Home Network Router Problems

You’ve carefully followed all the instructions in your network router’s setup guide, but for whatever reason your connections aren’t working as they should. Perhaps everything functioned before and just started failing suddenly, or maybe you’ve spent days or weeks trying to get through the initial installation. Use these troubleshooting guidelines to isolate and solve network problems related to your router: Keep in mind there may be more than one issue involved.

Mismatched Wi-Fi Security Settings

Seemingly the most common cause of wireless network setup issues, incompatibility in settings between two Wi-Fi devices (such as the router and a PC) will prevent them from being able to make a network connection. Check the following settings on all Wi-Fi devices to ensure they are compatible:

  • Network mode: A router must be enabled to support all versions of Wi-Fi used by the network clients. For example, routers configured to run in “802.11g only” mode will not support 802.11n or old 802.11b devices. To fix this kind of network failure, change the router to run in mixed mode.
  • Security mode: Most Wi-Fi devices support multiple network security protocols (typically different variations of WPA and WEP). All Wi-Fi devices including routers belonging to the same local network must use the same security mode.
  • Security key: Wi-Fi security keys are passphrases or sequences of letters and digits. All devices joining a network must be programmed to use a Wi-Fi key recognized by the router (or wireless access point). Many home network routers (access points) support only one key that all devices must share in common. Some newer routers can store multiple Wi-Fi security keys instead of one, however, technically allowing local devices to have different key settings (although keeping their keys all the same can simply setup and troubleshooting).

MAC Address Restrictions

Many network routers support a feature called MAC address filtering. Although disabled by default, router administrators can turn this feature on and restrict connections to only certain devices according to their MAC address number. If having difficulty getting a specific device to join the local network (particularly if it is new), check the router to ensure either (a) MAC address filtering is ‘off’ or (b) the device’s MAC address is included in the list of allowed connections.

Loose or Disconnected Cables

Sometimes the router is turned off, or someone in the family accidentally unplugs power to it. Ensure power strips are switched on and receiving electricity from the outlet, and if applicable, that any Ethernet cables are firmly seated – the connectors should make a clicking sound when snapping into position. If the router can’t connect to the Internet but is otherwise operating normally, ensure any modem cables are connected properly.

Overheating or Overloading

Downloading large files or streaming data for long periods causes a home network router to generate heat. In some cases, routers will overheat due to the sustained heavy load. An overheated router will behave unpredictably, eventually disconnecting devices from the local network and crashing. Shutting down the router and allowing it to cool down solves the problem temporarily, but if this issue occurs often, ensure the router has proper ventilation (no vents blocked) and consider moving it to a cooler location.

Home routers can typically handle ten (10) or more connected clients, although if too many devices actively use the network at once, similar overloading problems can result. Even when not physically overheating, the high network activity can cause outages.

Consider adding a second router to the network in these cases to better handle the load.

Wireless Signal Limitations

Because the range of Wi-Fi radio signals is limited, home network connections sometimes fail because a device’s radio cannot reach the router’s.

Some people also have had their functioning wireless network go offline as soon as anyone in the house turned on the microwave oven. Garage door openers and other consumer gadgets inside homes also can interfere with the signals of Wi-Fi networks, particularly those that use the 2.4 GHz radio bands.

It’s also common in cities for the signals of several home Wi-Fi networks to intermingle with each other.

Even inside their own home, a person may discover one or more of their neighbor’s wireless networks when trying to connect to their own.

To work around these wireless radio interference and range limitations, change the Wi-Fi channel number on the router, or re-position the router. Finally, consider changing your router’s name (SSID) if a neighbor is using the same one.

Defective or Outdated Hardware or Firmware

It’s not uncommon for routers to fail after years of regular use. Lightning strikes or other electrical power surges can also damage the circuitry of network equipment. Because they have few moving parts, trying to repair network routers rarely is practical. Set aside some budget for periodically replacing your router (and any other essential network equipment). Also consider keeping some spare cables and a cheap backup router to help with emergency troubleshooting.

Before finally giving up a router, try updating the router’s firmwarefirst. Sometimes no firmware update will be available, but in other cases newer firmware may contain fixes for overloading or signaling issues.

Wi-Fi Wireless Antennas

Wi-Fi wireless networking works by sending radio transmissions on specific frequencies where listening devices can receive them. The necessary radio transmitters and receivers are built into Wi-Fi enabled equipment like routers, laptops, and phones. Antennas are also key components of these radio communication systems, picking up incoming signals or radiating outgoing Wi-Fi signals. Some Wi-Fi antennas, particularly on routers, may be mounted externally while others are embedded inside the device’s hardware enclosure.

