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I saw this originally posted on slashdot, but their comment format is not conducive to actually getting a correct answer.

Having directly experienced this phenomenon myself, I'm now asking here where I think I can actually get an educated answer.

Here's the original question verbatim:

Lately I have replaced several home wireless routers because the signal strength has been found to be degraded. These devices, when new (2+ years ago) would cover an entire house. Over the years, the strength seems to decrease to a point where it might only cover one or two rooms. Of the three that I have replaced for friends, I have not found a common brand, age, etc. It just seems that after time, the signal strength decreases. I know that routers are cheap and easy to replace but I'm curious what actually causes this. I would have assumed that the components would either work or not work; we would either have a full signal or have no signal. I am not an electrical engineer and I can't find the answer online so I'm reaching out to you. Can someone explain how a transmitter can slowly go bad?

Common (incorrect, but repeated) answers from slashdot include:

  • Back then your neighbors didn't have wifi, now they do. They drowning you out.
    • I don't think this is likely because replacing the access point with a new one and using the same frequencies solves the problem.
  • Older devices had low transmit power. Crank that baby.
  • Manufacturers make cheap crap designed to wear out.
    • This one actually may be legitimate although it is overly broad. What specifically causes damage over time? Heat? Excessive power?

So can anyone provide an informed answer on this? Is there any way to fix these older access points?

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There are network scanner apps you can use on your phone that shows the realtime signal strength of your network while you walk around. –  Chloe Oct 22 '12 at 4:50
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1 Answer 1

I see no reason why it should degrade (at least for such short period of time as 2 years). I've never experienced degradation with any radio devices. I see 3 possible meaningful answers for now:

  1. In fact this can be caused by new neighbour routers being on same channel. You can try to manually change channel and see if that helps.
  2. Router configuration is somehow reset to lower power output (many routers have ability to set their power output thru configuration).
  3. Same as 2, but premeditated by manufacturer (planned obsolescence).

I asked our sysadmin at work, he also never noticed something wrong with our 2-years old and cheap TP-Link Wi-Fi point. No noticeable signal power degradation at all (we allocate large area, so weak signal would be immediately noticed at far rooms).

Update. We recently upgraded our Wi-Fi network at work, so I had a chance to personally test an 8 years old ZyXel P-334WT EE wireless router which worked 24/7 in our office. I've not noticed any weak signal problem compared to my rather new router.

So in addition to my previous assumptions I could only think of really low quality components, that degrade their quality that fast.

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1. Manually changing the channel has little effect. Replacing the hardware and using the same channel fixes it. 2. The power output has not been adjusted. 3. If that were actually the case any mfgr doing so would be sued into oblivion if it were ever discovered. –  bahamat Oct 22 '12 at 22:06
    
It should be sued anyway, the service life of 2 years is just nonsence! BTW can you name specific models you are using? –  Petr Abdulin Oct 23 '12 at 2:08
    
I've experienced it with both d-link and link sys, but I don't recall specific model numbers. –  bahamat Oct 23 '12 at 16:58
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