Diagnosing WiFi
Low quality or
dropped signal


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Wireless connections - Low quality or dropped signal

Wireless connections - a good continuous connections depends on a few factors...

A fixed position for the wireless is not a guarantee of high quality signal ...

A question asked of me today was why would a computer that is in a static position (a desktop not a laptop) lose it's  connection?

There are different reasons why wireless connections drop if both the transmitting and receiving devices were in a fixed position.

Note: You need to realize that your wireless devices are radio transmitters and receivers. Although low powered devices they are still radio stations and must accept any interference that is produced by another device. You can not increase the power of the device, well an Electrical Engineer would be able to do it but the cost would be high.

Is the wireless connections signal being interfered with by something either material or another signal such as:

  • A series of walls
  • A large metal object either in the path or capable of 'bouncing' the signal
  • If there another device close (a close in radio signal is anywhere from zero to one thousand feet) such as a HAM radio station, or another transmitter of radio signals.
  • Aircraft flying over head at less than five thousand feet.
  • Glass, a thin glass pane will impede the signal some what but thick glass panes will stop it.

Wireless connections troubleshooting:

Let's look at each of these one at a time.

When you setup your wireless router/access point it is necessary to 'survey' the area between all the devices that will connect. These things will degrade your signal that are inside a building:

  • Walls - not more than two if not concert or block construction (a radio signal will not penetrate a solid wall).
  • Metal and Glass - Large metal items such as a locker or a refrigerator and glass will reflect a signal (bounce) or thick glass will stop the signal.

Another thing that will cause a wireless connections loss or impede it is another radio signal, these are transmitted from another source such as:

  • A HAM radio station
  • A Fire or Police radio
  • An aircraft radio that is less than a thousand feet away
  • A radar station that is less than five thousand fee away

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Another radio signal that is transmitting even if it is on another frequency will have 'bleed over' from one frequency to another, in CB (Citizen Band) radio or HAM radio this is called a "side band" radio frequency. These side band frequencies are usually a side product of powerful transmitters that are either miss-tuned or starting to age and haven't been recertified. (Certification is where a transmitter is checked for being on the correct frequencies by a qualified tech with the right equipment).

  • One of the biggest culprits of side band interference is radar, especially those that are search radars used by a military. (A military radar is exempt from legal ramifications due to the nature of their job, thus your devices have to accept any interface that the radar creates).
  • If you read the literature that comes with your wireless device somewhere in the very small print is a statement: 'This device must accept all interference from outside sources and MUST not cause any interference with emergency service frequencies" or something close to that effect. This means that your wireless device must not interfere with any emergency frequency traffic and must accept any interference from other sources.
  • Aircraft cause two types of interference: If the radio transmits while close to your location the transmitted signal can interfere with your device. If there is a transmission from another transmitter close by your location the signal could bounce off the aircraft and interfere with you device. Normally this happens when your location is close to a flight path where aircraft are landing or taking off and the fly over of the aircraft is lower than five thousand feet.

Your next type of wireless connections interference comes from with in the building you are located in. There are two types of interference:

  • Direct is where the signal is either diminished or interrupted by walls. Typical interior walls in a newer building are made of sheetrock, this is a pressed mixture of clay and other materials covered by paper or paper/cloth. The thickness of the drywall varies so a building with standard drywall you may be able to connect and keep a signal through two or three walls with out loss of strength. Then again a building that has thicker drywall you may not be able to connect through one wall.
    • With this type of interference if the router/access point can not be moved you can use a 'booster', this is a device that will increase the strength of a signal and rebroadcast it. If you suspect that the interference is a wall or an object that the signal can not go through or around then a strategically placed signal booster will solve your problem.
  • The other type of interference is a 'bounce signal' or 'ghost signal' this is where the transmitted signal hits a metal object or a pane of glass and your receiver gets a second signal with the same data. If you suspect a bounce or ghost signal all you need to do is stand at the transmitter and turn 45* from the original position, anything in the 45* angle will bounce at 90*. That is the signal will come from the transmitter, hit the object and travel straight to any receiver in line with the object. (That is why access points and routers have movable antenna.)
    • With a bounce signal all you can do is move either the receiving device or the transmitting device.

With wireless connections interference you can try to use the built in channels of the transmitter/receiver to move the frequency of the wireless signal away from the interference.

  • Older 801B and G devices have 11 channels, the newer N devices have more channels. To move away from the interference it is a trial and error process, try at a lower or higher channel number at least two or more numbers from the base or default of 6 say 4 or 8 to see if that is far enough away to keep your connection from being interfered with.

One thing that I did not cover is the distance, most wireless router/access points have a limited distance the signal will travel, this is set by law and by the manufacture of the device. If your signal strength and quality is less than 75% and fair to medium I would suggest you use a signal booster to over come the distance to increase the strength and quality of the signal. An increase of strength and quality will increase the overall speed the device transmits and receives from the router/access point.

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