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Accidental IT: Boosting Your WiFi Signal

Accidental IT is a series of technical how-tos for people whose job descriptions don't necessarily include tech support but who often find themselves doing just that for their co-workers.

Once upon a time, someone in the office (maybe you?) came back from the computer store with a brand new box and a great idea. You plugged in the office's first 802.11 WiFi router, and everyone was delighted when a few lucky laptop users were able to carry their computers into the meeting room and stay online.

Like many technical innovations, WiFi connections are no longer optional. A growing portion of the office relies on WiFi for their full-time connection to the company's servers and the Internet. But with the increase in use, you've noticed an increase in the frequency and volume of grumbles when users find spots in the office where they can't connect, or worse, when they simply lose their connection while sitting at their desks. Equipment that was originally put in place for use by a single user just doesn't cut it when mission-critical tasks are performed on WiFi-connected PCs.

Intermittent Connections

Your installation probably consists of a single 802.11b or 802.11g access point (AP). When it was installed, location was based on convenience rather than research. So, it was plugged into an available Ethernet port and powered up. When it was configured for LAN access, we hope the security features were turned on, but that's a topic for another story altogether. For now, be sure that the SSID is something other than "Default" and that WPA security is turned on.

As your WiFi network changed from novelty to necessity, more users started to rely on the WiFi connection for their laptops, PDAs, and some desktop units. The lucky ones simply signed on and started working. The unlucky ones got weak signals, or no connection at all. And as the user population grew still more, even users who could normally work without a problem began to lose their connections.

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