How to make Wireless Networking work?

No more tripping over messy cables or taking turns on the internet. Whether it's a PC in the bedroom or a notebook PC in your garden, wireless networking, or Wi-Fi, means you can use a computer where it suits you without a cable in sight.

Well that's the dream anyway. In practice Wi-Fi can be quite a different story. You might find that the signal runs out of steam in the next room, let alone reaching upstairs. Then again maybe it goes too far and lets your neighbours surf the web at your expense.

If that's not bad enough, perhaps your signal suddenly disconnects for no apparent reason, or maybe the latest piece of Wi-Fi kit refuses point-blank to communicate with anything else you've bought.

Sound familiar? When Wi-Fi problems arise, we're here to help. We've spoken to owners and trawled our forum to identify...

the most common Wi-Fi woes. We will explain why they happen and how they can be resolved. We'll help you make Wi-Fi wonderful again.
Compatibility (Wireless Networking)

Probably the biggest problem with Wi-Fi is compatibility. Sometimes two Wi-Fi products simply fail to communicate or do so at a much lower speed than expected. The reason is that there are several different types of wireless networking technology and they're not all compatible. Some manufacturers also tweak the standards or adopt new ones before they've been finalised to deliver superior performance, but by doing so often reduce their compatibility with products from other companies.

This is where Wi-Fi comes in. Wi-Fi isn't a wireless standard, but a certificate of compatibility. If two products have the Wi-Fi badge, they should work together with no problems. This system worked well when there was just one wireless standard but, as new technologies that support greater bandwidth have been developed, the Wi-Fi badge has become slightly tatty.

Today there are three popular wireless standards, known as 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g, although the letters don't stand for anything specific. To make things easier we will now refer to them as Wireless A, Wireless B and Wireless G.

Wireless B came first, offering a maximum data transfer rate of 11 megabits per second (Mbit/s). Wireless A followed, screeching away with a very nifty 54Mbit/s and fewer problems with interference, but it was expensive and, most significantly, incompatible with Wireless B equipment.

Next came Wireless G, sporting 54Mbit/s and backwards-compatibility with existing Wireless B equipment. In 2006, the next standard, 802.11n (Wireless N), with transfer rates of up to 540Mbit/s, should be finalised.

Today Wireless A is used by some business or high-end home users, but Wireless G has become by far the most widespread standard. The Wi-Fi badge indicates which standard is supported, with ticks in the appropriate box or boxes.

If two products have a Wi-Fi badge and ticks in the same boxes, they should work together without a problem. You don't need a Wi-Fi badge for compatibility, but it certainly offers extra assurance. The GHz rating you can see refers to the radio band used.

Wireless A operates in the 5GHz band, while the more common A and B version use the 2.4GHz band. This band is used by other household devices too, which we'll explain shortly.

If the manufacturer tweaks a current standard to add an extra feature or uses aspects of Wireless N for extra speed which have not been finalised, the resulting product can't carry the Wi-Fi badge.

If you're experiencing compatibility problems with existing kit, the best place to start is on the websites of the equipment manufacturers. Some offer firmware updates that solve problems, and most have technical support forums.

An excellent starting point is our own Readers to the Rescue forum.

You may also try one of the many online communities dedicated to solving wireless worries, such as wi-fiplanet, wi-fi-forum and wi-fitechnology.

Occasionally, changing a single setting can rectify the problem, but with so many manufacturers, and so many possible combinations of wireless devices, it can be tricky to isolate the loose thread between your equipment. You may simply need to swap the offending product for one that's guaranteed to work with your router. To be certain, either buy products which are Wi-Fi certified with ticks in the same boxes, or stick to products from the same manufacturer and range

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