What Are the Causes of Bad WiFi Reception?

Written by david dunning
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Wi-Fi products are based on the 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n standards developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, or IEEE. They rely on the radio air interfaces defined for use in unlicensed bands of the radio frequency spectrum --- specifically the 2.4 gigahertz and 5 gigahertz bands --- in the United States and other countries.

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Distance

Wi-Fi access points, devices that translate conventional Ethernet signals into wireless Ethernet signals and vice versa, have become the standard for local area networks. However, the strength of Wi-Fi signals decreases as the distance from an access point increases, so Wi-Fi devices that are out of range may suffer from poor reception. Wireless-N (802.11) devices have a range of up to 600 feet or more, but the range can be extended by positioning a device, known as a wireless repeater, halfway between the access point and the Wi-Fi device, to boost the signal.

Obstructions

In comparison to mobile phone and TV signals, Wi-Fi signals have a short wavelength and high frequency, which means that they are attenuated, or weakened, by a range of obstructions. Metal objects, walls and floors all interfere with Wi-Fi signals and the thicker the obstruction, and the closer it is to a Wi-Fi access point or device, the higher the level of interference and the poorer the reception.

Radio Interference

Many common household devices, including cordless phones and microwave ovens, use the 2.4 gigahertz frequency band and may interfere with Wi-Fi signals. In the case of wireless-G (802.11g) networks, this type of interference can be avoided by choosing household devices that use frequencies other than 2.4 gigahertz, such as 900 megahertz or 5.8 gigahertz. Wireless-N (802.11n) devices are capable of using the 5 gigahertz frequency band and are typically less prone to interference than other types of Wi-Fi device.

Weather Conditions & Vegetation

Poor Wi-Fi reception can also be caused by weather conditions and vegetation. Rain, by itself, does not usually interfere with Wi-Fi signals, but wet trees and vegetation can significantly weaken them. Wet trees, for example, can cause a signal loss of 16 decibels on average. Wind blowing through the leaves of trees can cause similar problems, if it reaches speeds of 5 miles per hour or more. Even in fair weather, coniferous trees cause a signal loss of 10 decibels on average, while deciduous trees can cause a signal loss of up to 12 decibels on average, depending on the season.

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