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I've seen a few questions here and on ServerFault about wireless security however none really to do with general reliability of wireless networks.

Wireless reliability issues I have come across include:

  • widely variable signal strength
  • good signal strength but slow data transfer
  • wireless access points that drop-out or lose automatically assigned IP addresses
  • conflicts with other wireless networks
  • conflicts with cordless phones.

What recommendations (focusing on reliability), do people have regarding making wireless networks as reliable as possible?

I'm talking about playing with options such as:

  • SSID broadcast or not
  • Changing channel frequency
  • Effects on reliability with and without security enabled
  • Use of additonal antennas
  • Location of wireless access points (ie upstairs / downstairs)
  • Usage in aprtments with a large number of networks
  • Proximity to other devices such as speakers, tvs and microwave ovens.

and anything else I've missed.

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You forgot microwaves! Before I wired my house, we used to be all wireless, and our microwave was between our router and htpc. We'd have to pause a movie to make popcorn, otherwise it would drop frames all over the place. – Jared Harley Aug 5 '09 at 2:54
@Jared, good point I've added that to the question. – Ash Aug 5 '09 at 2:59
up vote 7 down vote accepted
  • You definitely want Wireless security enabled. WEP is easier to crack these days, so WPA2 AES is the way to go. Otherwise, you end up with a lot of people using your bandwidth.
  • The trick with channel is to find one everyone else isn't using. Channels 1, 6, and 11 do not overlap and cover the widest ranges. 6 is usually everyone's default, so don't use it; pick 1 or 11.
  • Mount the router high. Signal obstructions are usually at normal human height (furniture, fridge, etc.)
  • Pick a reliable router: reliable hardware and firmware. I've found my ASUS WL-500G Premium is one of the most reliable pieces of hardware I've ever used, but the stock firmware was so-so. I put DD-WRT on it and it usually runs 100 days w/out reboot (and the reboots are powerouts). Others have highly recommended the Linksys WRT54G line for a reliable DD-WRT install also.
  • DD-WRT can also boost the transmission signal power up, something a lot of stock firmwares don't allow.
  • For antennas, I've been fine with the homemade Windsurfers,
  • I leave SSID on, but it's just a matter of preference. Even if it's not broadcast it can be recovered if someone really wants to.
  • Yes, microwaves disturb the signal and every time this cordless phone rings, my signal stalls. But I've also found that putting the router right up next to my cable modem causes tremendous slow downs so put some distance between them. It's a G network, BTW.
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"next to my cable modem causes tremendous slow downs..." what would be a good distance? – Decio Lira Aug 10 '09 at 0:13
My manual specified 6 feet (I later found out), but I've been ok with just 3. – hyperslug Aug 10 '09 at 0:36

A big obvious solution to many of the problems, is going with 802.11n, of course. By using the 5ghz mode, you increase bandwidth, and reduce interference with a sizeable number of other devices, such as cordless phones or other (apartment) access points. Simply by switching my airport from 2.4ghz to 5ghz mode, I notice a huge difference.

So in summary, going with a less populated frequency and/or channel is often a huge boost to throughput in a noisy area.

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