Whether for aesthetic or practical reasons, most people don’t like running wires around their entire home to, say, get online or hook up a home theatre. These tips and tricks can help you go wireless in nearly any room in the house.
The truth is that you’ll be hard pressed to cut the wires entirely, so this is more of a guide to removing as many as possible, replacing wired solutions with wireless alternatives. Specifically, we’re going to suggest how you can go wireless and improve your signal in your home Wi-Fi network, improve your mobile signal, cut the cords in your home theatre, and set up wireless printing, scanning and storage solutions.
Also, remember that wireless isn’t necessarily the holy grail. There’s very little (if anything) that actually performs better wirelessly, so when you have the option of going wired instead of wireless, it’s often worth it. We’re going to look at situations where you either can’t use wires or they’d be too much of a nuisance. Additionally, we’ll go over some tips on getting the optimal performance out of your wireless home as signal interference becomes an issue pretty quickly when you have data beaming all over the place.
NOTE: Having just finished moving into a new place that was impractical to wire, many of the tips below come from first-hand experience.
Expanding Your Wireless Network
Most of us have a Wi-Fi-capable router, but not all of our devices can receive a wireless signal. Not every PC is equipped with a Wi-Fi card, for example. If you have a few Ethernet-only devices — like an old Xbox, an Xbox 360 (and you don’t want to empty your pockets for its wireless adaptor) or cheaper nettops — that could only be connected to your router by running a cable across the floor, in many cases you may be better off setting up a wireless bridge.
A wireless bridge is really just a second Wi-Fi router that connects to your main Wi-Fi router wirelessly, then shares its connection with any device you can plug into it — like, for example, your Xbox. While the majority of routers are capable of working as wireless bridges out of the box, if you’ve got an old router lying around that doesn’t, you can turn it into a wireless bridge by installing a free, alternative firmware called DD-WRT. While DD-WRT doesn’t work on every router, it works on a lot of them. Check out the DD-WRT website to search for your router and check for compatibility. If you’re ready to make your old router useful again and turn it into a bridge, here are our instructions on doing just that.
If you live in a large home or simply a place with a lot of signal interference, you may have a hard time getting a Wi-Fi signal throughout your home. While you can use a wireless bridge to extend the network further while also connecting your Ethernet-only devices, if your only goal is to extend your wireless coverage, you need a wireless repeater. DD-WRT, mentioned above, can do this as well (check out the instructions here).
An important thing to remember when adding a wireless bridge or repeater to your network is to make sure the speed of the router’s Wi-Fi matches the highest speed possible. If you have 802.11n routers, you’re not going to want to use an 802.11g router in the mix. Even if you’re using primarily 802.11n routers, if they can concurrently broadcast an 802.11g signal you’ll want to turn that off before creating the bridge or repeater. Generally what will happen in that case is the router will connect at the slower speed, and you’ll be missing out on the full speed of your wireless connection.
Getting the Best Signal
You can do so many things to improve your Wi-Fi signal around your home, so let’s take a look at a few. The idea behind them all, however, is reducing interference as much as possible. Sometimes, optimising your router’s settings can do the trick, and other times, you may just need to break out the tinfoil.
Many Wi-Fi routers default to the same channel, which means that channel can get a little bit busy if you’ve got a bunch of Wi-Fi routers in the vicinity of your home. To find out what channel you’re on and what channel your neighbours are using, check out web app Wi-Fi Stumbler (pictured above). It’ll give you a breakdown of this information and also show you which channels are not in use. Choose one of the lesser-used channels and you may find that your connection performs a little better. It’s worth noting that while this has the potential to cause a problem rather than solve one, it’s always worked great for me. I live in a very saturated area, and switching to an unused channel removed most of the issues with my network.
Bonus for Android users! If you’ve got an Android phone, check out Wi-Fi Analyzer to view channel saturation, as well as other info, directly from your phone.
Placement can be hugely important in getting a strong signal. First off, if your router’s Wi-Fi signal has to fight to get past metal, concrete, or even a fish tank, you’re going to have a few signal issues. Positioning it so it can get around those tougher materials can help a lot. We’re also often inclined to stick the router away and out of site, but your signal will improve dramatically if you keep your router higher up. The router has an easier time broadcasting down than up, so better to keep it on your desk than under it.
Finally, sometimes the best cure is a little tinfoil. By shaping a few sheets of tinfoil into a parabola and attaching your antenna you can make your own Wi-Fi extender.
