Six Things That Block Your Wi-Fi, and How to Fix Them

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Wi-Fi troubleshooting
Does your wireless network seem slow? A recent study by Epitiro, a UK-based broadband-analysis firm, shows that consumers lose an average of 30 percent of the data speed their broadband connection supplies when they use Wi-Fi connections in the home.

Why the slowdown? You've probably heard that some household electronic devices, including microwave ovens, baby monitors, and cordless phones, hamper Wi-Fi performance. To separate fact from fiction, we did some research and consulted an expert on the topic: Nandan Kalle, networking business unit manager for router manufacturer Belkin.

1. Public Enemy Number One: Your Neighbors' Wi-Fi Networks

"I'd say the biggest source of interference today for most people is their neighbors' Wi-Fi networks," says Kalle. The problem is that most existing Wi-Fi equipment operates on the crowded 2.4GHz band. "There are basically three nonoverlapping channels. I always describe it as a three-lane road that's really, really busy," Kalle adds.

If you use a 2.4GHz router and live in a densely populated area, your neighbors' Wi-Fi networks could interfere with yours, hindering the performance and range of your wireless network.

Linksys by Cisco Dual-Band Wireless-N Gigabit Router
The solution: Buy a dual-band router that operates simultaneously at 2.4GHz and 5GHz. While the 2.4GHz band is necessary for supporting older Wi-Fi devices, 5GHz "is almost like an 11-lane highway that nobody's heard about yet," Kalle says. "There's much less congestion."

Newer Wi-Fi devices, including tablets such as the Apple iPad and Motorola Xoom, Internet-ready TVs with built-in Wi-Fi, gaming consoles, and business laptops, are all dual-band. "They all play in the 5GHz band. They can take advantage of that empty highway, and that's really going to help," Kalle says.

It's important to get a router that supports simultaneous 2.4GHz and 5GHz, such as the $100 Cisco Linksys E2500. Some older dual-band routers allow only one band at a time; that's a problem if you have older Wi-Fi devices (as most people do), because you'll have to leave your router at 2.4GHz. "You won't get any benefit from the 5GHz mode," says Kalle.

When you're shopping for a new router, look for a dual-band, 802.11n MIMO device, which typically has an "N600" label. The "N" refers to 802.11n, an international Wi-Fi standard approved in 2009. MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology provides greater range by using multiple antennas to transmit and receive data. And "600" refers to two bands, each transmitting at 300 megabits per second.

2. Household Electronics

Is your microwave oven, cordless phone, or baby monitor sabotaging your Netflix stream? Perhaps.

Most problems with cordless phones and microwaves involve products that use the 2.4GHz band. Many baby monitors operate at 900MHz and won't interfere with Wi-Fi. However, some wireless monitors are 2.4GHz, which can interfere with 802.11g or single-band 802.11n routers.

The solution: When choosing a wireless baby monitor, look for a 900MHz model such as the Sony 900MHz BabyCall Nursery Monitor ($45). Alternatively, get a Wi-Fi-friendly system such as the WiFi Baby 3G ($279), which connects to your existing wireless network.

Newer cordless phone systems like the Panasonic KX-TG6545B ($140) use DECT 6.0 technology and the 1.9GHz band, not the 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz bands.

Next: How to adjust your security settings and fix Bluetooth interference.

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