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How to Optimally Position a Wireless Access Point or Router

Maximize home network performance

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The performance of a Wi-Fi home network greatly depends on signal strength of the wireless router or wireless access point (base station).

If a given wireless client falls out of range of the base station signal, obviously that network connection will fail or "drop." Clients situated near the edge of the network range will likely experience intermittent dropped connections. But even when a wireless client stays within range consistently, its network performance can still be adversely affected by distance, obstructions, or interference.

To position your wireless equipment for optimal network performance, follow these guidelines:

  • First and foremost, don't settle prematurely on a location for the wireless access point or router. Experiment; try placing the device in several different promising locations. While trial-and-error may not be the most scientific way to find a good spot for your equipment, it is often the only practical way to assure the best possible Wi-Fi performance.

  • Strive to install the wireless access point or router in a central location. If you have only one wireless client, installing the base station near this client is best. For WLANs with multiple wireless clients, find a good compromise position. Clients too far away from the base station will manage only 10% - 50% the bandwidth of clients nearby to it. You might need to sacrifice the network performance of one client for the good of the others.

  • Next, avoid physical obstructions whenever possible. Any barriers along the "line of sight" between client and base station will degrade a Wi-Fi radio signal. Plaster or brick walls tend to have the most negative impact, but really any obstruction including cabinets or furniture will weaken the signal to some degree. Obstructions tend to reside closer to floor level; therefore, some folks prefer to install their wireless access point / router on or near the ceiling.

  • Avoid reflective surfaces whenever possible. Some Wi-Fi signals literally bounce off of windows, mirrors, metal file cabinets and stainless steel countertops, lessening both network range and performance.

  • Install the wireless access point or router at least 1 m (3 feet) away from other home appliances that send wireless signals in the same frequency range. Such appliances include some microwave ovens, cordless telephones, baby monitors, and home automation equipment like X-10 devices. Any appliance that transmits in the same general range as 802.11b or 802.11g (2.4 GHz) can generate interference.

  • Likewise, install the unit away from electrical equipment that also generates interference. Avoid electric fans, other motors, and flourescent lighting.

  • If the best location you find is only marginally acceptable, consider adjusting the base station antennas to improve performance. Antennas on wireless access points and routers can usually be rotated or otherwise re-pointed to "fine tune" Wi-Fi signalling. Follow the specific manufacturer's recommendations for best results.
If using these guidelines you still cannot find a suitable location for your wireless gear, there are alternatives. You can, for example, replace and upgrade the base station antenna. You can also install a Wi-Fi repeater (often called a "range extender" or "signal booster.") Finally, in extreme cases, you may need to configure a second base station to extend the range of your WLAN.

Next > Boost the Range of Your WiFi Network

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