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How to Boost Your Office’s WiFi Network Like a High Tech Pro

wifi network

How many times have you gone to another law firm and had trouble connecting to their WiFi? If your answer was anything other than “every time,” you obviously don’t use WiFi networks all that much. Or you rely entirely on your device’s cellular capabilities or a hotspot.

Which is kind of dumb, if they’re offering free Wi-Fi.

Thing is, everyone else has the same problem when they come to your office. Come to think of it, you have that problem in your office! But since you have the ability to plug into your ethernet cable at your desk, you’ve just looked past it. No worries though – after all, you’re used to being chained to your desk!

Fortunately, there are some basic steps you can take to improve your office’s WiFi network, without having to make (major) upgrades to your equipment. Here are 12 Easy Tips to help you Boost Your WiFi Network Like a High Tech Professional:

WiFi network strength and security are very important to your law firm and your duty to protect your clients. It’s also pretty important to the whole “getting shit done” part of your job. Your WiFi network’s heart is your wireless router – the most common culprit if your office’s WiFi network has turned to crap.

Fortunately, that means fixing your crappy router can do a lot of good. Call your IT person, and they’ll charge you for trying these fixes, which you can totally do yourself. They can be broken down into three general categories, the first being…

Location, Location, Location!

It’s possible, even likely, that your law firm’s IT people put your wireless router in with your server. It’s right next to the cable modem, and it makes everything nice and convenient for IT whenever they need to check anything related to internet connectivity.

But it’s a terrible place for your router as far as your WiFi network is concerned!

Wireless routers broadcast their signal in equal strength in all directions. But probably more importantly, the wireless signal can be easily blocked or absorbed by metal surfaces, walls, mirrors, and even people. So here are some tips about where to locate your wireless router:

1) Place in the center of where the WiFi network used

Remember, it’s broadcast in equal directions, so place it in the middle of your office…

WiFi network

I still can’t see anything like this without thinking about Sean Connery’s character in the Hunt for Red October. And yes, I realize that’s Sonar, not Wi-Fi.

… unless it’s not being used there! If your law firm has computers hooked up to the network via ethernet cables, then you probably want to locate your wireless router closer to your conference rooms or other areas where people are more likely to need wireless connectivity.

2) Take your router out of the closet

One of the worst places for your wireless router to be located is behind a closed door. Imagine trying to have a conversation with someone standing next to you.

WiFi network

Don’t they look so happy?

Now imagine the same conversation through a closed door.

WiFi network

So sad…

 

It might still be possible, but it’s definitely not going to be easy. Same principles apply with your router.

Don’t cripple its strength right from the start!

3) Elevate that thing!

Here’s an interesting fact: most routers broadcast their signal at a downward angle, just like radios. So placing your router on the floor has two problems: 1) the downward angle of the signal means you’re preventing those on the same floor from getting an optimal signal, and 2) floors tend to be made of the stuff WiFi signals have a hard time penetrating (wood, concrete, metal, etc.).

So elevate your router! While some might think it’s a bit of an eyesore, I prefer placing my wireless router attached to the ceiling. An added benefit: elevating the router tends to place it above a lot of the regular items that block or absorb your signal!

4) Avoid other electronics

Yep, another thing that interferes with your Wi-Fi network: other tech toys. Are you baffled yet why your IT people decided to leave your wireless router right next to the cable modem and your server? Trust me, it’s all about convenience for them, and I don’t blame them. But it’s killing your Wi-Fi signal.

Avoid anything with an internal motor or wiring, if possible. TVs, computers, lights, printers… all will interfere with your router’s signal strength.

Use the tools on (and in) your router

Your wireless router is basically a little computer, and has specific settings and programs designed to help you set up a WiFi network that suits your needs. Failing to take advantage of these features may not cripple you, as they’re designed – generally – to work well right out of the box.

However, if you find that your expensive router isn’t performing up to your expectations, even though you followed all of the suggestions about where to put it, maybe you need to change some things. Both the physical features of the router and the internal security and settings can be adjusted to improve performance.

Try out these tips on modifying your router to improve its performance:

5) Adjust your router’s antennas

When you think of a radio signal from an antenna, you probably imagine something like this:

WiFi network

… signals emitting from one small point in the antenna. The purpose of the rest of the antenna, you imagine, is simply to increase the antenna’s height. Well, you’d be wrong (at least partially).

The wireless signal from your laptop or mobile device comes from an internal antenna, and the signal is best when both your device’s antenna and the router’s antenna are parallel to each other. Fortunately, many routers come with two or more antennas that you can adjust.

The laptop you use likely has a horizontal antenna, so make sure that one of your antennas is horizontal. Why not both? Because the mobile devices you use are most likely being used with their antennas aligned vertically. So, the ideal antenna setup for your wireless router probably looks more like this:

WiFi network

Funky, I know.

 

It may not be the prettiest setup, but this isn’t a beauty pageant.

6) Identify and use a less congested wireless channel

One of the problems that a lot of law firms will have to deal with is the fact that they’re in an office building shared by other businesses. That also have Wi-Fi. Just like your local highway, the more people who want to use it, the harder it is to pretend you’re on the Autobahn.

Many routers will try to auto-search for the best channel, but even with that feature enabled, it will likely remain on a channel that later becomes congested and may not be as effective as a manual search. There are a number of tools available to check for available channels, including WiFi Analyzer and WiFi Stumbler.

WiFi network

Using that information, find the channel with the least congestion. Without interference from other networks, your Wi-Fi signal should receive a moderate-to-significant boost.

