Wi-Fi is the backbone of the small business network. It is cheap to install, easy to maintain and, with the proliferation of mobile devices in the workplace, an essential part of the modern office. Unfortunately, it can also be unreliable. All of us know the frustration of finding a wireless network’s dead spot just when we need a strong Wi-Fi signal most. Wi-Fi black spots are most often caused by distance from the wireless router (wireless signals weaken with range), thick stone walls, and interference.
Here’s a cost effective way of extending you office Wi-Fi network using a set of powerline adaptors and an additional Wi-Fi access point. You won’t see any degradation in performance and your Wi-Fi users will be able to switch seamlessly between access points depending on which is giving them the strongest signal.
Avoid using Wi-Fi extenders
Before we continue, please be warned against using Wi-Fi extenders. Wi-Fi extenders catch a wireless signal and then rebroadcast it, helping to strengthen the signal from a router on a different floor of a house or on the opposite side of a building. While Wi-Fi extenders are a slightly cheaper option, priced from around £35, it should be noted that they can also drag down your network’s performance. I am not going to go into the technical reasons for that in this article, but you can typically expect wireless networks speeds from a Wi-Fi extender of less than half of what you would get using an additional Wi-Fi access point.
Extending your Wi-Fi network with an additional wireless access point
All that you really need for this is a second wireless access point. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy but make sure that it supports the latest 802.11n or 802.11ac standards that offer longer ranges and faster connection speeds than the older 802.11b and 802.11g standards. These devices are not expensive, for instance, you can pick up a TP-Link TD-W8960N for less than £30.
You must connect your second Wi-Fi router to your original one using a wired connection. If you don’t have any structure Ethernet cabling in your office then you should purchase a pair of powerline adaptors (priced from around £35) to achieve this. Powerline adaptors create a fast office network by using the
electrical wiring in your office. Simply plug one adaptor into one power socket and the other into another and any devices connected to those adaptors will be able to communicate with each other over your office power cables.
Here’s the step-by-step guide to extending your wireless network:
Firstly, you will need to ensure that your two wireless routers are using different Wi-Fi channels. Using the same channel on both routers would cause the two routers to interfere with each other. Also, some channels are faster than others so picking the right channels is important. Again, I am not going to go into all the technical details why because this article is intended for the layman, but channels 1, 6 and 11 are usually your best choices. For the sake of this example, I am going to assume that we have chosen channels 1 and 6 for our two routers.
Before we start setting up the second Wi-Fi access point, we will need to log into the administrator control panel of the original Wi-Fi router and set the Wi-Fi channel there. In the router Wi-Fi settings, look for the channel selection option. This will probably be set to “Auto”, and change it to “1”. Also take a note of the Wi-Fi SSID, network key and authentication protocol.
Now power up your second access point but do not connect it to the network yet! Once it has powered up, use your computer’s Wi-Fi to connect to it or plug your computer directly into it using an Ethernet cable and then log in to the administrator control panel. From the control panel, go to the LAN settings and disable DHCP. Next, go to the Wireless settings and change the wireless channel to “6”. Finally, in the Wi-Fi settings, change the SSID, network key and authentication protocol to be exactly the same as your original router.
We’re just about ready to go! Plug one of your powerline adaptors into a power socket near your original router and connect it to one of the LAN ports on the back for the router using an Ethernet cable. Take your second Wi-Fi access point and position in elsewhere in the office so that it gives good coverage of your Wi-Fi black spots. Plug the second powerline adaptor into a power socket near this a router and connect it to the router using an Ethernet cable. Now power up your second router.
Viola! you now have good wireless access throughout your business premises. Most modern devices will track the strength of the wireless signal that they receive from each router and, because you have set the SSID and network key to be the same on each router, switch seamlessly to the strongest signal with no manual intervention.