Antenna Power Gain

The connection range of a Wi-Fi device depends greatly on its antenna’s power gain. A numeric quantity measured in relative decibels (dB), gain represents the maximum effectiveness of an antenna compared to a standard reference antenna. Industry manufacturers use one of two different standards when quoting gain measures for radio antennas:

  • dBi – decibels relative to an isotropic reference antenna
  • dBd – decibels relative to a dipole reference antenna

Most Wi-Fi antennas have dBi as their standard measure rather than dBd. Dipole reference antennas work at 2.14 dBi that corresponds to 0 dBd. Higher values of gain indicate an antenna capable of working at higher levels of power, which usually results in greater range.

Omnidirectional Wi-Fi Antennas

Some radio antennas are designed to work with signals in any direction. These omnidirectional antennas are commonly used on Wi-Fi routers and mobile adapters as such devices must support connections from multiple directions.

Factory Wi-Fi gear often uses basic dipole antennas of the so-called “rubber duck” design, similar to those used on walkie-talkie radios, with gain between 2 and 9 dBi.

Directional Wi-Fi Antennas

Because the power of an omnidirectional antenna must be spread across 360 degrees, its gain (measured in any one direction) is lower than alternative directional antennas that focus more energy in one direction.

Directional antennas are typically used to extend the range of a Wi-Fi network into hard-to-reach corners of buildings or other specific situations where 360-degree coverage is not needed.

Cantenna is a brand name of Wi-Fi directional antennas. The Super Cantenna supports 2.4 GHz signaling with gain up to 12 dBi and a ​beam width of about 30 degrees, suitable for indoor or outdoor use. The term ​cantenna also refers to generic do-it-yourself antennas using a simple cylindrical design.

A Yagi (more properly called Yagi-Uda) antenna is another type of directional radio antenna that can be used for long-distance Wi-Fi networking. Being very high gain, usually 12 dBi or higher, these antennas are typically used to extend the range of outdoor hotspots in specific directions, or to reach an outbuilding. Do-it-yourselfers can make Yagi antennas, although this requires somewhat more effort than making cantennas.

Upgrading Wi-Fi Antennas

Wireless networking problems caused by weak signal strength can sometimes be solved by installing upgraded Wi-Fi radio antennas on the affected equipment. On business networks, professionals typically perform a comprehensive site survey to map the Wi-Fi signal strength in and around office buildings and strategically install additional wireless access points where needed.

Antenna upgrades can be simpler and a more cost effective option to fix Wi-Fi signal problems, particularly on home networks.

Consider the following when planning the antenna upgrade strategy for a home network:

  • Some Wi-Fi gear does not support aftermarket antenna upgrades; consult the manufacturer’s documentation to confirm
  • Upgrading a router’s omnidirectional antennas can improve connectivity with all devices in the home and sufficiently resolve basic signal issues. Upgrading client devices only benefits each one individually.
  • Evaluate both gain and directional radius support properties of antennas when choosing one. Software packages that map Wi-Fi signal strength exists in a home are available to use for planning.

Wi-Fi Antennas and Signal Boosting

Installing aftermarket antennas on Wi-Fi equipment helps increase the devices’ effective range. However, because radio antennas only help concentrate and direct signals, the range of a Wi-Fi device is ultimately limited by the power of its radio transmitter rather than its antenna. For these reasons, ​signal boosting of a Wi-Fi network is sometimes necessary, normally accomplished by adding ​repeaterdevices that amplify and relay signals at intermediate points between network connections.

Tips To Mastering the Use of Wi-Fi Network Security Keys

One essential aspect of setting up Wi-Fi wireless connection setups is to enable security with the correct settings. If these settings are misconfigured, Wi-Fi devices can fail to connect to the local network (else security may not actually be turned on).

Although there are a few steps involved in configuring security on a Wi-Fi network, the management of wireless keys turns out to be the most important.

These keys are digital passwords (sequences of letters and/or digits, technically called a “string”) that all devices on a network need to know in order to connect with each other. In particular, all devices on a local Wi-Fi network share a common key.

