Wireless access point problems

Nutter helps a reader who's laptop keeps connecting to the wrong access point.

I have wireless access points set up throughout my building. When I'm in one room with my laptop, it tends to pick up a signal from an access point across the hall and won't connect to the nearest one unless I manually go into settings and force it. It will eventually connect but with a low strength signal and only around 2M bit/sec; it should be 11M bit/sec. I spent hours on the phone with customer service only to have them tell me things I already knew. Any help from you would be greatly appreciated.

- Via the Internet

There are several things to look at here. First, make sure you're using different channels on the different access points. Although there are 11 802.11b channels available in the U.S. (more or less in other countries depending on local regulations), this doesn't mean you can use all of them. Think of it like FM radio - you can have stations close to each other but you may not always be able to hear the one you want. This is due to something called the "capture effect," in which the strongest signal rules, but not always. In some cases, the two signals can cancel each other out causing a problem where you may not hear either or the one you want. In the U.S., it's best to use Channels 1, 6 and 11. These Wi-Fi channels don't overlap and will give you the best chance of getting a good wireless setup. May sure that you don't have the same channel in use in adjacent access points.

Also look at the antenna used by your access points. The small black rubber antenna used by most vendors may be alright in some situations but not others. Get the access point mounted where it has a clear view of the area you want it to cover. If you still have problems connecting to the desired access point, you may need to look at a beefier antenna. Some access points don't allow you to change the antenna, others do. If yours won't, go get one that does. You may find that what you need will cost less than $50.

Finally, make sure that the firmware on the access point is the latest available from your vendor. If the software allows for auto-roaming by the access point to find a clear channel, disable that for now - at least until you get your wireless setup working a little better. If you are using access points from different vendors, look at the transmitter power ratings. All access points are not created equal. Some of the bargain-priced access points are cheap for a reason, the transmitter isn't very strong. Make sure that the SSID setting you're using for the access points is the same just to rule that out as a possible problem.

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