How Do I Best Extend My Wireless Network for Laptop Access?


I have a basic D-Link “n” router. The signal does not penetrate well throughout my house. What is the best way to get excellent coverage everywhere? I was thinking of adding a wireless access point at the opposite end of the
house.

There are a couple of good approaches to extending your wireless network for your laptop or other wireless devices. Depending on the characteristics of your home, adding one or more wireless access points may well be the best approach.

On the other hand, it’s not appropriate for all situations, so I’ll look at a couple of common alternatives as well.

The common setup looks like this:

The internet comes into a wireless router (which is nothing more than a combined router and access point), and the wireless connection is available to anyone in range.

The most common problem is either distance, when the laptop you want to connect wirelessly is too far away, or some kind of obstruction that blocks the wireless signal.
Basic wireless being blocked by something

That block might be a wall, or electrical equipment that interferes with the wireless signal.

Additional access point

The traditional (and typically best) solution is to add an additional wired access point (not a router).
Wireless adding an access point

The access point connects via cable to one of the router’s available wired connections, and that cable bypasses the interference, or bridges the distance, so an additional access point can be placed closer to the device that needs it.

The preferred and most robust solution is putting a cable in place. You can, for example, place a switch at the end of that cable and hook up additional wired equipment as well.

To address your plan, opposite ends of the house sounds good, but keep in mind where you expect the computers to be used the most, and optimize placement for that. For example, my wireless access point sits in my family room, where my wife and I frequently use our laptops.

Wireless repeater

A wireless repeater is nothing more than a wireless device that hands off communication between two points:
Wireless Repeater

The repeater is placed somewhere between the wireless router and the computer you want to connect wirelessly. I say “somewhere” because this can get tricky; it needs to be close enough to the wireless router to get a good signal, yet close enough to the wireless devices to provide them a strong signal. In the diagram, I’ve placed the repeater on one side of the wall or interference, but in reality it could be just about anywhere, as long as those two “close enough” criteria are met.

Placement can be an issue. I’ve also heard that wireless repeaters can adversely impact throughput in some cases. (Caveat: I’ve never used one myself, opting for the wired solution wherever necessary.)

Better antennas

Another approach is to get better antennas, either for the wireless router, the remote device, or both.
Bigger wireless antenna

By replacing or adding larger or directional antennas on the equipment involved you can occasionally increase the range of the wireless signal. A larger or directional antenna on the wireless router can produce a stronger or clearer signal. A larger or directional antenna on the remote device gives it “bigger ears” with which to receive the signal.

I’ve heard of this solution working well in many circumstances, as it increases the range of unobstructed wireless signals. But like the repeater, it can be somewhat difficult to set up. If a wired solution is not an option and you have the ability to experiment with this solution, I’d rank it as my #2 choice — a distant #2.

The specifics of what’s available will depend on your router, devices, and ability to get creative (a common example cited is the “can-tenna” made out of a potato chip can, which creates a highly directional homemade antenna).

Originally published as How Do I Best Extend My Wireless Network for Laptop Access? on Ask Leo!