7) Password protect and encrypt your router to limit theft

Cyber security isn’t just about keeping your information safe. It’s also about making sure that others aren’t able to use something that you’re paying for without your permission. Unfortunately, too many people use a simple, easy to learn password to protect their office wireless network. Except they don’t offer much in the way of protection.

Why? Because not enough people understand how valuable access to your WiFi network can be! Oftentimes those looking for free internet are doing so at least in a way that will slow you down (like streaming video). More importantly, most routers allow for access to most or all of your law firm’s network. Ask me in person whether that can potentially cause your law firm a problem.

So protect yourself! Use a WPA2 password and don’t give it out to anyone! And if you’re really into being scared by how vulnerable your WiFi network is to being hacked, check out this article on how to use a free, open-sourced program to hack into most routers, even if they’re password protected!

Oh, and if anyone tells you that encryption slows down your connection, go ahead and tell them they’re full of crap.

8) Set up your guest WiFi network properly

Just like in any other situation, those taking inappropriate advantage of your router are probably the ones who you’ve actually given access to. They’re not stealing… directly, but they’re bogging down your network. Two settings that you should adjust to compensate: guest network settings and router priority.

First, you should definitely set up your guest network(s). It’s common courtesy, nowadays, to provide the visitors to your office with access to your WiFi network. So you have to do it. But you don’t need to give them enough access to watch Netflix on your dime, and you certainly don’t want to give them access to your office’s secure WiFi network.

Setting up your available guest network(s) will allow you to limit your visitors’ access so that they’re only able to access the outside internet. Also, you’re able to set up bandwidth limits, to make sure that your network is never dramatically impacted by whatever use your guests are making of the Wi-Fi. It might seem a little rude to limit the bandwidth, but if your guests are bringing your network to a crawl, you need to do something.

9) Prioritize the right type of content

Do you have that one employee who still manages to bill time while streaming sporting events? Guess what, live streaming of video is the primary culprit for network congestion, and it’s not work-essential. Sure, its fine if nobody is affected, but it shouldn’t be preventing others from doing work.

Did you know that you can actually adjust the priority for types of content on a lot of newer routers? It’s called “Quality of Service” (oftentimes listed as “QoS”), and it lets you prioritize certain types of content over others.

Set the priorities so that file transfer and basic internet access are prioritized over streaming video or games. It should probably be set that way to begin with. You can even build in exceptions for video conferencing services and the like. Don’t let WatchESPN ruin your office’s internet access. For a complete guide to adjusting your QoS, check out this article.

When All Else Fails…

Sometimes all the location adjustments and modifications to your router just don’t get you everything you need. Maybe you still have gaps in your office, maybe you just can’t seem to get all the bandwidth you need. Whatever it is, your WiFi network isn’t much working. Here are some suggestions for boosting your WiFi network when the above methods fail.

10) Test your WiFi network for gaps

First and foremost, you should determine whether your problem is your router. If you’re having connectivity issues at certain spots in your office, it could because you’re getting inadequate Wi-Fi signal, despite your efforts at strategically placing your router. To do this, you’ll need a tool to test your connection. My favorite is an app on my iPhone called Wi-Fi Sweetspots.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I’m a fan of apps that do well what they set out to do. Wi-Fi Sweetspots tells you the basic connectivity level you have with your WiFi network wherever you’re standing. That’s it. However, it provides the information in an understandable way, and it’s amazingly easy to use.

WiFi network

Armed with this information, it’s possible that you can re-locate your existing router to eliminate those gaps. However, if you’ve already put the router in the best location you can, and you still have holes in the network, it might be time to…

11) Extend your existing WiFi network

Sometimes, the string connecting the cans just can’t reach. You need a longer string. Fortunately, there are two different ways to extend your existing router’s network.

The first is by adding a range extender or repeater. Although you’ll lose some speed through the boosted signal, this can be a cheap and effective way of making sure that your Wi-Fi signal reaches disparate parts of your office. However, make sure that your extender is located in a place with good Wi-Fi signal – no point in repeating a crappy connection to your router. An extender is best for when your Wi-Fi signal is weak due to walls or other line-of-sight interference.

wireless network

By linking your primary router (blue) with a repeater (green) via line of sight, you more effectively connect areas of your office blocked from your primary router

The second type of extender is called a Powerline Adapter. This system actually uses your office’s electrical wiring system as a network cable to connect to your router. While this is the preferred option for most tech-savvy engineers, I would strongly recommend having this setup professionally installed in your law firm.

If nothing seems to help your WiFi network emerge from the days of 28 BPS, there is one more thing you can…

12) Upgrade your router

The bottom line, as with anything, is that your WiFi network can only go as fast as its slowest component. WiFi routers have developed at a rapid rate in the past decade, and several current standards have already been made obsolete.

Just three years ago, the 802.11n standard was considered “top of the line.” (Oh, and if your router is 802.11a, b, or g, you’re living in the early George W. Bush administration – ditch it.) In 2013, the current Cadillac standard, 802.11ac was released. As you probably guessed, it’s already about to be passed. Recently announced 802.11ad, af and ag standards will soon supplant the existing routers.

All that was to say, go get yourself a new wireless router, and make sure you get the correct standard. If you end up buying anything less than a WiFi router that uses 802.11ac, you’d better be getting a great deal, because you’ll be replacing it soon!

For more information about the best tools and equipment for your high tech law firm, come check out my presentation at ABA TECHSHOW, “Beyond Baby Steps: Technology Infrastructure.”


About the Author

bio 2Brian Focht is a civil litigation attorney and technology enthusiast. In addition to being the author of The Cyber Advocate, he is also the producer and host of the Legal Technology Review podcast, and co-founder of B&R Concepts, a small business technology consulting company.