Ask the Wi-Fi Guru About Wireless Gadgets and Wireless on Old Laptops
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Our monthly Q&A series offers advice to those seeking help with home or small business WLANs. This month, the Wi-Fi Guru suggests some wireless holiday goodies, helps someone with an iPod touch, provides some tips on connecting to a Wi-Fi network from an outbuilding, and suggests ways to restore an aging laptop to wireless health.
Would you like to ask the guru a question? Write the editor.
These days it seems like just about mobile device has Wi-Fi built in -- just try to find a laptop, netbook, smart phone or tablet without wireless networking. You can even find Wi-Fi showing up in a wider range of electronics, like gaming consoles, Blu-ray players, and network storage devices. Also, some newer TV's. And a fridge. Wait ... a fridge?
This being holiday time and all, unusual Wi-Fi devices could make a great gift for your geekiest friends and family. How about a Wi-Fi pen? (It detects wireless networks.) Or a Wi-Fi t-shirt (another detector). A Wi-Fi remote control can download device codes. A Wi-Fi picture frame can display photos from Flickr or network storage. The Eye-Fi is a memory card with built-in Wi-Fi, so your camera photos can be downloaded without a USB cable or card reader. With a Wi-Fi radio you can enjoy early morning wake-up calls and stream your favorite Internet radio stations. Let's not forget adding Wi-Fi to your ride. If only Santa's reindeer could go wireless!
How do I make Wi-Fi work on my iPod touch?
Q: I recently purchased a 4th generation iPod touch. I hadn't realized it could only communicate with a desktop computer via Wi-Fi. I have no Internet at home. How can I "Wi-Fi" my desktop so that it can communicate with my iPod touch? -- Tom
A: Although I don't own an iPod touch, my understanding is that this device is basically an iPhone but without a cellular radio. In other words, it runs basically the same platform as the iPhone and can run many of the same apps (except those which use the phone capability), in addition to being an iPod media player.
I am also not sure that the premise here is accurate--the iPod Touch, like the iPod and iPhone--has a USB dock connector. You can plug this into your Mac or PC and then launch iTunes, which will see the device and let you sync media.
Regardless, what if you want to use the the iPod Touch (or any other device) with another computer through Wi-Fi and, like Tom, do not have an Internet connection? You don't actually need an Internet connection to use a wireless router; it's just that most people obtain a wireless router when they get their Internet connection.
Leaving the Internet out of the discussion entirely, a wireless router creates a LAN (Local Area Network) between any devices linked to it, either via Ethernet cable or wireless. So Tom, all you really need is a wireless router -- any basic model will do and you can find one for about $20 these days -- no Internet connection or monthly fees required.
You would plug your desktop computer into one of the router's "LAN" ports using a standard Ethernet cable, and then set up the wireless connection on the router with whatever network name and security settings you want. Setup the iPod touch (or any other wireless device) to connect to the wireless network (with password if using security) and you're done.
How do I extend Wi-Fi coverage to an outbuilding?
Q: My "Main" building has wired Internet and I am currently using a DLink DAP1360 device (which I have to power cycle every 3 or 4 days) as an AP with an external Technet 14DBI antenna. I actually get great connection speed 290 feet away: around 14mb down. My problem happens once I enter into the "Shed" which is around 240 feet away from the "Main." Currently I have a Technet 14dbi antenna pointing off of the "Shed" to the "Main" building. This goes into another DLink DAP1360 used as a repeater. -- Kurt
A: Longer-range Wi-Fi connections can be very sensitive to site-specific conditions, so it is difficult to make more than general guesses about the situation. But there are a few clues here that might "shed" some light on how to improve your situation.
If this "shed" is a metal building, it could be contributing to the problem. Since you do get a strong signal from nearly 300 feet away in the open air, we know that the primary router is broadcasting the link fairly well using its external antenna.
At the shed itself, it is of course important that the external antenna on the repeater router be mounted outside the shed. It sounds like you have done this, but the shed itself may be deflecting the signal -- or adding enough noise -- such that reception is attenuated below a reliable or usable level.
It is not clear whether the antenna on the shed is an omni or a directional antenna. In a fixed installation like this, you typically will see the strongest signal (especially over a longer distance) using a directional antenna aimed with precision at the primary antenna.
Finally, you may have more options for tweaking the repeater if you used a more configurable router -- particularly a model that can use DD-WRT firmware. This would let you alter the power of the router, among other reception variables, with a higher degree of sophistication than a stock router (especially one with such mixed reviews as the DAP-1360). Although you may be better off replacing both routers with DD-WRT-based models, in a pinch you could start by replacing just the repeater router.
Why is my laptop's Wi-Fi connection erratic?
Q: It seems my laptop won't pick up a strong signal, but only sometimes. Sometimes it has excellent connection, 5 bars and 54 mbps speed, but then there are times where it will just NOT connect, or only connect at a very low signal. I've tried switching channels, updating the drivers on my wireless card. At times, it will pick up the Wi-Fi but not connect to it. I'm fairly certain it's a laptop problem, because it won't connect to other Wi-Fi networks around here either. The laptop is a Toshiba Satellite M65-S9092, it was given to us by a friend and is somewhat old. -- Ninjota
A: Sometimes it can seem like your wireless connection has been invaded by bugs -- or elves. Evil elves. Today it works, tomorrow it doesn't. The fact that you see this unpredictable behavior on other wireless networks besides your own is an important point.
Given how erratic your wireless connectivity is, I'm doubtful that there is a software problem such as Windows networking or wireless drivers. A more likely explanation is something hardware related. For example, it may be that your laptop is no longer cooling very well -- this model was released nearly 6 years ago. That could be causing the wireless adapter to be overheating.
The easiest way to be certain whether your problem is hardware and software--and possibly solve the problem itself--is just to buy an external USB wireless adapter. While it is possible to replace the internal wireless adapter in the laptop, at this age it isn't worth it. You can buy a USB wireless dongle for under $20. Chances are this will solve your problem at minimal cost. You can use the money you save to buy more holiday gifts!