How to Improve Wireless Internet Reception and Get Free WiFi Legally

March 4, 2009

in Internet,wireless computing

by David Hakala

The distance record for wireless Internet reception based on 802.11 technology is 125 miles, set in June 2005. You probably don’t need that much reach, or all the hundreds of icons that would show up in your “available WiFi networks” list if you could reach out that far. But you may be struggling to get a strong, consistent signal from your home WiFi network. You may also have heard there is free WiFi available in your neighborhood, but can’t seem to find it. Solutions are at hand.

To optimize reception within your home, try these tips:

Put large furniture along the exterior walls of your home, so it doesn’t interfere with room-to-room transmission.

Minimize mirrors in the paths between your WiFi access point/router and computers’ network adapters. Any metal, even the thin layer on the backs of mirrors, can interfere with the signal.

Place your access point/router in one these locations: At the center of the house if reception is needed equally in all rooms; high off the floor, ideally on a high shelf; as far as possible from your neighbor’s WiFi access point/router (and make sure they’re operating on different channels); and away from cordless phones and microwave ovens which operate on the same 2.4 Ghz frequency band as WiFi.

Keep antennas away from all kinds of power-carrying cords as much as possible. Flowing electricity generates Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI) that can degrade WiFi coverage.

Also, be aware that computer cases themselves can interfere with WiFi reception. Try to arrange your computer’s case so it is not between the access point/router and the network adapter(s).

Adding a “high gain” external antenna to a network adapter may or may not boost its reception. High-gain antennas increase reception horizontally, but decrease it vertically. Therefore, if you need to boost reception between floors in your home, high-gain antennas are not the right solution.

Reflectors can yield large gains in signal strength. Ordinary blank compact disks (CDs) placed behind a network adapter’s antenna can help a lot.

A wireless repeater is relatively expensive, but it can receive, amplify, and re-transmit a signal when placed between an access point/router and network adapter. Repeaters are often used in large commercial settings, such as warehouses.

Consider upgrading your entire wireless network to the 802.11n draft standard (the final standard is not approved as of this writing). The N standard provides dramatically greater reception strength than 802.11b or g.

Want free WiFi? Those private unsecured networks in your neighborhood are private property, and some courts have held that using such WiFi networks without permission is trespassing. But many metropolitan areas offer free public access WiFi networks. Look in your “available networks” list for “free public” or contact your city government to ask if and where free public WiFi access is available.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at