I'm regularly asked the same question: “how do I extend the wireless (or wired) network in my home?” I figured it was a good time to create a post with all this advice and summarize it all in one place. So, if you're looking for ways to extend or improve the quality of the wired, or wireless network in your home, here are my thoughts:
1. Run a bunch of wire.
The absolute best way to extend your home network is to run wires throughout your home. That’s not a joke. Despite all the advancements in wireless technology, nothing beats a hardwired connection. When I built my new home I hardwired in two Ethernet drops to every bedroom and four to the living room and less than 18 months later I already wish I had more. I want drops next to every TV, drops on multiple walls of every room and drops in the closets for hiding away servers, printers and network attaches storage. All my drops originate at a cabinet in my utility room where I keep a multi-port switch and my cable modem. The biggest expense in running wire is the labor involved but if you have the resources, or if you’re building new construction or performing major renovations, absolutely take the opportunity to run wire everywhere.
2. Use Your Existing Wiring
I understand that for most people, running a bunch of wire is not a practical opinion. My next best solution is to utilize the existing cabling in your with a Powerline Network Adapter. These adapters use your home’s existing electrical wiring to carry network traffic. Powerline Adapters come in sets of two, one adapter is plugged in to power with an Ethernet cable connecting it to your router. The second adapter is then plugged in somewhere else in the home and can connect to the end-device whether it be a computer, router or device.
Typically Powerline Adapters have to be plugged in directly to the wall (no surge protectors) and connect to the same breaker box to communicate with each other. Powerline adapters are rated for different speeds, but in my experience in the real world, you can expect about half the advertised speed. A typical Powerline set will be rated between 200-500Mbps which is usually plenty for home data transfers. You can add multiple Powerline adapters to your network to extend your capabilities, but generally they have to be the same make and model to interoperate.
Here’s one common use: My grandparents have a large multi-level house and my grandmother recently replaced her computer with an iPad. They have a wireless network, but it’s located in my grandfather’s study which is on the corner of the lower level of the house. The wireless network was fairly weak and wouldn’t reliably reach the family room on the other end of the house. I installed a Powerline network and connected one device to the router in the study and the second adapter was tucked away in their family room on the other end of the house. I then purchased an inexpensive wireless router which I configured match their existing network (same SSID and security settings) and placed the second router in Bridge Mode so it wouldn’t assign conflicting IP addresses and connected it to the second Powerline adapter in the family room. Between the two routers they now have Wi-Fi coverage throughout their house and because the networks match, they can travel from one network to another without interruption. You can repeat this as necessary by adding additional Powerline adapters and wireless routers until you have appropriate coverage, just watch your wireless channels to make sure you don’t inadvertently create interference.
You don’t have to plug your Powerline Adapter into a second wireless router, you can use it to extend wired networks or individual devices. For example, at my parents home, I used a Powerline Adapter to add Ethernet connectivity to a TiVo. My parents regularly transfer shows between two TiVos in their home and were finding transfers using the 802.11g wireless adapter to be slow and spotty. The TiVo wireless adapter was also the only 802.11g device on their network and it would be nice to move to 802.11n only. We simply stuck one Powerline Adapter near their router and the second adapter behind the TV to connect their devices. Some Powerline Adapters will have multiple ports built in so we were actually able to connect a TiVo, Blue-ray player and Smart-TV using a single adapter since all the devices were in the same cabinet.
3. Upgrade your wireless network.
As you can see I’m a fan of wired networks, even if that network is being extended by using a non-traditional device like a Powerline Adapter. But in some cases, extending a network can be as simple as upgrading your existing hardware. If your wireless router is more than a few years old, or if you’re not using an 802.11n router, you’ll probably find a significant speed and range boost by simply upgrading your router. You’ll want to pay attention to devices that offer MIMO technology (multiple-input multiple-output).
As a general rule, I’m not a fan of combination devices with the router and modem built-in as I’ve found their range to be sorely lacking. Usually with these combination devices you can disable the wireless component or put it in bridge mode so your more sophisticated router will act as the dominate network device. Whether upgrading your device alone will be enough to solve your coverage problems will depend in your circumstances, but it certainly can’t hurt.
The other thing you can look at is the positioning of your wireless network. Wireless signals emanate from the base station in all directions, so moving a wireless network to a more central location may also prove helpful.
4. Extend your network wirelessly.
This is my least favorite of all options because in practical use I’ve found wireless extenders to behave very erratically and cause overall network performance to suffer. However I suppose sometimes there’s no choice. If you’re using an Apple Airport network, you can use an Airport Express to extend your network wirelessly by placing an Airport Express somewhere near enough to your primary base station where you still receive a strong signal but also between your “dead spots” so it can re-broadcast the signal to cover the problem area. For non-Apple networks you can buy wireless extenders and repeaters but usually you have to buy the same make and a model specifically designed to work with your router.
There’s no need to suffer with poor network quality in your home. Regardless of your circumstances there options for expanding your network coverage, hopefully one of the above will help.
This article first appeared in the April Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/