Rules for Making Wi-Fi Keys

Setting up security on a Wi-Fi network router, wireless hotspot or client device involves choosing from among a list of security options and then entering a key string that the device stores away. Wi-Fi keys exist in two basic forms:

  • ASCII – a sequence of letters and/or decimal numbers
  • hex – a sequence of hexadecimal numbers

Hex keys (strings like ‘0FA76401DB’, without the quotes) are the standard format that Wi-Fi devices understand. ASCII keys are also called passphrases because people often choose easy-to-remember words and phrases for their keys, like ‘ilovewifi’ or ‘hispeed1234’. Note that some Wi-Fi devices support only hex keys and will either disallow entering passphrase characters or report an error when trying to save a passphrase.

Wi-Fi devices convert both ASCII and hex keys into binary numbers that become the actual key value used by the Wi-Fi hardware to encrypt data sent over the wireless link.

The most common security options used for home networking include 64-bit or 128-bit WEP (not recommended due to its inferior level of protection), WPA and WPA2).

Some restrictions on the choice of Wi-Fi key depend on the option chosen as follows:

  • 64-bit WEP – passphrases must be exactly 5 ASCII characters; keys must be exactly 10 hexadecimal digits
  • 128-bit WEP – passphrases must be exactly 13 ASCII characters; keys must be exactly 26 hexadecimal digits
  • WPA and WPA2 – passphrases must be between 8 and 63 ASCII characters; keys must be 64 hex digits

Follow these additional rules that apply to all of the above options when making Wi-Fi keys:

  • 1. Choose keys larger than the minimum length if possible. Longer keys are more difficult to be compromised, although they are also much more difficult for people to remember.
    2. Because all of the above Wi-Fi options use case-sensitive keys, ensure that shared keys match exactly including the use of lower- and upper-case letters.

Synchronizing Keys Across Local Devices

The simplest method to ensure all devices on a home or local network are correctly configured with the same Wi-Fi key is to first set a key for the router (or another access point) and then systematically update each client one by one to use the matching string. Exact steps for applying a Wi-Fi key to a router or other device vary slightly depending on the specific hardware involved, but as a general rule:

  • enter keys into the router’s administration page for wireless settings
  • enter keys into a client device through its Settings app or operating system control panel

 

Finding Keys for Routers and Hotspots

Because the sequence of numbers and letters in a Wi-Fi can be long, it’s fairly common to mistype the value or simply forget what it is. To find the key string currently in use for a wireless home network, log into the local router as an administrator and look up the value from the appropriate console page. As a device cannot authenticate with the router unless it already has the correct key, connect a device to the router via Ethernet cable if necessary.

Some home routers come from the manufacturer with a Wi-Fi security option already turned on and a default key pre-installed on the device. These routers typically have a sticker on the bottom of the unit showing the key string. While these keys are private and generally safe to use within a home, the stickers enable anyone inside a home to see its network settings and join additional client devices to the network without an owner’s knowledge. To avoid this risk, some prefer to override the key on such routers with a different string immediately when first installing them.

5 GHz Wi-Fi or 2.4 GHz

Wi-Fi wireless network connections use radio signals in either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands. These numbers are advertised prominently on product packaging, but their meaning is often misunderstood. Are 5 GHz Wi-Fi connections really better than 2.4 GHz because they use higher frequency signals?

All modern Wi-Fi devices support 2.4 Ghz connections, while some newer equipment supports both. Home broadband routers that feature both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radios are called dual-band wireless routers.

With basic awareness of the differences as described below, a dual-band home network can be set up to take maximum advantage of the best of both frequencies.

GHz and Network Speed

The GHz range of a wireless radio only partially relates to the speed of a wireless network. For example, the old 802.11a Wi-Fi runs at 5 GHz but supported the same maximum data rate of 54 Mbps as newer 802.11g networks that run at 2.4 GHz.

A 5 GHz network can carry more data than a 2.4 GHz network assuming the electric power to the higher frequency radios is maintained at a higher level. Some old 2.4 GHz 802.11g network products matched and even exceeded this potential speed advantage of 5 GHz 802.11a by utilizing a pair of radios instead of one, increasing capacity up to 108 Mbps under the right conditions.

However, with the last 802.11n and 802.11ac router technology, 5 GHz radios support significantly higher maximum data rates.

Home devices that generate or consume the largest amount of network traffic, like video streaming units or game consoles, can run fastest over 5 GHz links.

Advantage: 5 GHz

GHz and Network Range

The higher the frequency of a wireless signal, the shorter its range. 2.4 GHz wireless networks therefore cover a substantially larger range than 5 GHz networks.

