Monthly Archives: April 2017

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.

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.