Windows Tip Sheet
Cleaning Up Wireless Clutter
Before you consider buying expensive gadgets, try a low-tech approach.
As a certified geek, I was the first in my family to jump
on the 802.11x bandwagon. And in the apartment I'm currently living
in, it's a necessity more than a luxury. My desk is so far away from
the cable modem that stringing a wire would be completely out of the
question. Besides, the ferrets would probably try to chew on it. So,
wireless is a really good thing. But my desktop computer, which has
an 802.11g card in it, always got a "Good" or "Low"
signal, while my laptop computer, which sits right next to my desktop,
frequently gets an "Excellent" signal. What gives?
It turns out the reason for my signal issues is pretty common
and occurs in offices, Starbucks, and other places where wireless
usage is common. Try to figure it out. My desk is a fairly typical
setup, with a small cubby near the floor for the desktop box, some
cabinets overhead for books and whatnot, and CD storage. The desk
isn't especially close to any high-voltage lines or anything else
that usually disrupts wireless services, and I don't use a cordless
phone or any other device that uses the 2.5GHz range that 802.11b/g
utilize. My laptop—which, remember, always gets a good signal—sits
right above the desktop box. And before you ask, the desktop's signal
strength doesn't change when I move the laptop.
Did you catch the problem? CDs. Those culprits are made from a
thin sheet of a metallic substance sandwiched between a couple layers
of plastic. CDs are basically big signal reflectors, making them
as reflective of radio signals as they are of light. With a big
stack of them hanging above my desktop machine, it's a miracle any
signal got out. Moving the CDs got me a "Very Good" to
"Excellent" signal on most days.
You wouldn't think that a metallic mass sitting above the wireless
antenna would matter much, since by and large wireless antennas
(at least on wireless NICs) transmit a pretty significant horizontal
signal in addition to the vertical signal. In other words, the blockage
above shouldn't have affected signal coming from the side, which
is what needed to be clear to reach my wireless access point. But
the overhanging reflective CDs bounced too much signal back down
at the PC, helping to scramble all the signals and reducing the
overall signal quality.
In an office, any radio-reflective obstructions—fluorescent
light fixtures, metallic cube walls, even micro-blinds—can
cause signal bounce-back. Get enough bounce-back close enough to
the antennas and your wireless network will be trying to scream
its signal through a sea of noise, with the result being diminished
signal quality. Clean up that office and keep the CDs a safe distance
from the NIC and you should be fine.
| Wireless signal loss is a major cause
of Microsoft Outlook lock-ups in many offices: Outlook
loses the network connection for a second and freezes
up because it can't see the Exchange server anymore.
Outlook 2003 corrects this by working in a cached
mode by default. Outlook uses its offline cache
all the time, and that cache updates whenever a
connection is present. Lose the connection and Outlook
will hang for a second but will quickly get over
it and let you continue working until the connection
Wireless speed can be compromised
by having too many repeaters. Ideally, you shouldn't
use repeaters at all. Instead, hook up additional
access points directly to the wired network. Do
some testing so that each access point’s
range only slightly overlaps its neighbor’s
broadcast area; the more access points broadcasting
into the same area, the slower data transmission
will be within that area.
• Check out these wireless networking performance tips to
put more of a zing into your wireless throughput: http://www.smallbusinesscomputing.com/webmaster/article.php/3109411
• Microsoft has a Knowledge Base article on troubleshooting
XP's wireless networking capabilities: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=313242
• Many major brands of wireless NICs, including those embedded
in many devices, use hardware from Broadcom and carry the "54g"
logo. Check out http://www.54g.org,
the official Broadcom site, for details and tips.
Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is Curriculum Director for IT Pro Content for video training company Pluralsight. Don is also a co-founder and President of PowerShell.org, a community dedicated to Microsoft’s Windows PowerShell technology. Don has more than two decades of experience in the IT industry, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. He’s the author of more than 50 technology books, an accomplished IT journalist, and a sought-after speaker and instructor at conferences worldwide. Reach Don on Twitter at @concentratedDon, or on Facebook at Facebook.com/ConcentratedDon.