In particular, signals of 5 GHz frequencies do not penetrate solid objects nearly as well as do 2.4 GHz signals, limiting their reach inside homes.

Many older Wi-Fi devices do not contain 5 GHz radios and so must be connected to 2.4 GHz channels in any case.

Advantage: 2.4 GHz

GHz and Network Interference

You may notice that some cordless phones, automatic garage door openers, and other home appliances also use 2.4 GHz signaling. Because this frequency range is commonly used in consumer products, it’s more likely a 2.4 GHz home network will pick up interference from appliances than will a 5 GHz home network.

Advantage: 5 GHz

GHz and Cost

Some people mistakenly believe 5 GHz network technology is newer or somehow more innovative than 2.4 GHz. In fact, both types of signaling have existed for many years and are both proven technologies.

Because 5 GHz home routers are comparatively new and usually incorporate 2.4 GHz radios, they generally cost more than routers which support 2.4 GHz only.

Advantage: 2.4 GHz

5 GHz vs 2.4 GHz – The Bottom Line

5 GHz and 2.4 GHz are different wireless signaling frequencies that each have advantages for Wi-Fi networking. Higher frequency networks are not necessarily superior to lower frequency ones, however.

The so-called dual band hardware like that found in 802.11ac routers combines the best of both types of hardware by integrating both types of radios, an emerging preferred solution for home networking.

How To Reset a Home Network Router

You may want to reset your network router if you can’t remember the administrator’s password, you’ve forgotten the network’s wireless security key, or you’re troubleshooting connectivity issues.

Several different router reset methods can be used depending on the situation.

Hard Resets

A hard reset is the most drastic type of router reset that’s most commonly used when an administrator has forgotten their password or keys and wishes to start over with fresh settings.

Since the software on the router is reset to factory defaults, a hard reset removes all customizations, including passwords, usernames, security keys, port forwarding settings, and custom DNS servers.

Hard resets do not remove or revert the currently-installed version of router firmware, however.

To avoid internet connectivity complications, disconnect the broadband modem from the router before performing hard resets.

How to do it:

  1. With the router powered on, turn it to the side that has the Reset button. It might be on the back or the bottom.
  2. With something small and pointy, like a paperclip, hold down the Reset button for 30 seconds.
  3. After releasing it, wait another 30 seconds for the router to fully reset and power back on.

An alternative method called the 30-30-30 hard reset rule involves holding down the reset button for 90 seconds instead of 30 and can be tried if the basic 30 second version doesn’t work.

Some router manufacturers might have a preferred way to reset their router, and some methods to resetting a router may differ between models.

Power Cycling

Shutting off and re-applying power to a router is called power cycling. It’s used to recover from glitches that cause a router to drop connections, such as corruption of the unit’s internal memory, or overheating.

Power cycles do not erase saved passwords, security keys, or other settings saved via the router’s console.

How to do it:

Power to a router can be shut off either by the unit’s on/off switch (if it has one) or by unplugging the power cord. Battery-powered routers must have their batteries removed.

Some people like to wait 30 seconds out of habit, but it’s not necessary to wait more than a few seconds between unplugging and reattaching a router’s power cord. As with hard resets, the router takes time after power is restored to resume operation.

Soft Resets

When troubleshooting internet connectivity issues, it can help to reset the connection between the router and modem. Depending on how you want to do it, this may just involve removing the physical connection between the two, not manipulating the software or disabling power.

Compared to other kinds of resets, soft resets take effect almost instantaneously because they don’t require the router to reboot.

How to do it:

Physically unplug the cable connecting the router to the modem and then reconnect it after a few seconds.

Some routers include a Disconnect/Connect button on their console; this resets the connection between the modem and the service provider.

Some router brands including Linksys provide a menu option in their console called Restore Factory Defaults or something similar. This feature replaces the router’s customized settings (passwords, keys, etc.) with the original ones it had at the factory, without requiring a hard reset.

Some routers also feature a Reset Security button on their Wi-Fi console screens. Pressing this button replaces the subset of the router’s wireless network settings with the defaults while leaving other settings unchanged. Specifically, the router name (SSID), wireless encryption, and Wi-Fi channel number settings are all reverted.

To avoid confusion around which settings get changed on a security reset, Linksys owners can avoid this option and use Restore Factory Defaults instead.

