General Tips for Improving Performance
So what can you do if you want to get more speed out of your wireless network? The easiest thing to do would be to upgrade the hardware of your wireless access point and the hardware in your computer/laptop. If that is not an option, there are still a few things you can do to reduce interference and improve signal strength.
Place the wireless access point as close to the wireless devices as possible
This may seem like common sense, but simply having the wireless AP close to your devices can be one of the biggest things you can do to help improve signal strength and reduce interference. This doesn't actually reduce interference in any way, but since the signal strength will be stronger, the ambient "noise" will not affect your network as much.
Keep the wireless AP away from other electronic devices
The closer your wireless AP is to other devices, the more likely interference will become a problem. Common electronic devices to avoid are: microwaves, televisions and computers.
Use the less common 5 GHz frequency band
This will only work if all of your devices support operating at the 5 GHz frequency, but if you can use it, the level of interference should be much, much less than the often cluttered 2.4 GHz band. 5 GHz is also typically much faster, but the range is greatly reduced. In a small home or apartment, however, range may not be as important a factor as reducing the level of ambient interference.
Upgrade the firmware and drivers
Manufactures often have newer firmware or drivers for wireless access points than what comes with the device. Ensuring you are using the latest of both can often improve both the stability and speeds of your wireless network.
Understanding Wireless Channels
Within either the 2.4 or 5 GHz frequency band, there are a number of channels available for use. Channels are essentially a way to fine-tune which part of the wireless band you are using to give you some fine control over the exact frequency you want to use. Adjusting the wireless channel allows you to slightly alter the frequency used, effectively lessening the effects of some of the local interference.
Within the 2.4 GHz frequency range, there are a total of 14 available channels, although channels 12, 13, and 14 are not allowed for use in wireless networks by the FCC.
Each channel is 22 MHz wide, but is only spaced 5 MHz apart which means there is a great deal of overlap between the channels. In the USA, the best channels to use typically are channels 1, 6 or 11, although some research must be done to determine the optimal channel for your wireless network. The easiest way to determine what channels are in heavy use in your area is to use a program such as NetSurveyor. Simply install the program on your wireless-enabled computer, switch to the "Channel Usage" tab and compare the channels being used.
Ideally, you want the channel of your wireless network to be separated from other active channels by at least 3 inactive channels to reduce the amount of overlap. If this is not possible, the best course of action is to use the channel that has the least amount of activity on the neighboring channels. In the image below, there are many wireless networks using a variety of channels, but they are concentrated in channels 1, 6 and 11. In this instance, channel 2 would be the best channel to use since according to the previous graphic showing the channel widths, using channel 2 will completely miss the large amount of traffic broadcasting on channel 6. There will be some overlap with channel 1, but there is far less traffic on that channel than on channel 6 so that overlap is much more acceptable.
While wireless adapters will automatically select the appropriate channel to use, they are often not very smart about it so manually researching the optimal channel and setting it on your wireless access point will often bring about much better results. By manually determining the local channel traffic patterns you can optimize your network to reduce the amount of interference as much as possible. Note that programs such as NetSurveyor can only tell you the amount of traffic on specific channels at the exact moment the program is running. To get a clear idea of the how the patterns shift over time, you will want to run the program at the time that you normally use your network. For example, if you only use your wireless network from 6-10pm, you only need to be conscerned about that period of time. It does not matter if your neighbor saturates the same channel you use at noon every day, since that is not when you will be accessing your network.
Changing your wireless channel is different for every access point, so please refer to the documentation for your wireless access point for detailed instructions on how to manually set the channel.
Upgrading Wireless Antenna
While not true for all devices, many have removable and thus upgradeable antennas. There are a number of antenna types (which we will cover in the next section), each with distinct advantages and disadvantages. However, the one thing that is true for all antennas is that when it comes to physical size, bigger is definitely better.
Upgrading the antenna on a capable device is simply a matter of unscrewing the stock antenna and screwing on the replacement antenna. One very important thing to note is that if you are only trying to achieve higher signal strength, you will want to upgrade the antennas on both the wireless AP and the receiving devices. If interference is at all a problem, however, you generally only want to upgrade the antenna on the wireless AP and not the receiving device. The reason for this is that it allows the signal from the wireless AP to be stronger which can potentially drown out any other ambient signals that are causing interference. If the antenna on the receiving device is also upgraded, you will further improve the signal strength from your wireless AP, but also from every other wireless device in range.
Now, this works both ways, but since download speeds are generally more important to users than upload speeds, upgrading the antenna on just the wireless AP is generally the best course of action. If for some reason upload speed is more important than download speed, then you would want to upgrade the antennas on the receiving device rather than on the wireless AP.