Friday, October 4, 2013

Tool Kit: Improving Your Home Network

That surprising fact about Netgear should tell you all you need to know about the state of home networking. Unstable connections force users to start their routers every few weeks. Thick walls dull Wi-Fi signals. Poorly located routers mean a Wi-Fi signal can’t reach an entire house. And slow connection speeds can make any sort of downloading or streaming a drag.

In short, setting up the ideal home network is often easier said than done. There are ways, however, to make it less aggravating and more reliable. You just need to be willing to experiment.

To start, consider where your router is. Hiding it under the kitchen sink may be good for aesthetics, but it won’t make for the best possible wireless connection.

To maximize coverage, your router must be out in the open. Router manufacturers say that, ideally, it should be in the center of the house.

That may not be easy, if the coaxial or telephone cable that carries the Internet signal into your house is in a corner or — most likely — the side of the house closest to the street. Like it or not, that’s where you’ll have to connect your router.

Most modern routers operate in two bands, 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, and you can choose the band you want. The 2.4Ghz signal travels farther but is susceptible to interference from common household appliances, like microwave ovens, wireless landline phones and vacuum cleaners. (That’s another reason not to keep your router in your kitchen.)

You should also consider upgrading your router, which typically costs $100 or less. The most popular Wi-Fi standard is called 802.11n. If you are using an older router, with an 802.11b or g technology, get an 802.11n router.

To experience improved range and speed, your devices must be able to receive the same standard used by the router. Otherwise, it will drop back to the slower standard. But unless you are still using an early iPhone or a pretty old computer, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Even if you have an 802.11n router, you might consider getting a new one if your signal is disappointing.

The industry is now introducing 802.11ac, a new standard that promises greater range and faster connection speeds. But only a handful of devices, including Apple’s latest iMacs and MacBook Air, actually support it. You can also buy an 802.11ac adapter for about $90. If you choose not to, buying an 802.11ac router now may not be much help.

The newest routers do, however, often include updated technologies that can improve coverage and speed, no matter what standard you use.

Some carriers, like AT&T, will provide consumers with a combination modem and router. And if you don’t like that router, you can still use your own and plug it into the combination unit. Your devices will show both routers but use the one you prefer. You can also go to the router’s Web site setup page and disable the combination router’s signal.

Many dropped wireless connections can be solved by ensuring that your router is using the latest software, or firmware. Most manufacturers’ Web site setup screens will automatically check to confirm that the latest version is installed and prompt you to download it.

Unfortunately, the download process can be clunky. First, you need to know how to get to the setup screen, which few people do. (To get to Belkin’s setup Web page, for example, type in For a Netgear router, type “” If you’ve misplaced your router’s manual, to find the proper I.P. sign-in address, do a Web search for the router and its sign-in. Once there, you often have to download the software and manually install it, which can also be a challenge.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 3, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the bands that most modern routers operate in. They are 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, not 2.4Mhz and 5Mhz.

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