Way back, around the turn of the century, smart homes began to appear. They were wired with Cat5 cabling, which could be used for phones lines as well as 100 Mbps computer networking.
For many of us, this new technology was unaffordable – especially with the cost of adding wiring to existing construction. Predictably, WiFi was a huge hit when it first arrived as Wireless A and then, Wireless B.
Homes with WiFi sprung up all over but we soon realized the technology’s limitations were not limited to speed. Reliability and coverage were also issues. Weak WiFi signals could not penetrate walls or extend very far around the home; better wireless hubs were pricey. Every computer and device on the network needed an expensive network card, which had to be the same wireless standard.
Wireless A, B and G, at up to 54Mbps, have now been surpassed by Wireless N with speeds (300Mbps) that are becoming more acceptable. Still, old problems of signal degradation and lack of coverage remain.
As the modern connected home evolves, smart phones controlling wireless devices are becoming commonplace. What has become necessary is creating hybrid systems that incorporate hardwired cabling as well as WiFi capability.
Tips for better WiFi
WiFi hubs must be placed in a location where they can access the main Internet feed and be in an optimal position to reach various points in the building. Signals radiate downward and are easily blocked by walls and metal objects, so try a point higher up in the building near hallways and stairwells.
Experiment with the positioning of the antennas. Usually straight up is best, but if the router is high up in the house, pointing them down may help.
The best option is a hybrid system combining WiFi with structured wiring. The structured network panel needs to be in an enclosure that ideally contains the modem bringing in Internet data, as well as any switches and routers. Usually, these are made of metal, which will block the WiFi signal if the router is placed inside.
Look for durable plastic ones that are WiFi transparent. This plastic passes up to 15 times more wireless signal strength than metal. The ABS polymer construction can eliminate interference with other equipment such as a router’s wireless signal.
Many parts of the house may simply not be accessible from one spot – so it may be necessary to have repeaters or range extenders. A wired building will allow installation of additional wireless routers to bypass barriers to the signal.