WiFi is among today's most most widely technologies. While mobile broadband is readily available and sometimes even cheap, WiFi is still very popular. People use it almost everywhere: at home, at work, in public places. Tech savvy folks create ad-hoc access points to share mobile Internet. While WiFi is very handy, users often have problems with wireless networking. In this post we try to cover some simple tips and workarounds for the most common problems and provide some advice and insights on how it should work.
Poor quality, low bandwidth and regular disconnections are the most common problems with WiFi. They may be caused by several factors.
Such kind of issues mostly affect users of laptops or mobiles. The problem might occur with any device connected to a USB port.
The solution is very simple: turn off power saving for the WiFi adapter. There are two ways to do this:
1. Device Manager -> Network Adapters -> find WiFi adapter and open its Properties from the right-click menu -> Power Management. This tab will offer different options, though only one of them is needed here. That one is named Allow this device to wake the computer.
2. Power Options -> Change Plan Settings (Balanced or Powersave) -> Change advanced power settings -> PCI Express -> Link State Power Management and set this option to Off.
Another option would be to create a custom power plan with the new setting. This way it will be much easier to switch between plans when necessary, and the default settings could be restored.
If you are owning an advanced or expensive router, the default settings are not always optimal and are probably just safe. Vendors tend to use the most safe settings for users who don't like to set up anything and want it just to work. The suggestion is to verify and modify the settings to achieve the best possible performance.
Channels should be switched on an access point or a wireless router using the web interface.
Known channels that provide best performance on 2.4 GHz frequency are 1, 6 and 11 because these channels are not overlapping with 20 MHz bandwidth. If 40 MHz frequency is used, then channels 3 or 11 are your best bet.
The situation with 5 GHz varies with country. The bandwidth is 80 or 160 MHz, and the channels have completely different values as compared to 2.4 GHz.
The availability of certain channels in different countries is well illustrated in this Wikipedia article.
So, how can we automate channel selection? The very best tool to achieve this is WiFi Analyzer, though it's available for Android only. It will show the most busy channels and provide some insight about what channels are still available.
While one of the original WiFi specifications did support 5 GHz, wide support for it appeared only recently when IEEE 802.11n-2009 was introduced in 2009. However, the n version also supported 2.4 GHz for backwards compatibility (with b or g mostly). So, there was no strict requirement to support 5 GHz. The situation has changed only when IEEE 802.11ac was introduced and it relied on 5 GHZ. So, if the network provider wanted to offer high speed, the new higher frequency became a requirement.
The idea behind IEEE 802.11ac and 5 GHz frequency wasn't only the speed, but also the possibility to free up some frequencies for 2.4 GHz devices.
5 GHz doesn't require any special setup. It's only necessary that it's supported on the hardware level, e.g. by laptops, mobiles, TVs and so on. While it's much easier to replace the WiFi card on a laptop, this certainly won't work for mobile phones. Even laptops might be stuck with legacy WiFi cards because of vendor limiting compatibility to a predefined list of WiFi adapters.
If the router does support 5 GHz, then two access points with different names will appear: one for 2.4 GHz and one for new 5 GHz. So, the connection on end point devices will require choosing the access point to connect to.
To summarize pros and cons, we can conclude that 5 GHz offer a much better speed. Also, there's a high chance to achieve better speed for 2.4 GHz because of a less crowded frequency space.
5 GHz also may have some downsides that sometimes occur (or not), depending on the device. Firstly, it may interfere with USB 3.x interfaces which also use 5 GHz. The problem only appears when the hardware vendor didn't implement proper insulation. Secondly, the signal is not as powerful as with 2.4 GHz. So, 5 GHz WiFi coverage area will be much lesser than that for a 2.4 GHz access point; Thirdly, the cost is higher, especiallly if you are up to replacing more than one device.
Sometimes you may need to create a WiFi hotspot to share a wired or mobile broadband connection. Most modern WiFi adapters should support this feature, and in the ancient times the only solution was using 3rd party software (which sometimes was paid-only). While this may be the easier way to success, creating a hotspot is pretty simple with cmd (with system administrator permissions):
1. Verify that the adapter supports hosted AP:
netsh wlan show drivers
Find the Hosted network support string. It should be set to Yes.
2. Create a Wi-Fi Hotspot with the following command:
netsh wlan set hostednetwork mode=allow ssid=DeskRoll key=notqwerty
SSID is the name of the network and key is the password. Obviously, it shouldn't be anything like 123456 or qwerty. Use something reasonably long with different characters and preferrably numbers.
3. Start the hotspot:
netsh wlan start hostednetwork
4. Share the network connection. To do so, open Network devices, find the network adapter that connects you to the Internet (e.g. Local Area Connection), right-click it and then click Properties. Open the Sharing tab and enable option Allow other network users to connect through this computer's Internet connection. Now select the newly created WiFi Adapter that represents the WiFi Hotspot.
After all these steps have been completed, users may connect to this newly created hotspot to get Internet access. To stop the hosted network, run the following command:
netsh wlan stop hostednetwork
A more comprehensive guide is available on Microsoft TechNet.
A common problem with mobile devices is their lack of ability to maintain a stable WiFi connection. Battery life and device size limitations translate into a weak WiFi network adapter and small antennas.
Sometimes users are just unaware about such problems, and simply choose mobiles without checking their specifications. In the end, users have to struggle for a better WiFi connection all by themselves (and often all in vain).
Keeping your device closer to the access point is a way to mitigate the problem. Another issue might occur when a low speed device connects to the access point. In this case all other devices will be forced to work at the speed of the slowest device. There is no solution to this other than offering two frequencies: 2.4 GHz for legacy devices and 5 GHz for newer devices.
Tethering on mobile phones (such as Android or iOS) is very limited in its capabilities but in most cases the default settings are safe for everyday usage.