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Here's my situation: I'm shopping for a wireless router. I live in a pretty big house with lots of metal everywhere, so I'm looking for something that can broadcast a good signal through all that (by the way, this isn't speculation; we've had some trouble finding a cordless phone that worked well). While browsing online I realized that a router's performance in this situation isn't easy to tell from product descriptions and reviews; they usually go on about the security features and all the fancy stuff which I don't really use.

Since it won't be easy to find the kind of router I'm looking for and I don't have a huge budget, I figured it may be simpler that just get a common router and then buy a good antenna, which is more likely to be made for this specific purpose.

My question is: does this make sense? Does it make sense to buy a not so special router and then slap a better antenna(s) on it?

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I had a similar problem. Remember, just because one end can see the network and get good signal strength it doesn't mean that the receiving end can respond with adequate signal to the base station! – Matt H Oct 18 '12 at 1:07
@Matt: But will a better router, all else being equal, provide a better signal? Or would you go as far as to say that a router will be wasted if the other devices are not very good? – Javier Oct 18 '12 at 1:38
Well I previously had 2 x WRT54GL's. One acting as an AP and the other bridged (located in a detached garage/office) to the AP in the house. It worked but I was getting poor signal despite having 2 external (stock) antennas. I changed the AP to the mikrotik and the signal and performance went up. I haven't needed an external antenna on the mikrotik but it can take one. – Matt H Oct 18 '12 at 2:22
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Antennas and power are generally the most important factors. But so is AP location. A few feet can make an enormous difference! Mount them high up and give clearance around them. Keep metal objects as far away as possible.

Many access points can pump out enough power for the signal to reach your wifi device. However, often the wifi devices like laptops and phones have limited power to respond. They also have a small integrated antenna so are not terribly sensitive either.

So adding a high gain antenna to your base station and having an higher power AP that can deliver a good amount of signal strength will certainly help.

Other things that can effect this are the frequency. Lower frequencies tend to pass through walls better, or at least that's the theory. Interference with the neibourhood wifi may be a worse problem in the home environment!

There are a huge range of wifi AP's out there. Many of them are terrible or underpowered. Some claim to be a long range or high power but are not much more powerful than standard ones.

One of best I've come across are actually from Mikrotik such as this one which has a whopping 1W transmitter: My previous Linksys router was only 70mW. While not the most user friendly to set up for a home user, they are several steps above most home routers that cost more in terms of features.

However, any router that can run DDWRT or similar you can often up the power to a point.

I suggest you look for a router with detachable antennas or where an external antenna can be installed, and one that has a higher power output. Then read the reviews for the product and ensure it's got the features you need.

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It might work, if you buy a "real" router antenna, not some hunk of metal sold by some guy off the back of a truck, and if the router you buy has an SMA connector to accept an external antenna. But my impression is that many inexpensive routers do not have the connector for an external antenna.

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Well, of course I would get a router with detachable antennas. – Javier Oct 18 '12 at 0:56
Some of the best stuff I have bought was off of the back of a pick up. Flea market treasures! – Moab Oct 18 '12 at 2:08

Do a wireless router's range and power depend only on the antenna?

No, not only on the antenna.

It also depends on several things, such as:

  1. How much power you pump to to antenna.
    (This amount of power is regulated in most countries, meaning that almost all routers will use up to the same amount.)
  2. Which frequency band you use.
    The 2.4Ghz band seems to penetrate better than the 5GHz band)
  3. How good your antennas are.

I wrote Antennas because having a great antenna on your access point is nice, but unless your other devices also have a great antenna it will be like giving a manager a bull horn so he can shout at distant employees. However they are to far away to shout an answer back.

Practical solutions are to install a WiFi repeater, or a second access point (preferably cabled).

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