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Extend Laptop Wi-Fi Range or Add Wi-Fi to a Desktop

Updated on November 5, 2015

Wi-Fi is Everywhere, Can You Use It Dependably?

More and more places offer free Wi-Fi and many people have Wi-Fi in their houses. Sometimes though, a device will disconnect from Wi-Fi due to a poor signal or, if it stays connected, the data speed is very low. I am sure that I have not been the only person on the road and having issues with the Wi-Fi connection. It used to be that many hotel rooms had ethernet connections but that is becoming less and less common. Many restaurants, hotels, airports and businesses offer free Wi-Fi but an older technology is used which can lead to connection issues.

In the home, you might have a very good signal when you are near your router but as you move further away or go outside, the signal becomes weaker and the data speed slows down. Or, you might have a desktop away from the network (in an upstairs bedroom or out in a workshop) and it's not convenient to get a cable to it easily. With the reliability and speed of wireless devices, it may make more sense to use a wireless device or other technology to extend your network.

Note - I am simplifying the technology and it is not my intent to explain the specs. You can find spec details lots of places and product descriptions will help out too. Ask a question below if you would like to. There is a link to another HUB right before the comments as well.


Networks Available for Connection - 9 feet from Router using On-board Device (Both Signals Strong)

Shows the two bands available on the router to connect to.  The "-5G" is the 5GHz, faster connection.
Shows the two bands available on the router to connect to. The "-5G" is the 5GHz, faster connection.

How to Increase Your Wi-Fi Connectivity on the Road

The older 2.4GHz Wi-Fi technology is ubiquitous on the road. If your laptop already has 5GHz Wi-Fi technology in it, then you probably won't have any issue making a strong, fast 5GHz connection because the technology is better. Therefore, it makes the most sense in concentrating on enhancing your connection using a 2.4GHz connection. There are many choices available in the marketplace but you should look for an adapter that also has an antenna to increase reception. Your laptop's device is encased and so adding an adapter with an antenna should really help. My wife and I were both having trouble getting a good signal from one part of the house with our laptops. After we bought our adapter with an antenna, our signal, connectivity and data increased dramatically. It also worked great at the airport! We each have a Wifi USB Wireless Adapter 300mbps Net-Dyn for PC/Mac for our PC laptops (more on this later).

Of course, if your laptop does not have 5GHz technology, then you may want to consider a dual band USB Wi-Fi Wireless adapter. Your router may already support it and someday it will probably be the standard technology. I haven't tested any of these out yet but people's Amazon reviews are encouraging. I do know, through test results (see table below) that my 5GHz connection on my laptop is much faster than my 2.4GHz connection.

Incidentally, check with your internet service provider to see if Wi-Fi hotspots are included with your service. Comcast/Xfinity, for example, has tons of hotspots and you can download a directory on your smartphone or computer so that you can locate one when you are on the road. After you have logged into your home network, you won't need to enter a password each time. With my USB Wireless Adapter hooked up, I can connect to a hotspot in my house (see image below).

Networks Available for Connection - 33 Feet from Router Using On-Board Device (2.4GHz Signal Weaker)

I moved farther away from the router and you can see one less bar on the 2.4 GHz connection now.  I had 3 briefly and have performed speed tests to verify the data rate droppage.
I moved farther away from the router and you can see one less bar on the 2.4 GHz connection now. I had 3 briefly and have performed speed tests to verify the data rate droppage.

How to Increase Your Wi-Fi Connectivity in Your Home

If you are in the home and can use a 5GHz connection instead of the 2.4GHz service offered most commonly outside of the home, then choose the faster 5GHz connection. Many routers have this technology built in and so do the newer laptops. The NETGEAR N900 wireless dual band router that I have is described more in my article entitled "Use a 4g Hotspot for Internet in Your Home or Mobile Network."

If you do not have a dual band router then the Wifi USB Wireless Adapter 300mbps Net-Dyn for PC/Mac with antenna will help here if you can't get the data rate you are supposed to be getting through your router/internet service provider. For example, we are supposed to get 20 MB/s download speed but in one part of the house, I was lucky to get 1 MB/s and sometimes would lose my connect altogether. When using the USB wireless adapter, I got more bars and much better data rates.