If you find you’re having difficulty with one computer in particular and it happens to be using a lot of wireless devices, consider attaching the wireless dongles to a USB hub. Just like placing the router in an optimal position helps with reception, a desktop USB hub might help you reduce interference on the client side.
For more great tips on boosting your Wi-Fi signal, be sure to check out our top 10 Wi-Fi boosts, tweaks and apps.
Wireless Audio and Video for Your Home Theatre
Generally, all your set top boxes and gaming consoles are right by your TV, so hooking everything up with wires isn’t a problem. If you have a projector, however, or can’t easily wire all of your surround sound speakers, you’ll need to start looking for wireless alternatives. There aren’t many and so we’re only going to look at a couple that work pretty well. When it comes to home theatre, however, wireless definitely shows its flaws no matter how well it works.
When it comes to wireless video there’s not much else to talk about other than wireless HDMI. The huge benefit of a wireless HDMI signal is the same benefit of HDMI itself: you get both audio and video without a bunch of extra cables. Wireless HDMI has a bunch of downsides, however, and the biggest is price. If you want a good Wireless HDMI box you can expect to spend around $US500. Additionally, if you’re hooking it up to a projector it’ll only be for the benefit of video. Wireless HDMI also has a pretty limited range. While it’ll technically work from distances over 1.8m, the signal is significantly better when the sender and receiver are pretty close together. While the picture isn’t perfect regardless, under ideal conditions it’s pretty impressive. While wireless HDMI can be a godsend in certain situations, it’s probably best to consider it a last resort.
Wireless audio is a lot cheaper and generally easier to deal with. If you have a projector you can simply keep all your set top boxes and consoles on the projector’s side, wiring their video directly, and simply sending the audio over to a pair of speakers across the room. While most wireless audio adapters are nothing short of terrible (and I’ve used a lot of them), Audio Engine’s A-W1 actually does what it says it’ll do. Oddly, it’s only $US99, which is the cheapest of any wireless audio adaptors I’ve come across. While each unit is powered by USB, you do not need a computer for the A-W1 units to work. While they’re not perfect, the audio quality is excellent in comparison to everything else I’ve seen on the market.
Alternatively, if you’re only looking to wirelessly stream music to your home theatre’s speaker system, Apple’s Airport Express is another option, and we’ve detailed how to use it to turn your iOS device into a multi-room wireless remote. The downside is that it’s only designed to work with iTunes (which you can mostly get around with software like AirFoil). Given that they cost the same as the AudioEngine solution, it’s really not better unless you plan to use it as a router as well.
Wireless Printing, Scanning and Storage
Wi-Fi-enabled printers and multifunctions are more and more common these days, but if yours isn’t, you aren’t out of luck. There are several ways to wirelessly network your printer. Additionally, many of these same methods can be used to share a hard drive over the network as well.
Routers and Third-Party Adaptors
Many routers include a USB port for adding a disk or a USB printer for sharing over the network. If your router has a USB port, check the manual to see what it can do. While many routers do have USB ports, it wasn’t until more recently that those USB ports actually allowed you to share devices through the network. Often times, these USB will share a hard disk but not a printer. If you’re looking for something that can do both and extend support even further than your home network, the Pogoplug is a good solution.
The Wireless Bridge Strikes Again
As mentioned several times already, a wireless bridge can extend your Ethernet-only devices into wireless territory. Many printers — especially cheap laser printers — come with networking capabilities over Ethernet but not Wi-Fi. A wireless bridge is a perfect way to add them without running a long wire to your main router. This also works just as well for a hard disk with an Ethernet port.
Sharing your printer on your home network is particularly easy with printer sharing. We’ve put together a quick how-to for Windows. If you’re on a Mac, you can just enable Printer Sharing choose “Share this printer on the network” when setting up your printer in the Print & Fax section of System Preferences.
While the above covers most of what you’d want out of a wireless home, wireless photography is just a lot of fun. If you’re looking to cut the wires on something a little less practical, wireless photography is a good place to start.
If you’ve got a DSLR and an iOS device, you have a couple of wireless photography options. For example, you can transfer pictures wireless from your camera to your iOs device or use your iOS device as a shutter remote — complete with LiveView (for supported DSLRs). If you’ve just got a camera that uses SD cards, the popular Eye-Fi cards facilitate wireless uploads of your photos to your computer and to photo sharing services.
Got any great wireless tricks? Let’s hear ’em in the comments.