Problems with wireless networks top the list for calls to both Best Buy's Geek Squad and Hewlett Packard customer service. And frankly, it's no wonder. Even after your network is up and running, most of us have experienced problems where we're told our computer can't find an Internet connection, or our wireless network can't seem to connect to our wireless printer. Add the proliferation of wireless devices such as tablet computers, smart phones, wireless music and home theater systems; you're left wondering if these will ever work in harmony.
To find out what's needed to set up a wireless network, we first turned to the Geek Squad, and then we unpacked and plugged in four routers to see how tough this really is.
What Kind of Hardware Do You Need?
Geek Squad Agent Derek Meister says his team's approach is to look at the setup in layers.
1. Determine the wireless needs for where you live and where your router and computer will go.
- An apartment or small house will probably need a basic router
- Having thick walls or locating your router one or two floors from your computer may require either a more powerful router or another device called a “range extender” to carry the signal further
- If you have trouble using a wireless phone or a cell phone, you may need to use a router that runs its signals onto your electrical system (powerline router)
Older homes with plaster and lathe may suck up the radio waves. Try walking around with a cordless or mobile phone. If you have problems getting reception, then you may have issues with standard networking. For many of us, our connections to the outside world such as a phone company DSL line or a cable modem may reside in the basement. But that’s also where furnaces, water tanks and air conditioning systems also live, big items that can interfere with radio waves. In apartment buildings where there may be dozens or even hundreds of other users you may get the data equivalent of a busy signal. In that case you may want to look at a dual band router that offers more channels.
2. Purchase the router
- Make sure you understand the setup instructions before you leave the store.
- Most routers will do the trick technically, but there’s considerable variation in the setup process.