September 01, 2012, 7:15 AM — If youre not getting the range you want from your home or office wireless network, there are many ways you can go about expanding your coverage. In this guide well discuss some of the most popular methods, many of which involve upgrading and purchasing new gear (always a fun topic). Before you spend a cent, make sure to check out our tips on how to fix your Wi-Fi network to see how you may be able to get better Wi-Fi coverage from changing your routers channel or placement. If those tips don't do the trick, keep reading for a few more specific ways to extend the range of your wireless network.
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Replace Router With New Wireless N or AC Router
Wi-Fi products are designed to meet specific standards (set by the IEEE) so that devices from different vendors will work with one another. The popular standards developed thus far (from oldest to newest) are: 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, and 802.11ac. So if you have an older wireless b or g router, consider replacing it with a newer wireless n or ac device that offers longer ranges and faster connection speeds. With either wireless n or ac, youll see anywhere from a slight increase of range to a doubling or more of speeds from a device operating on an older standard. Though wireless n and ac routers may not significantly increase the range of your wireless network, you should at least get better speeds at longer distances.
To figure out what sort of device you own, you ought to be able to see what standard your router uses just by looking at it. You might find a b, g, or n somewhere on it or in the model number. If that's not the case, search for your model number online to see its exact specifications. If the router was given to you by your Internet service provider or the Wi-Fi is integrated into the ISP's modem/gateway, you may have to call your service provider and ask what Wi-Fi standard your device uses. If your ISP won't help you upgrade, then it's probably time to upgrade your Internet service provider.
If you have a router that uses the b or g standard, you should upgrade at least a wireless n router; if your Wi-Fi is in fact integrated with your service providers modem/gateway, consider purchasing your own (much better) router and hooking it up to the ISPs modem/gateway to increase the range of your wireless network.
Upgrade Network Adapters to Match Your Router
The wireless b, g, n, and ac standards are all backward-compatible with each other. So if you buy a new wireless N or AC router, all your computers and devices should still be able to connect. But you wont get the maximum range and performance from the newer router unless your computers and devices are also using the same Wi-Fi standard. Take a quick inventory of all your computers and other network-ready devices (or at least those that need the furthest range) and check their Wi-Fi standard; consider upgrading their adapters if any are using an older standard than the one your router is using.
Of course, depending on the devices you own, figuring out what wireless standard they're using can be tricky. The Wi-Fi standard on PCs and laptops is usually listed in the name of the wireless network adapter: Open the Control Panel and navigate to Network Settings > Network Connections to check on your adapter. For iPads, tablets, and smartphones, check the specifications from the documentation or look online.
If your computer or device is using an older Wi-Fi standard you have a few upgrade options
The simplest upgrade you can make for any PC or laptop is usually to buy a cutting-edge USB wireless adapter, and then just plug it into a USB port. When shopping for a USB adapter for a desktop PC, consider purchasing one with a wire so you can place the adapter (and the antenna within) in an optimum spot. Of course, laptop owners should probably consider buying a shorter USB adapter so that it doesnt stick out too much.
For desktop-PC owners, another option is to buy a PCI wireless adapter that you install inside your PC case (assuming youre comfortable opening it up). When shopping for a PCI adapter, consider buying the antenna extension kit, if the vendor offers it, so you can place the antenna in an optimum spot.
For laptops that have a PC Card slot, another option is a PC Card wireless adapter that you simply slide into the slot.
Buy or Build a High-Gain Antenna
Most wireless routers and wireless adapters that have external antennas come with cheap omnidirectional antennas (those that send the signals equally in all directions). Replacing those cheap omnidirectional models with higher-gain antennas (those that concentrate the signals in a specific direction) can help increase your Wi-Fi range, especially if you have a home or office that's narrow and extends predominantly in one direction from the router's location. If that's the case, consider purchasing any higher-gain antennas that the vendor recommends for your particular router and/or wireless adapters. If you prefer to do (and make) things yourself, consider building your ownas explained in our previous guide on how to extend your wireless network with a parabolic reflector.
Turn Your Cable or Electrical Outlets into Wireless Access Points
If you want to double or even triple your wireless network range, you can try adding additional wireless access points (APs) to the network. The traditional and generally more reliable way is to buy access points and run ethernet cables from your router to each additional AP, a process well discuss later. But if you dont already have ethernet ports around your home or office, you can try utilizing your existing cable or electrical outlets instead.
To use your cable outlets, look into products certified by MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance); or, for electrical outlets, consider Powerline products certified by HomePlug. Both types of technology work in a similar fashion: You plug an adapter into an electrical/cable outlet and connect it to the router, bridging your network to the electrical/cable lines (or you can buy a router with a built-in adapter). If that works for your network, you can plug additional adapters into different electrical/cable outlets throughout the home or office and connect them via an ethernet cable to a computer or a wireless AP. If that's not feasible, you can also buy an adapter with a built-in wireless AP and use it to extend your network.