Free Tools Can Radically Upgrade Your Wi-Fi Experience

by Sam Dean - May. 31, 2011Comments (0)

In recent years, those of us who live with computers, smartphones and other connected devices have come to depend heavily on Wi-Fi connections. At the same time, most home Wi-Fi users do very little, if anything, to optimize their Wi-Fi setups and connections. Doing a little homework on how to optimize your Wi-Fi can create lots of efficiencies, and there are numerous open source and free applications to help you do so.

If you've had Wi-Fi set up at home for some time, it's wise to do regular checkups to make sure you're running what you should be running and that the topology of your setup makes sense. Are you still running 802.11g even though the devices you use are compatible with the more advanced 802.11n standard? That's true for many people, and a simple upgrade to an 802.11n router can provide better Wi-Fi performance and far better roaming range. 802.11n routers are commodity items these days, and are very easy to set up.

Many Wi-Fi users use only a router to send their Wi-Fi signal around their home—no access points. Wi-Fi is radio technology, which means your router’s signal decays with distance. Often, adding just one access point (use the same brand as your router) at a cost of $50 or less, will radically increase the roaming performance you get. This is especially true if you live in a large home.

When checking the setup of your home Wi-Fi network, pay attention to common reasons that may be causing you to experience signal degradation. It’s best to have your router placed in a central location, and many people find ways to position it at ceiling level to avoid obstructions. Try not to place routers and access points near metal, windows, mirrors, microwave ovens or interference-generating electrical equipment.

In this post, we discussed two open source tools that can radically improve your Wi-Fi experience:  Tomato and dd-wrt.

If you don't know about dd-wrt, it's worth getting it and at least poking around. It started out as a Linux-based firmware replacement for one Linksys router, intended to add various types of authentication options. Since then, it has ballooned into many downloadable versions for almost any common Wi-Fi router. With dd-wrt, you get a whole lot of router options that you wouldn't otherwise have, and you can get better performance around your home or office. You can set dd-wrt so that you have a router reboot in the middle of the night each night. Open source firmware like dd-wrt also decreases the likelihood that a hack or malware is going to affect your router.

Tomato is a very popular Linux-based alternative to dd-wrt that also adds several typs of functionality and troubleshooting to your Wi-Fi router. It can help you pull up detailed charts of signal strength and much more to optimize your setup. Finally, if you use hotspots regularly, you may want to try the free Heatmapper tool.  It provides graphical heatmaps of available hotspots, and while it's not open source, it is a very useful application.

A little time spent optimizing your Wi-Fi setup can make a big difference. The good news is that there are a number of free tools to help you do so.

Coby Randquist uses OStatic to support Open Source, ask and answer questions and stay informed. What about you?


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