Q: Our office has a few dead spots where computers have difficulty accessing the internet through our wireless router. What can we do to solve this problem?
A: I had a similar problem with weak Wi-Fi signals in my office when my desktop computer managed only two (out of five) bars of signal strength. I remembered seeing a YouTube video describing a poor man’s solution for boosting a router’s signal strength using a soda can cut and folded into the shape of a sail. I gave this a try and it worked—this trick boosted my performance from two to three bars. However, I did not stop there. I visited my local hardware store and purchased a 10-by-12-inch piece of aluminum (about $2), folded it into a right angle, positioned it behind my router (as pictured below), and achieved four-and-a-half bars of signal strength at my desktop computer.
Although this contraption won’t win any beauty awards, the inexpensive trick worked for me. For those seeking a more professional solution, following are several alternative measures for boosting a Wi-Fi signal:
1. If you have not already done so, relocate your wireless router to a central spot in your office.
2. If you are unable to reposition your wireless router to a central location, you may consider upgrading the device’s antenna to a high-gain antenna for about $5 to $15. Instead of scattering a signal in all directions, this type of antenna focuses the signal in a specific direction, which can result in a signal strength many times more powerful than a scattered signal.
3. Raise your wireless router higher (perhaps on a shelf near the ceiling) so the device’s signal will avoid interference from filing cabinets, metal desks, or other signal-impeding objects.
4. Install a wireless repeater device (priced from $25 to $250) halfway between your wireless router and the dead spot you mentioned, to boost the range of your wireless signal.
5. For a more technical solution, you might consider changing the wireless channel used by your wireless router, particularly if your office is near radio or cell towers that might cause interference. To make this change, log in to your wireless router’s configuration page and locate the option to select a channel (the specific instructions vary depending on the brand of router).
6. Wireless router manufacturers periodically release new firmware updates, and sometimes these improvements can increase performance. To update the firmware, log in to your wireless router’s configuration page and select the Update option.
7. Be aware that today’s wireless-N (802.11n) class routers offer far more performance and greater range than the older a, b, g, and super-g class routers. Wireless-B networks typically operate at 2–5 megabits per second (Mbps). Wireless-G networks usually operate in the 13–23 Mbps range. The average speed for wireless-N routers is about 50 Mbps (although your actual speed will be limited to the speed delivered by your internet service provider). Wireless-N routers are priced from about $40 to $200 (and up), and if you are using an older router, upgrading to a wireless-N router could be your best solution.