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LAN & WAN Basics

Segmented Network

Introduction

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I covered how to improve your network by separating key network functions into dedicated devices. 

In this final Part 3 of the series, I'll cover extending your network to your end devices, which may be mobile or located throughout your house or apartment.  Extending your network can be done via wireless and wired technologies, and there are options for both.  

Wireless

The most common option to extend a network to end devices is to use wireless, or Wi-Fi technology.  Many of our devices, such as tablets and handhelds, function only with wireless connections.

A common problem, however, is poor Wi-Fi performance in an area where we want to use the devices.  Options for improving Wi-Fi performance include the location of the access point (AP), using multiple APs, or using Wi-Fi repeaters.

The ideal location for an AP is an elevated central location.  In many residences, the AP is located in the basement or a corner of the residence, sitting on a desk or behind some equipment.  Does the photo below look familiar?

Bad Location

Bad Location

If your wireless router or AP is located as described, disable the Wi-Fi functionality of your router as discussed in Part 2.  Then, use a second Wi-Fi router, configured as an access point following our guide. Make sure you configure your router and AP with different IP addresses, and connect the AP via its LAN port, following the steps in this other guide.

Finally, using a standard Ethernet cable, place that AP on top of a shelf or cabinet or mount it high on a wall if possible; the higher the better.  In some cases, simply raising the location of your AP or wireless router can improve your wireless coverage and performance.

Multiple APs

Using multiple APs is a solution commonly deployed in a business with a large area to cover and this strategy is effective in even small residences.  The challenge to installing multiple APs is each AP requires power and a network connection. 

For a multi-AP installation, whether you're converting a router to an AP or using a dedicated AP such as the Cisco WAP121, each AP should have the same security configuration, including the same encryption method (WEP, WPA, or WPA2) and the same encryption key. 

Cisco WAP121

Cisco WAP121

Each AP should be on the same subnet (such as 192.168.1.0/24) as the main router, but with different IP addresses.  Assigning static IPs to each AP or reserving their IP addresses in your router's DHCP server is good practice. This allow you to easily reach them when you need to change settings.

For the 2.4 GHz band, each AP should be set to a different channel, using only channels 1, 6, and 11 so that no two adjacent APs are using the same channel.  This allows each AP to have its own bandwidth, which can increase a busy network's performance.

SSID assignment is a matter of preference. Most consumer wireless clients tend to be very "sticky", i.e. they stay connected to the first AP they find, even when another AP with a better signal comes into range. The only reliable way to control this is to assign different SSIDs to your main router and expansion APs. While it may be a pain to reconnect your client to a different network when you change locations, you will be rewarded with higher bandwidth and a more reliable connection.

If you'd rather opt for convenience, then by all means assign the same SSID to the router and APs. But don't be surprised if you don't reap the benefit of the extra AP due to devices that stubbornly won't connect where you want them to.

Wireless Repeaters / Extenders

Wireless repeaters may be an option to improve Wi-Fi signal strength in far-reaching areas.  The main disadvantage of repeaters is that you start with a 50% throughput reduction to the end device because the repeater's single radio both receives, then retransmits, using twice the air time.

Repeater users also commonly make the mistake of placing the repeater too far away from the main wireless router. This results in lower bandwidth available to retransmit, which then is chopped in half.

Powerline

To extend your network with wired connections, the options are powerline, MoCA  (Multimedia over Coax) adapters and standard Ethernet cabling.  Powerline adapters transmit Ethernet signals over electrical wiring.  MoCA adapters transmit Ethernet signals over the coax cabling normally used for TV signals.

We've reviewed multiple models of powerline adapters, as well as provided performance reviews in our charts.  Powerline adapters use your home's electrical wiring instead of Ethernet cabling to connect devices to your network.

One adapter is required at your LAN's switch (the one you installed in Part 2 of this series).  You then place additional adapters throughout your house wherever you want an Ethernet connection. Note that you can connect switches to powerline adapters to connect multiple devices and some models even come with switches built in. You can even connect access points to powerline adapters to use a hybrid method of network expansion.

Powerline Adapters

Powerline Adapters

The downside to powerline adapters is they will not match the throughput of a wired Ethernet connection.  Further, in my experience, powerline adapters can be hit and miss.  They may work over some houses' electrical wiring and not in others and throughput can vary by location.

Like wireless, powerline can require some experimentation to get the maximum performance from it. But once you get it working, perhaps using the tips in this article, you'll be rewarded with a more reliable and higher-throughput connection than you get from wireless repeating.

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