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.
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.
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
The Wireless Bridge Strikes Again
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.