Monthly Archives: March 2010

Wireless Networks, Getting Maximum Quality Signal

Fascinating subject, that of wireless networking. Like other subjects related to computers and technology, it has evolved fast.

What is the most common problem when it comes to wireless connections? The signal is too weak. In other words, the connection drops, or its speed is considerable slow, the quality of the connection is poor, and so on. So, what do you do?

The first and most fundamental concept you need to grasp on the subject is LINE-OF-SIGHT. In its simplest form, it means literally that, i.e. if your wireless receiver (in your computer) can SEE the transmitter (usually a router connected to the internet cable that comes into your place), you’re in good shape. Radio signals used by wireless networking connections are similar to normal light. Normal light doesn’t get through a wall. Well neither does the wireless signal. Well maybe not exactly the same. Wireless signals are slightly better at that than normal light. But you get the idea. Using that concept, you know that if your transmitter is in the living room and you are in your room, with a wall in between, the quality of the wireless connection is going to suffer. Or if you are one floor above the transmitter, again an obstacle prevents line-of-sight, this time the floor.  Add enough physical obstacles and distance, and your connection is no longer able to be sustained.

Therefore, if at all possible, maintain line-of-sight between your computer’s wireless receiver and the transmitter. If you can’t, for whatever reason, then there are several things that can be done. One is, adding a better suited antenna to the receiver, or the transmitter. Another one is increasing the power of the signal being transmitted. A third one is adding a repeater. This is perhaps my favorite one. The idea is to add an additional device between the transmitter and the receiver. Its function is to receive the signal coming from the transmitter, and re-transmit it, with new strength and proximity to the receiver. So instead of:

Transmitter ———————————> Receiver

We have:

Transmitter ———Repeater————-> Receiver

The benefits are obvious, and the results invariable.

Let me know if you are having trouble on this area. I can help you improve the quality of your wireless signal.

Advances in Computer Technology

When anyone stops for a moment and starts looking at the number of technological advances in recent years/decades, it will become apparent that they seem to be popping into view faster and faster. My theory is that because advances in technology are cumulative, in an unhindered environment they will happen with a “snowball” effect. In other words, it builds momentum upon itself. For example, the series of technological advances that made the Internet possible, are now used to further accelerate technology by using the Internet itself as a communication, knowledge-sharing, collaboration tool. Think how much faster technological progress can be achieved now thanks to tools like the Internet, and compare it to 150 years ago. You get the idea. Snowball. This is true not only in computer technology, but in technology in general. However, to stay on-subject in regards the subject I usually write about, we’ll look at this phenomenon as it relates to computers.

So down to the practical side of it, what does this mean for the average computer user? In other words, is there a point to all this babbling? Well, hopefully, there is. One of the things it means is that your computer equipment is getting older faster, relatively speaking. This has two consequences: one is your computer devalues faster. The other one however is more positive: The not-so-new, yet way ahead of an “old” (over 3 years old) computer, is cheaper than before. And capable of fulfilling your basic computing needs without a problem.

Nowadays there is a breakthrough in computer technology about every 6 months. Based on that, a computer that is 3 years old is 6 breakthroughs behind. You get the idea. So when you have a computer that is older than that (3 years), and it’s not working properly, make sure to evaluate if repairing whatever might be wrong with it is worth it, because after a few hours of tech support/repairing, it’s going to be more economical to buy a new one than to repair the old one. And if you were to go with the repair option, at the end of it you’d still have an old (albeit repaired) computer. This would not be that way without the above current phenomena on the speed of technological advances. So wanted to make sure you were aware of all this.

Power Failures and Computer Equipment

So you have all your computer equipment working in tip-top shape, up-to-date, and all of a sudden you get hit with a blackout. What do you do?

Since the recent surge in the market for laptops/notebooks/netbooks, chances are you have one of those at your place. So you could think along the lines of “Well, I’ll just use the laptop then, since it has a battery”.  True. But unless your laptop has a mobile broadband card attached to it (or you know how to use your cell phone as a modem AND the cell phone has the capability to act as one AND it has internet access enabled), you will lose Internet connectivity since your modem/router also require power to operate. So what’s the solution to that problem?

UPS = Uninterrupted Power Supply. Basically a rechargeable battery and some circuitry in a case, it can keep your electric hungry devices fed for a certain amount of time in the event of a general power failure. In the irreducible minimum case portrayed above, a small UPS can power an average modem/router for at least a couple of hours. Many UPS models exist that range from that to being able to power your whole set of computer equipment for hours. Of course the bigger the UPS the more expensive it is. But again in the case above, a small one should do.

One word of warning: when there’s a blackout, unplug any electronic equipment and only plug back in after power has been restored, especially if they are not connected to the power outlet through a surge protector. Why? When power is restored after a blackout, it is initially in the form of  a surge flow of electricity that can be damaging to your computer or electronic devices.

Choosing the Best Internet Connection Service

With the increase in computers’ processing speed, amount of memory, data transfer speed in hard disk drives etc., the Internet connection speed needs to be kept up as well. Remember, your computer is as fast as its slowest component. Gone should be the days of dial-up speed… and where thousands of data units were transmitted per second, millions are now.

There are several lines one can use to connect to the Internet. From slowest to fastest, they can be broken down into the following:

Dial-up: The oldest and now slowest connection type, it travels through the telephone lines in the voice band. The fastest ones currently would allow your computer to receive a big sized picture in about 4 minutes.

DSL: Stands for Digital Subscriber Line. Similar to dial-up in that it uses the telephone lines, it differs in that it can allow for data transmission WHILE the phone line is being used for voice transmission. The reason for this is that it uses a higher frequency for data transmission than the human voice band (dial-up uses the voice band) and thus voice and data transmission can coexist on the same line. It of course also differs in that it is much faster than dial-up. DSL speeds vary greatly, but let’s just say that the same picture used in the example above would take around 24 seconds in the low end of DSL transmission speed, and little over a second on the high end.

Satellite: Comparable in speed with DSL, Satellite Internet service is an alternative to dial-up in rural and remote areas where other high-speed connection lines don’t exist. Due to disadvantages such as cost of equipment, signal problems due to bad weather, Fair Access Policies on the amount of data that can be accessed per day some of the providers have (like Earthlink’s Satellite service), I don’t recommend this option where other high-speed services exist.

Cable: It uses the cable TV infrastructure to connect your computer to the Internet. Speed wise it would roughly transmit our sample picture in about 6 seconds for the low end, and half a second on the high end.

FiOS: Stands for Fiber Optic Service. A relatively new option, it offers connectivity through optical fiber (a glass or plastic type fiber that uses light instead of electricity for data transmission).   On the higher end, you could receive 6 sample pictures, of the same size as used in the above examples, in about a second. This service however is not available in all areas. As of this writing, only Verizon offers it.

So the above is the basic data on the subject. Of course cost has not been entered into the equation here so up to you to find the best speed for the buck. Sometimes the Internet connection service is bundled with other services, such as phone and TV, which makes it more attractive, price-wise. Also most of these services have more than one tier, i.e. a company will offer a basic DSL package that goes at a certain speed, and then a premium package that is twice as fast or even more.

What is the ideal speed for you? It depends largely on your use of the Internet. Basic emailing and websites browsing don’t need great speed, while video conferencing or big downloads will need something considerable faster. Also remember that if there are several computers at your place connected to the same line, the speed to your computer will be slower if someone else is using the line simultaneously. So take that into account as well.