... mismatched devices!
You would not believe how many people "upgrade" their broadband to 20+ Mbit/sec service and then complain that their computer is still only getting 1-3Mbit/sec speeds. A lot of them don't realize that the older 802.11 devices can significant reduce the performance of a modern wireless network.
Most 802.11b devices (which are still in use today) usually top out at around 10-11Mbit/sec, and that's under perfect conditions. If you start adding multiple users, competing networks and outside interference, things get out of hand pretty quick.
Here's a list of things to look for in examining your wireless network for performance issues:
- Replace the router.
If you're router is over 3 years old, it might be time to replace it. Especially if it's an older 802.11a/b model. The really old 802.11 devices, like Apple's original AirPort base station, have a lot of problems working correctly when they encounter other networks within their own service range. This can result in dropped or spotty connections and overall losses in bandwidth. Many of these first generation wireless network devices barely worked, but they worked well enough for the few people that could afford them. Most of these devices have since been trashed for more recent models either because they started failing under the weight of other networks or simply died from various flaws or age.
- Update the firmware.
Many wireless devices have firmware chips on them that can be upgraded through software. This can help weed out networking issues that might be caused by buggy firmware, or may add enhanced features that can help your device work better under heavier loads from competing networks, interference, multiple users and various security issues.
- upgrade all client-end networking hardware at the same time.
When putting a wireless network together, or upgrading an existing one, make sure your client devices use similar configurations. (Or identical, if possible...) A single, poorly configured client device can significantly impact your wireless network's performance. By making the network devices functionally similar to each other, the simpler it will be to put together an efficient network setup. For example, if you have a network consisting of only 802.11g devices and set up a router to only accept 802.11g connections, it'll run at around 54Mbit/sec. But, if you have a network consisting of random 802.11 devices and a router that will support several protocols going back to 802.11b, the network will default to using the slowest, most common protocol available (802.11b) and will force all connected clients to run at that speed (11Mbit/sec), regardless of each client's individual configuration. That bandwidth is then divided by every connection, making then network seem much slower than it is. By keeping the client and router hardware similarly configured, the network speeds are less likely to suffer. Your maximum network performance is limited only by the hardware you use to build it.
- Secure your network.
Make sure your network hardware is secure on both the router and client end. Set up your router to use the most powerful encryption protocols it supports and utilize MAC address detection to identify each piece of hardware on the network, so you can ensure no one outside of your client list can access your network. Also, don't use DHCP to assign IP addresses. Manually configure each client, so they have a static IP. Finally, disable SSID broadcasting. This will reduce the likelihood of a war-driver finding your network and tagging it for others to find.
- Use the latest available network protocols.
Using protocols like 802.11g or 802.11n may help to significantly improve your network speeds over older ones, but may also offer some added flexibility. Unlike the older 802.11b/a protocols, some of the newer protocols aren't limited to one broadcast frequency (2.4GHz). While the broadcast frequency of your wireless hardware has relatively little to do with your network bandwidth speeds (5GHz vs 2.4GHz), it can indirectly improve your network performance by moving your network to a less-common broadcasting range. As long as you don't need to share your connection with random users, you can simply isolate your network to use only the 5GHz channel, effectively removing the interference from all networks within your own network's range... at least, until your neighbors figure this out and start using the 5GHz frequency on their setup.
It's a short term fix, but effective.
- Move the router to a new location.
Generally speaking, placing your router at the middle of the overall area each client resides will give you the best connectivity. But you must also be mindful of other devices that could interfere with the network, because they work on a similar frequency or simply draw a lot of power. This includes items like cell / mobile phones, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, CRT-based monitors/TVs, radio controlled devices, etc... Other items, such as construction materials, can naturally affect a wireless network's performance, like a Faraday cage. These can include items like sheet metal, aluminum siding, metal girders, fencing / screening materials, heat ducts, metal pipes, etc...
Anyway, hopefully these tips will be useful to someone. You never know when your network might fail you next, and the answer might be something as simple as one of your kid's video game consoles with a poor configuration that's causing it.