Networks Available for Connection - 33 feet Away Using USB Wi-Fi Adapter (USB Adapter is Wi-Fi 2 and Has Stronger Signals than On-Board)

This is where I was when the 2.4 GHz connection dropped a bar.  With the Wi-Fi Adapter plugged in, my home network is stronger and other networks become available.
This is where I was when the 2.4 GHz connection dropped a bar. With the Wi-Fi Adapter plugged in, my home network is stronger and other networks become available.

Ways to Add Remote Desktops to Your Network

If you need to hook up several different desktops to a remote area and do not want to run ethernet cable you can use your house's electrical circuitry to get your home network to another part of your house. NETGEAR has a product that lets you do this, called a wall-plugged ethernet bridge. The one trick is that it has to be plugged directly into the wall socket (no surge protector for instance). Since the original internet signal goes through a surge protector, this should not be a big problem. I have used this technology for over five years and still have the original equipment. I have an ethernet switch hooked up to the ethernet bridge. Then I can install multiple computers to the switch.

Another option, is to just buy a few USB Wi-Fi Adapters since they are cheap now. We use one in the computer we have upstairs in the bedroom.

There are also wireless access points that are especially attractive if you need to boost your wireless signal in another part of the house. When I looked into them a couple of times over the years, they didn't make the most sense for me. People were having trouble with them and I wasn't sure how reliable the connection would be to my primary router. If your house is big and you can connect with a 5GHz signal, this option might make more sense for you (or if you can afford it, run more cable).

So, you can mix and match solutions to fit your needs.

Internet Speed Test Results

Below is a table that shows the internet speed averages for the three network interface methods I performed for two cases. I used my on-board 5GHz, on-board 2.4GHz, and USB NET-DYN Adapter in each case. For the first case, the test spot was 9 feet away and there was a direct line of site to the router. For the second case, the test spot was 33 feet away from the router. There was no direct line of site to the router and there were two walls and appliances in between. For all tests, the laptop wax actually on my lap to simulate how most users use a laptop.

The 5GHz on-board connection was the fastest but the USB NET-DYN Adapter was not far behind. The 2.4GHz on-board device really suffered at the test spot 33 feet away from the laptop. You wouldn't have thought it would be so bad looking at the number of bars in the signal alone, but the connection was terribly slow and the trials took a lot longer. In fact, I gave up for the third test because the data just stopped.

Internet Speed Test Results Using On-board and USB Devices at Two Distances

(click column header to sort results)
Test  
Download (Mbs)  
Upload (Mbs)  
Ping (ms)  
5GHz On-board Near Router (9 feet)
23.76
12.12
24.67
2.4GHz On-board Near Router (9 feet)
17.93
12.14
25.33
2.4GHz USB NET-DYN Near Router (9 feet)
23.76
12.12
25.67
5GHz On-board Far Router (33 feet)
18.18
12.11
25.33
2.4GHz USB Far Router (33 feet)
0.55
3.96
27.00
2.4GHz USB NET-DYN Far Router (33 feet)
18.11
12.19
25.67
2.4GHz USB NET-DYN Device Did Almost as well as 5GHz On-board Device. Fastest result for each of the two distances is in bold.

Help Your Internet Range and Reliability

NET-DYN 300M USB WiFi Adapter N-2 dBi Antenna-300Mbps-Wireless Internet Dongle for PC Plus Mac
NET-DYN 300M USB WiFi Adapter N-2 dBi Antenna-300Mbps-Wireless Internet Dongle for PC Plus Mac

We have bought this and it works well for us at home and on the road. This is not dual band. For Windows 8.1, make sure you choose the Have Disk option and navigate to the .inf file on the included CD. If it installed and you cannot see networks, go to device and update driver using the one on the CD.

 

Tips to Speed Up Your Internet Speed (YouTube Video)

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Ethernet Bridge Plugs into House Electrical for Connecting Remote Computer(s)/TV to Network

NETGEAR XE102 Wall-Plugged Ethernet Bridge
NETGEAR XE102 Wall-Plugged Ethernet Bridge

We use this to bring our network into another room that isn't wired. It is hooked to a switch and then several computers or devices can be hooked up. It can be used with only a single computer or even a TV that needs ethernet.

 

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