What Is the Answer to Better WiFi?

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

Someone recently referred me to an article appearing in The New York Times titled “If Your WiFi is Terrible, Check Your Router.” The article was about what I would expect from The New York Times … most of the facts were technically correct while being couched in a way that could be very misleading. I use the word misleading in the same way I would if an automotive review were written in a way to tempt readers into believing that a car’s new stereo sound system could significantly improve its gas mileage.

The improvements in new wireless routers are indeed as described in the article; however, it is wrong to draw the conclusion that simply buying a new router will automatically give you perfect Wi-Fi coverage everywhere you want it. So what is the answer to better WiFi? For the answer to that all we need to do is look more closely at one of the specifics the New York Times got absolutely right, even though the writer failed to emphasize the importance of that point.

The article stated very clearly that it was quoting industry test data for different wireless routers that “tested file transfer speeds, video streaming speeds, music streaming quality and video call quality at a short range of 11 feet and a long range of 43 feet.” Take a close look at those distance numbers, which are entirely correct.

Short range is 11 feet, meaning you need to be in the same room with the router. Long range is 43 feet, meaning a clear line of sight with no obstructing walls, furniture, etc. You need to be able to see the router 43 feet away! The Times got those numbers right, even though most users think that “short range” ought to be ten times more than it really is and also through walls.

Most Wi-Fi routers are about the same power. If you go to the fcc.gov website you will find the certifications for different radio hardware, and the cold hard fact is that from the cheapest to the most expensive router, they are all rated about 50 milliwatts. There are things that can be done to optimize traffic management in the firmware, or use better antennas, but there is no such thing as a “high powered” WiFi router for home use.

Even if the mythical “high powered” WiFi router did exist, that is only half of the two-way connection. You would also need to have a “high powered” smart phone or “high powered” iPad to talk back to the “high powered” router, and there is no such thing as a “high powered” smart phone or “high powered” iPad. Handheld devices such as phones and tablets operate at bare minimum radio power output to conserve battery life.

Before following the NYT’s advice to run out to buy a new router, I suggest you should first try using your existing router at the short range the articles quotes as “11 feet.” Many users will find that their existing router works just fine while they are located in the same room with it. The WiFi problems most people have are not deficiencies in their router but unrealistically expecting that a small smart phone has enough power to connect wirelessly at long distances. Smart phones and tablets do not have enough power to deliver satisfactory connections at long range through thick Mexican concrete walls.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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