Wi-Fi Wireless Networking

Wi-Fi has emerged as the single most popular wireless network protocol of the 21st century. While other wireless protocols work better in certain situations, Wi-Fi technology powers most home networks, many business local area networks and public hotspot networks.

Some people erroneously label all kinds of wireless networking as “Wi-Fi” when in reality Wi-Fi is just one of many wireless technologies.

History and Types of Wi-Fi

In the 1980s, a technology designed for wireless cash registers called WaveLAN was developed and shared with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) group responsible for networking standards, known as committee 802. This technology was further developed during the 1990s until the committee published standard 802.11 in 1997.

The initial form of Wi-Fi from that 1997 standard supported only 2 Mbps connections. This technology was not officially known as “Wi-Fi” from the beginning either; that term was coined only a few years as its popularity increased. An industry standards group has continued to evolve the standard ever since, generating a family of new versions of Wi-Fi called successively 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, 802.11ac, and so on. Each of these related standards can communicate with each other, although newer versions offer better performance and more features.

More – 802.11 Standards for Wi-Fi Wireless Networking

Modes of Wi-Fi Network Operation

Wi-Fi can be configured in one of two modes, called infrastructure mode Wi-Fi and ad-hoc mode Wi-Fi. Nearly all Wi-Fi setups use infrastructure mode, where client devices within range all connect to and communicate through a central wireless access point.

Ad hoc Wi-Fi allows clients to connect directly to each other without the use of an access point.

Wi-Fi Hardware

Wireless broadband routers commonly used in home networks serve (along with their other functions) as Wi-Fi access points. Similarly, public Wi-Fi hotspots utilize one or more access points installed inside the coverage area.

Small Wi-Fi radios and antennas are embedded inside smartphones, laptops, printers, and many consumer gadgets enabling them to function as network clients. Access points are configured with network names that clients can discover when scanning the area for available networks.

More – The World of Wi-Fi Gadgets for Home Networks

Wi-Fi Hotspots

Hotspots are a kind of infrastructure mode network designed for public or metered access to the Internet. Many hotspot access points utilize special software packages for managing user subscriptions and limiting Internet access accordingly.

More – Introduction to Wireless Hotspots

Wi-Fi Network Protocols

Wi-Fi consists of a data link layer protocol that runs over any of several different physical later (PHY) links. The data layer supports a special Media Access Control (MAC) protocol that uses collision avoidance techniques (technically called Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Avoidance or CSMA/CA to help handle many clients on the network communicating at once

Wi-Fi supports the concept of channels similar to those of televisions. Each Wi-Fi channel utilizes a specific frequency range within the larger signal bands (2.4 GHz or 5 GHz). This allows local networks in close physical proximity to communicate without interfering with each other. Wi-Fi protocols additionally test the quality of the signal between two devices and adjust the connection’s data rate down if needed to increase reliability. The necessary protocol logic is embedded in specialized device firmware pre-installed by the manufacturer.

Common Issues With Wi-Fi Networks

No technology is perfect, and Wi-Fi possesses its share of limitations.

Common issues people face with Wi-Fi networks include:

  • Security – Network traffic sent across Wi-Fi networks passes through open air making it prone to snooping from malicious strangers. Several kinds of security technology have been added to Wi-Fi over the years to help address this problem, although some work better than others. More – Introduction to Wi-Fi Network Security
  • Health concerns – Some people claim that extensive exposure to wireless radio signals like those from Wi-Fi networks cause headaches, nausea and other physical issues. Many industry experts assure the public that Wi-Fi is safe, but controversy persists as claims one way or the other are difficult to prove. More – Wireless Networking and Your Health
  • Signal range – A basic Wi-Fi network with one wireless access point reaches at most only a few hundred feet (100m or less) in any direction. Expanding the range of a Wi-Fi network requires installing additional access points configured to communicate with each other, which becomes expensive and difficult to support, especially outdoors. As with other wireless protocols, signal interference (from other wireless devices, or from physical obstructions such as walls) can lower the effective range of Wi-Fi and its overall reliability. More – What Is the Typical Range of a Wi-Fi Network?

Some Ways to Boost a Wi-Fi Signal

One annoying limitation of Wi-Fi networks is their signal reach. The range of a typical Wi-Fi network sometimes doesn’t even cover a house properly. Fortunately, Wi-Fi networks can be boosted, meaning that their signal strength and corresponding coverage area can be increased via various methods. Consider the below options to boost your Wi-Fi signal.

