should be available, a button on the router needs to be pushed and one might not always be granted access to routers in a hotel or apparment complexes, so usually the settings of the extender need to be done manually.
I don't know wether this is a valid reason, but since it has longer antennae and is still compact enough to carry along, I finally chose for the Sitecom DL-330 (see below).

Where to place the range extender:
Case 1: Little to no reception in your room.
Try to pursuede the manager to put the range extender in a secure place somewhere between the router and your room.
The Sitecom has a speed of 150 Mbs, whereas many routers are still using 54 Mbs.
So in other words the first one allows for higher speeds at same distance.
The opposite is also true; the maximum distance reached, where the same speed will be equal, will be higher for the first one.
In een open air situation, ie. without any obstructions, some people and suppliers recommend to put the extender in the middle. However, taking in account different bandwidths this doesn't apply.
After doing some math, I found that in order to bridge a maximum distance to your room, assuming your router has a speed of 54 Mbs, the150 Mbs extender can better be put roughly at one third (37.5%) of the distance from the router to your room.
Also in case you don't have to bridge maximal distance, stick to the one third rule to obtain maximal speed.
If you have the time and opportunity, try different places and compare the difference in signal quality in your room.
Note: Always connect first, since the estimated signal quality may vary from the real transmission quality.
Whenever possible, minimize radio frequent enemies such as reinforced concrete and metal.
Should I mention that windows and wood have little to no effect on the signal?

In case the distance is still too large, (and you like your beachfront apparment too much) one could still resort to create directional antennae from lowcost material like chicken wire and aluminium foil or even household sieves, I did this once, doubling range, but I guess that goes beyond the scope of this article.

Case 2: Medium reception in your room.
Simply put the range extender in your room. Since the extender has a better antenna than eg. in your laptop or smartphone, reception will improve. Also in here your device is safe and you don't need permission from the manager.

Netgear WN3000NP
Range Extender
Sitecom DL-330 Range Extender

To be able to judge whether such a solution is within your league, a rough set up guide for the Sitecom DL-330 follows:
- Find out what type of encryption is being used (WEP, WPA or WPA2) indicated in the wireless network overview.
- Connect the extender to your computer with the supplied LAN cable.
- Switch off your wifi to enforce LAN.
- Select in your communication settings a base addres to be able to connect to the extender (192.168.0.1)
- Login to the extender via your browser (at address http://192.168.0.234 with admin as name and pasword.
- Now select the right wireless network and in case of other wifi repeaters or routers in the complex, chose the one with the strongest signal.
Choose the original encryption-type used (WEP, WPA or WPA2).
Set the original password, this will be the same password used in your new computer connection.
- Choose a new SSID (These are the names you will see in your wireless network overview.)
Choose preferably an inconspicuous common name like eg. 'Netgear' to prevent others using your network with the hotel password or if you really don't care use a vanity name like eg. 'VIP guest @ hotel name' :-)
- Disconnect the LAN cable and turn on your wifi mode.
- Check if the new SSID appears in your wireless network overview and connect.

Note: Problems with bad internet speed from the incoming cable connection to the provider will not be solved.

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