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Five Ways to Speed Up Your Home Network

By Bill Snyder, CIO
January 24, 2011 02:49 PM ET

CIO - Maybe you're tired of paying the cable company and want to get your movies and other entertainment from the Web. Naturally you'll want to watch those shows on your TV with the aid of a Roku box or similar device. More and more people are doing that, and if you want to join the crowd, you've got to be sure you're home Internet network is up to the challenge.

Connected TVs are an utter drag without a fast network. Squeezing the most out performance out of your network is called optimizing, and it isn't very hard, and it doesn't have to be all that expensive.

Here are five things that will make your home network so good you'll be able to say farewell to your cable company.

But first, let me warn you about one thing: Your wireless network simply can't run any faster than your Internet connection. If you have reason to think your network isn't running as fast as it used to -- or as fast as it should, given your hardware -- go to http://www.speedtest.net/ and check your download and upload speeds and compare them to what your provider says you're getting. Obviously you want to check the speed on a wired connection first to rule out (or identify) your ISP as the culprit.

1. Move the Router

With that out of the way, let's start with the very simplest technique to optimize your wireless network. I know this sounds simpleminded, but trust me: Think about moving your router to a more central location, or to a room that doesn't have thick walls or a lot of other equipment that might cause interference. The router broadcasts a signal that spreads in a sphere, so if it's centered on the back of the house, or in the basement, the signal might not make it to all the rooms where you'd like to connect a device to the Internet.

2. Consider Your Cordless Phone

Cordless phones can cause interference since some of them broadcast on the same channel that your router does. If you think it's an issue for you, try changing channels on the phone and see if that cleans up your connection.

3. Buy an Extender

Let's say your biggest issue is extending the range of your network, and moving the router is simply not practical. One way to go is to buy a range extender. There are a number on the market for under $100. However, you'll pay a performance penalty since extenders degrade the strength of the signal. That might not matter if you're just surfing the Web, but if you're a serious online gamer, they're not. Nor are they a good way to hook up the new generation of televisions and boxes (like the Roku) that stream movies and video into your TV.

4. Think Powerline

If that's the case, here's a better solution: Take advantage of the wiring in your home to move the signal close to your TV. You do that by buying a product that complies with standards set by the Homeplug Powerline Alliance. There are more than 120 companies that sell Powerline gear, but in general, they all work about the same way.

Rather than broadcast a Wi-Fi signal, Powerline products move the signal over existing wiring in your home or office. Generally what you'll do is connect one Powerline adapter to your broadband modem or router, and then connect it to a wall socket (not a surge protector or power strip). Plug a second adapter into a socket in the room where the device you want to connect to the Internet is located, and connect the device to the adapter with an Ethernet cable. That's it. You're done. And you've probably spent about $125 for the networking gear. Be sure that any adapter kit you buy comes with at least two adapters -- the minimum for creating a network.

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