Relocating the Router (Gateway Device)

The placement of a Wi-Fi broadband router (or other network gatewaydevice) directly affects its signal reach.

Experiment by repositioning your router in different locations that can best avoid physical obstructions and radio interference, two common range limiters for Wi-Fi equipment. Typical sources of these Wi-Fi signal impediments in residences include brick or plaster walls, and microwave ovens or cordless phones in use.

Change the Wi-Fi Channel Number

Range-limiting wireless interference may also be caused by neighboring Wi-Fi networks using the same Wi-Fi radio channels. Changing Wi-Fi channel numbers on your equipment can eliminate this interference and improve overall signal strength.

Upgrade the Router (Gateway) Radio Antennas

Stock Wi-Fi antennas on most home network equipment do not pick up radio signals as well as some aftermarket antennas. Fortunately, most modern routers feature removable antennas for this reason. Consider upgrading the antennas on your router (gateway) with more powerful ones.

 Some router manufacturers advertise “high-gain” antennas on their products but these tend to be offered only on more expensive models and even then may still benefit from upgrading.

Buy Antennas for Your Router on Amazon.com

Add a Signal Amplifier

A Wi-Fi signal amplifier (sometimes called signal booster) attaches to a router, access point or Wi-Fi client at the place where an antenna normally connects.

Bi-directional boosters amplify the wireless signal in both transmit and receive directions, important as Wi-Fi transmissions are two-way radio communications.

Buy an Amped Wireless High Power 1000mW Wi-Fi Signal Booster on Amazon.com

Add a Wireless Access Point

Businesses sometimes deploy dozens of wireless access points (APs) to cover larger office buildings. Many homes wouldn’t benefit from having an AP, but a larger residence can. They especially help cover those hard-to-reach corner rooms or outdoor patios. Adding an AP to a home network requires connecting it to the primary router (gateway). A second broadband router can often be used instead of an ordinary AP as many home routers today offer an “access point mode” specifically for this purpose.

Add a WiFi Extender

A wireless extender is a stand-alone unit positioned within range of a wireless router or access point. Buying a WiFi extender will serve as a two-way relay station for Wi-Fi signals. Clients too far away from the original router or an AP can instead associate with the same local wireless network through the extender.

Tips To Upgrade Your Home Network to Wireless N

When you finally get your home network set up and running reasonably well, probably the last thing you want to do is change it. If your network lacks Wireless N capability, though, you could be missing out on faster speeds and better reliability.

The term “Wireless N” refers to Wi-Fi wireless network equipment that runs the 802.11n radio communication protocol.

More – What Is Wireless N?

The Benefits of Wireless N

Wireless N allows you to transfer data between devices in your home faster.

For example, older 802.11g based equipment could communicate inside the network at a standard rate of 54 Mbps. Wireless N products support a standard of 150 Mbps, roughly three times faster, with options for even higher rates also available.

Wireless N technology also improves the design of radios and antennas built into the network hardware. The signal range of Wireless N routers often exceeds that of older forms of Wi-Fi, helping to better reach and maintain more reliable connections with devices further away or outdoors. Additionally, 802.11n can operate on signal frequencies outside the band commonly used by other non-networked consumer gadgets, reducing the likelihood of radio interference inside the home.

Although Wireless N generally improves the speed of the movie, music and other file sharing inside the house, it does not increase the speed of the connection between your house and the rest of the Internet.

Wireless N Support in Consumer Devices

Wireless N gear began appearing on the scene as early in 2006, so there’s a very good chance the devices you use now support it. For example, Apple added 802.11n to its phones and tablets starting with iPhone 4. If the computer, phone or other wireless devices you’re using lacks hardware support for 802.11n, you cannot gain the benefits of Wireless N on that particular device.

Check the product documentation to determine what form of WI-Fiyour devices support.

Devices can support Wireless N in two different ways. Dual-bandDevices can use 802.11n to communicate on two different radio frequency bands – 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, while single band devices can communicate only on 2.4 GHz. For example, the iPhone 4 supports only single band Wireless N, while the iPhone 5 supports dual-band.

Choosing a Wireless N Router

If your home network router doesn’t support 802.11n, your Wireless N devices can only get the benefits of 802.11n when they are connected directly to each other in ad hoc wireless mode. (Otherwise, they fall back to older 802.11b/g Wi-Fi communication.) Fortunately, most models of home routers sold today include Wireless N.

