With more and more content available digitally both in the home and streaming over the internet, the home network often forms the backbone of a music or entertainment system. Many devices that can use these network resources often allow a wireless mode for ease of use and installation, for instance Sonos has introuduced their new firmware allowing a fully wireless music system. Wireless neworking can be a source of frustration for many. With so much wireless data flyng around, there are often issues. These issues can detract a lot from the experience, ranging from the occational buffering to making the whole thing to frustrating to use. Well, after working with a huge number of different setups and configurations in peoples home entertainment setups, we have hit on some easy steps to make sure you are getting the most out of your network.
1. Upgrading your Router
Freebie wireless routers often can't keep up with today's modern media hungry households. The router in your system works like a traffic cop, channelling content from the internet to the device that requested it. If you are streaming a video from YouTube on one computer and TVNZ on another, it's the router's job to make sure that the data goes to the right computer. This is not a problem when you are listening to Spotify on one device, but when you start adding multiple streams, the routers given away with your internet plan often can't keep up. An easy upgrade for many households is to put in a more robust router. There are many brands and models out there, and deciding on the router that's right for you is beyond the scope of this article, but we have had good success with Draytek routers.
2. Positioning your Wireless Router
If your router has WiFi on board, it's important to locate this as close as is feasible to the places you are going to use it; if you usually sit on your living room couch and surf the internet, your performance will suffer if your router is all the way on the other side of the house. Wireless works best in open air, with line of sight between devices. Of course the signal can go through objects and walls, each object weakens the signal and can slow things down quite dramatically.
3. Adding a Wireless Access Point
If you struggle to locate the wireless router in an appropriate location, one option is a cabled Wireless Access Point. These are pretty much what they sound like; just the wireless portion of your router. You can run a cable from your router and put one of these in areas that have poor reception. One of our more favorite tricks is to use a ceiling mounted WAP, like the Edimax 7450 or the Ubiquity Unifi. These are designed to sit above your head and transmit towards your devices, without being an eyesore. Keeping the WAP high means it's less likely to need to transmit through couches and bookcases then if it were closer to the floor. Because they don't stand out visually, you can put them almost directly over the areas you often use your wireless devices.
A note here: a Wireless Booster is not the same as a Wireless Access Point. A booster connects via Wifi, then retransmits on the same channel. This can slow traffic down even more and lead to poor wireless performance.
4. Changing the Channel
Modern Wireless Routers enable you to choose between a couple of preset channels in an attempt to stay out of the way of your neighbor's wireless network and reduce the effect of some wireless interference. While there are special tools available to help you build a very detailed picture of your wireless ecosystem, one of the simplest is to download the WiFi Analyzer from the Google Play store. It's free for Android users (sorry iOS users) and shows a graph of all of the wireless networks in the area, as well as their strength and channel. Try putting your wireless on the channel with the least amount of other networks and watch the speed go up!
5. Avoid using wireless where possible.
In every situation you encounter, a wired connection will be faster, cheaper, and more reliable than a wireless one, so if you have the ability to use a cable, do so. Of course, many smaller consumer devices like tablets and phones don't have a cable connection, so wireless is unavoidable. The less wireless devices you have on your network at a time, the better the performance of these devices will be.
One of the biggest reasons for this is that there is only so much space in the wireless spectrum. This space is influenced by how strong the signal is, what frequency it's using, and how many other wireless sources there are in the area. Cordless phones, other wireless networks, and even microwaves can influence the quality of the wireless connection. The space is getting even more crowded now that many traditionally wired devices are going wireless; speakers, TV's and even household appliances like washing machines are all jostling each other for the space. Again, limiting the number of wireless sources can greatly reduce interfence and improve wireless performance. While you can't neccesarily turn your neighbor's wifi off, by running a cable to the Smart TV sitting two meters from the router, you can help improve the performance of your entire network.