Home Wireless Network Survey, Modifications & Upgrades (WiFi)

This blog post is about a wireless network survey I performed, resulting modifications and upgrades to my WiFi home network.

Introduction

It all started when I experienced video buffering in the bedroom! Others might experience a similar issue if their online video stream suddenly loses video quality.

Then a few days later the same situation occurred in the lounge, which meant some of my hardware was almost unusable. This blog post details what I did to resolve the situation and improve my home wireless network connection and speed.

The network survey

Unsure if it makes a difference, but I thought it sensible to do the WiFi survey during an evening when more people were likely at home, and thus hopefully give a clearer picture of the situation.

Interestingly I did later do a survey during a weekday, and more access points were discovered, but not a neighbours AP that was likely causing an issue. Perhaps they are turning their router off when not at home?

The software used to perform a wireless survey.

I had inSIDDer (version 2.1.1.13) installed on Windows Vista and used the application to looked at the local wireless network coverage. If you are using Android you might want to look at this WiFi Analyzer which I’ve used in the past.

Since I had last taken a proper look, many more access points (AP) had appeared, with many sharing the same channels, and in a couple of cases, devices using more than one channel at times. I was able to see twenty-four local access point connections, and I hate to think how many client devices were connecting to them. So basically we were trying to use an extremely congested connection, and it was obvious this is why the video buffering issues was occurring.

Secondly everyone seemed to have better bandwidth than us, which is likely due to the newer technology they were using. Our max rate was limited to 54Mbps due to only using wireless-g (802.11g).

As time had gone on, many of our wireless connection devices have been replaced, but our router was set to only use wireless g, because of legacy devices, yet it was capable of wireless-n (802.11n) as well.

Wireless-N PCI Adapter Card

This year we had already upgraded two computers, replacing wireless-g with wireless-n PCI adapters. We had stopped using a WRT54g router as a client device, and a couple of older laptops with in-built wireless b/g only connectivity are not in use at the moment.

We found all we had remaining that we regularly used with wireless b/g were two Kindle 3 ereaders and an old network card on a computer.

The modifications

Luckily I already knew how to pick another wireless (wifi) channel and the network survey gave us the data to make more informed decisions.

This is what my criteria was for picking a channel:

  • Move to a channel with less competition on that number and on the two channels either side.
  • Pick a channel that doesn’t have competing strong signals on it and also on both sides.

I didn’t have equipment that could inform me of interfence from other devices, such as home appliances, and I doubted that I needed to reposition my wireless router (and was quite reluctant to do so).

I selected channel 11  as that seemed to only have one other AP, but luckily it appeared to not be close by. Also there were fewer access points in use on the channel nearby, again not close by! Most seemed to be using channels 3 and 6 or near to them.

Suddenly the video buffering issue was over!

However we didn’t want to stop there, and set our router to use b/g/n, but unfortunately one of our old wireless g only devices didn’t like this and wouldn’t connect to the AP.

So we’ve opted to set our router to use wireless-n only, and in the meantime will order another cheap wireless-n pci network card (same as in the photo above) to replace the b/g only model. Plus whilst being awkward at times, we are now going to only transfer Amazon ebook purchases via usb or 3g on our Kindle 3 keyboard ereaders.

Our wireless signal quality and max bandwidth increased.

Once we had rebooted our router after all the changes, our signal quality dramatically increased, and inSSIDer informed me we had a max rate of 270Mbps, instead of 54Mbps! Plus the router was apparently also using channel 7, as well as 11.

Conclusion

It is easy to setup and forget about technology, and then only take a proper look when a problem occurs. Not only we did fix our wireless video buffering problem, but with a couple of tweaks and an upgrade, we hopefully will gain other benefits such as higher transfer rates and stronger connections.