All Wireless N routers support dual-band 802.11n. Products fall into four primary categories according to the maximum data rates (network bandwidth) they support:

  • 150 Mbps
  • 300 Mbps
  • 450 Mbps
  • 600 Mbps

Entry level Wireless N routers support 150 Mbps bandwidth with one Wi-Fi radio and one antenna attached to the unit. Routers that support the higher data rates successively add more radios and antennas to the unit to be able to manage more channels of data in parallel.

300 Mbps Wireless N routers contain two radios and two antennas, while 450 and 600 Mbps contain three and four of each, respectively.

While it seems logical that choosing a higher rated router will increase the performance of your network, this does not necessarily happen in practice. For a home network connection to actually run at the highest speeds the router supports, each device must also have matching radio and antenna configurations. Most consumer devices today support making only 150 Mbps or sometimes 300 Mbps connections. If the price difference is significant, choosing a lower-end Wireless N router in one of these two categories makes sense.

On the other hand, choosing a higher-end router may allow your home network to better support new gear in the future.

See also – How to Choose a Wireless Router

Setting up a Home Network with Wireless N

The process of setting up a Wireless N router is nearly the same as for other types of home routers with the notable exception of dual-band wireless configuration. Because 2.4 GHz is the wireless band heavily used by consumer gadgets, many homeowners will want to utilize the 5 GHz band for any devices that support it.

To set up 5 GHz connections on your home network, first ensure the router option for dual-band operation is enabled, usually via a button or checkbox on one of the router’s administration screens. Then enable the device for 5 GHz channel operation similarly.

Is There Anything Better Than 802.11n?

The next generation of Wi-Fi devices after 802.11n support a new communication protocol named 802.11ac. Just as Wireless N provided a significant improvement in speed and range compared to 802.11g, so 802.11ac provides similar improvements above Wireless N. 802.11ac offers theoretical data rates starting at 433 Mbps, but many current or future products support gigabit (1000 Mbps) and higher rates.

Wi-Fi Network Security

A consideration on any computer network, security is especially important on Wi-Fi wireless networks. Hackers can easily intercept wireless network traffic over open air connections and extract information like passwords and credit card numbers. Several Wi-Fi network security technologies have been developed to combat hackers, of course, although some of these technologies can be defeated relatively easily.

Network Data Encryption

Network security protocols usually use encryption technology. Encryption scrambles data sent over network connections to hide information from humans while still allowing computers to properly decipher the messages. Many forms of encryption technology exist in the industry.

Network Authentication

Authentication technology for computer networks verifies the identity of devices and people. Network operating systems like Microsoft Windows and Apple OS-X include built-in authentication support based on user names and passwords. Home network routersalso authenticate administrators by requiring them to enter separate login credentials.

Ad Hoc Wi-Fi Network Security

Traditional Wi-Fi network connections go through a router or other wireless access point. Alternatively, Wi-Fi supports a mode called ad hoc wireless that allows devices to connect directly to each other in a peer to peer fashion.

Lacking a central connection point, the security of ad hoc Wi-Fi connections tends to be low. Some experts discourage the use of ad-hoc Wi-Fi networking for this reason.

Common Wi-Fi Security Standards

Most Wi-Fi devices including computers, routers, and phones support several security standards. The available security types and even their names vary depending on a device’s capabilities.

WEP stands for Wired Equivalent Privacy. It is the original wireless security standard for Wi-Fi and is still commonly used on home computer networks. Some devices support multiple versions of WEP security

  • WEP-64-bit key (sometimes called WEP-40)
  • WEP 128-bit key (sometimes called WEP-104)
  • WEP 256-bit key

and allow an administrator to choose one, while other devices only support a single WEP option. WEP should not be used except as a last resort, as it provides very limited security protection.

WPA stands for Wi-Fi Protected Access. This standard was developed to replace WEP. Wi-Fi devices typically support multiple variations of WPA technology. Traditional WPA, also known as WPA-Personal and sometimes also called WPA-PSK (for pre-shared key), is designed for home networking while another version, WPA-Enterprise, is designed for corporate networks. WPA2 is an improved version of Wi-Fi Protected Access supported by all newer Wi-Fi equipment. Like WPA, WPA2 also exists in Personal/PSK and Enterprise forms.

802.1X provides network authentication to both Wi-Fi and other types of networks. It tends to be used by larger businesses as this technology requires additional expertise to set up and maintain.

