When WiFi doesn’t work

a guide to home networking alternatives

Glenn Fleishman

When WiFi doesn't work: a guide to home networking alternatives

If you live an old home or building, you already know the limits of WiFi. Despite the improved range of 802.11n coupled with improved throughput at greater distances‚ WiFi doesn’t work magic. Buildings with brick or stucco-over-chicken-wire walls resist the charms of wireless networks, as do houses with thick wooden beams, cement elements, or with rooms spread out over many levels or floors.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been extolling the virtues of WiFi as a way to avoid tedious wiring and pointless tethering since 2001. But in most cases WiFi works best in environments in which it’s an obvious solution. When you start to layer floors, walls, and obstructions between a user (in a home or office) and the closest access point, you bypass the utility of easy and fast connections.

Speed may also be an issue. The fastest WiFi gear on the market, so-called 3x3x3 (three receiving and three transmitting antennas coupled with three radio chains) may be able to deliver 450Mbps of raw throughput in the 5GHz band using wide (40MHz) channels. But in practice, with other devices on a network, and not all of them very close to a base station, true throughput still tends to stabilize below 100Mbps. With more ordinary modern 802.11n equipment, or even extraordinary gear in 2.4GHz (with 20MHz channels), 30 to 50 Mbps may be more typical not too far from the access point.

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