WiFi Optimization is a Matter of Placement
The marketplace has been tremendously successful in pushing WiFi connectivity to the masses. Residential users have gobbled up WiFi products (wireless access points and routers) faster than sushi. For some, the allure is rooted in the desire to be untethered. For others, it’s a matter of avoiding the investment of cable installation. The marketplace has been less successful in meeting the expectations set for these users. Many report an inability to maintain connectivity, or sustain throughput. In newer, high-density residential neighborhoods, users must compete for a slice of the Radio Frequency (RF) spectrum, as they get pushed aside by the proliferation of devices, and increasingly excessive RF energy.
If you’ve driven a vehicle equipped with an FM radio, you’ve most likely encountered a common experience. As you come to a stop at a traffic signal, the FM broadcast you’ve been listening to suddenly becomes distorted. After nudging the vehicle ahead a foot or two, the clarity of the broadcast is restored, as you resolve the affects of multi-path interference. The broadcast signal may traverse multiple paths on its way to your receiver’s antenna, as it is reflected off various surfaces. When these signals arrive out of phase, this results in destructive interference.
WiFi is ill suited to the structural realities of residential environments. Multi-path interference is one of the limiting factors.
When expectations are not met, residential users often resort to replacing or supplementing their existing access device. They do so with the expectation that marketing promises to extend their range and end their misery, will be fulfilled. However, the majority of issues encountered are not the result of insufficient power output, but rather sub-optimal placement. Resolving placement issues typically requires the installation of network cabling.
Factory supplied antennas may provide adequate service on a horizontal plane, but fail to do so for users on other floors. Consistent coverage may be achieved with the installation of multiple wireless access points (WAPs), perhaps one per floor. WAPs are connected to a wired network, and configured with a common Extended Service Set Identifier (ESSID) to permit seamless roaming for users. In addition to the functional improvements, this arrangement may facilitate a reduction in transmitter output power.
Transmitter Output Power
The ability to restrict transmitter output power is a desirable hardware feature. The author uses multiple WAPs (one per floor) in his residence, each capable of outputting 100 mW of power. He has restricted their output to 3 – 5 mW, without penalty to throughput or reliability. He finds solace in the knowledge that he is not radiating his family with excess RF energy.
We remain skeptical of industry's safety claims, and believe it is prudent to manage your exposure. Don’t believe RF energy to be harmful? Perhaps you’d like a carton of cigarettes to go with that new high-powered, range extending, mega-booster you just purchased. You’re entitled to your own opinion of course, but maybe you’d consider moving that wireless router off your desk. Proximity matters. Play safe.