Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Optimizing your 802.11n wireless router and/or resolving problems

This is a lengthy subject I could write days on, but I'll post some quick tips:

First, 802.11n speeds are achieved by using multiple channels. If you've got 802.11g networks in range, or even if you have 802.11g clients on your own network, it is recommended to go to the more friendly 145Mbps (or 150Mbps) rather than 300Mbps. Throughout of 802.11g clients usually increases when this is done. Once you go to full 802.11n, and don't give a crap about any neighbors, then blast them away with 300Mbps.

Set the security type to WPA2-PSK [AES] *only*. Do not allow TKIP unless you have to. This will boost performance in some cases.

Some 802.11n network adapters from other manufactures may not function well with your router. The issue could be the driver, or the network adapter's own firmware. Changing the preamble type may help to mitigate the problem in some cases, but not all.

Be sure to enable QoS on your router if it is available. This will help make sure high priority traffic (like UDP packets) get through first.

When evaluating which channel to use
In today's world of high interference, which channel you choose is very important. There are several cool apps for the Android platform that will let you use your phone to analyze the WiFi networks around and pick a good channel. I'm sure there are also some for the iPhone.

Note that it is a violation of FCC law to change your router's region so that it is not 'US' and therefore allow yourself to connect to channels 12-14. Many off the shelf routers will forbid this anyway. These channels are usually clear because it is illegal to operate in them. I don't encourage you to do so, as I'm sure the FCC has its reasons for making these channels unavailable for WiFi. There may be other wireless devices operating on those channels. Besides, it is illegal and I'm sure some clients won't connect.

However, if you move to Europe or something, download the firmware for that region and it will allow both the Region Setting and the previously disabled Traffic Meter feature. It is unknown why the Traffic Meter is disabled for the North American build.

If you really need to get away from the interference, you can try a dual-band router that operates at the 802.11a 5ghz range too. It is much less crowded than the 2.4ghz range, which is used by cordless phones, wireless keyboards and mice, and most everybody's WiFi network. These are more expensive though, and you'll need network adapters that also support 802.11a -- a rare thing to be embedded by any manufacturer of network enabled devices.

When shopping for an 802.11n router
When buying an 802.11n router, I recommend getting a fully 300Mbps compatible one (you can lower it to 145/150 in its settings.. in fact, that is usually the default). The specific lower speed setting will vary depending on the router or region. I also recommend getting one that supports gigabit Ethernet. You'll thank yourself later. I've had the Netgear WNR3500v2 for a while now and seen no troubles what-so-ever. It is a great value, IMHO -- and even has wireless repeating and forwarding (WDS) capabilities so you can wirelessly link it to another wireless router. It also supports QoS and has a good, stable vendor supplied firmware.

The one concern I have is that there is a 'hack' to allow easy enabling of Telnet with the router. Also, it appears to be open on the WAN side, no matter what settings have been applied (at least in my case, may need a factory reset). Nothing is echo'd back, but it can sit there and accept data all day. Also there is a built-in superuser account that can be exploited. Be sure to upgrade your firmware.

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