802.1X works with both Wi-Fi and other types of networks. In a Wi-Fi configuration, administrators normally configure 802.1X authentication to work together with WPA/WPA2-Enterprise encryption. 802.1X is also known as RADIUS.

Network Security Keys and Passphrases

WEP and WPA/WPA2 utilize wireless encryption keys, long sequences of hexadecimal numbers. Matching key values must be entered into a Wi-Fi router (or access point) and all client devices wanting to join that network. In network security, the term passphrase can refer to a simplified form of an encryption key that only uses alphanumeric characters instead of hexadecimal values.

However, the terms passphrase and key are often used interchangeably.

Configuring Wi-Fi Security on Home Networks

All devices on a given Wi-Fi network must use matching security settings. On Windows 7 PCs, the following values must be entered on the Security tab of Wireless Network Properties for a given network:

  • Security type refers to authentication options including Open, Shared, WPA-Personal and –Enterprise, WPA2-Personal and –Enterprise, and 802.1X. The Open option utilizes no authentication, while Shared utilizes WEP for authentication.
  • Encryption type options available depend on the Security type chosen. Besides None, which can be only used with Open networks, the WEP option can be used with either WEP or 802.1X authentication. Two other options, called TKIP and AES, refer to specialized encryption technologies usable with the WPA family of Wi-Fi security standards.
  • An encryption key or passphrase can be specified in the Network security key field when required.
  • The Key Index, a value between 1 and 4, refers to the position of the matching key stored on the wireless router (access point). Many home routers allow four different encryption keys numbered 1 through 4 to be configured in order to support legitimate clients without forcing them to all use a common key.

Why Wi-Fi Network Connections Drop

On home or public wireless networks, your Wi-Fi connection might drop unexpectedly for no obvious reason. This kind of networking problem is especially frustrating. It’s also more common than you might think. Fortunately, solutions exist. Consult this checklist to determine why it is happening and how to prevent it.

Wi-Fi Radio Interference

Radio signals from various consumer electronic products can interfere with Wi-Fi wireless network signals. For example, cordless phones, Bluetooth devices, garage door openers and microwave ovens can each take down a Wi-Fi network connection when powered on. You can move your network equipment or (on home networks) change some Wi-Fi radio settings to avoid this problem.

  • Change the Wi-Fi Channel to Avoid Interference
  • Position Your Router / Access Point for Best Performance

Insufficient Wi-Fi Network Range and Power

Even without interference from other equipment, Wi-Fi connections can drop occasionally on devices located near the edge of the network’s wireless signal range. Wi-Fi links generally become more unstable with distance. Relocating your computer or other gear is a simple but not always practical solution. Otherwise, consider antenna upgrades and other techniques to improve wireless signal transmission and reception.

  • Position Your Router / Access Point for Best Performance
  • How Can the Range of a Wi-Fi Network Be Boosted?

Unknowingly Connecting to the Wrong Wi-Fi Network

If two neighboring locations run unsecured Wi-Fi networks with the same name (SSID), your devices may connect to the wrong network without your knowledge. This can cause the interference and range problems described above. Additionally, in this scenario your computers will lose connection whenever the neighbor network is turned off, even if your preferred one remains functional. Take proper security measures to ensure your computers connect to the right network.

  • Improve Wireless Network Security

Network Driver or Firmware Upgrade Required

Each computer connected to a Wi-Fi network utilizes a small piece of software called the device driver. The Wi-Fi network device driver controls various functions of the Wi-Fi hardware. Network routerscontain related technology called firmware. Network drivers and firmware can both become obsolete over time. Upgrading (over installing) newer versions of these things can sometimes fix network connection problems. Get free upgrades from the manufacturer’s Web sites.

  • Upgrade Router / Access Point Firmware

Incompatible Software Packages Installed

Wi-Fi network connections may start failing on a computer due to incompatible software installed and running there. This includes operating system patches, operating system services, and other software that modifies the networking capabilities of the operating system. Keep records of each time you install or upgrade software on your computers, and be prepared to uninstall any incompatible software you’ve added recently.

Overloading / Overheating the Wireless Access Point

Owners of some wireless routers (and other types of wireless access points) have reported dropped connections during times of heavy network utilization. This can occur during, for example, online gaming or while copying large files. Routers can, in theory, become overloaded with too much data and fail temporarily. If a router’s temperature increases too much, it may also fail until cooled. Install routers (access points) in places with good airflow. Exchange the router for a different unit if the current one doesn’t support your usage patterns