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You’re all set to work at home: The company techies configured your laptop so you can log on remotely. You installed a firewall on the laptop, just to make sure your data is secure. The cable guy installed the broadband Internet connection, complete with WiFi, or wireless access. He said connecting wouldn’t be a problem, even though your office is upstairs and your WiFi base station is downstairs. Now you, like the other 5.3 million U.S. households with wireless broadband at home, can boot up and do a few hours of work, right? Not so fast. You try to get on to the Internet, but can’t connect. What’s the problem? Wireless networks, it often seems, were designed by people who live in studio apartments. How else to explain why the signal, like a moody teenager, never makes it from the bedroom to the living room? The fact is, wireless signals are even worse than a 15-year-old � without a little hands-on intervention, they will always disappoint. Forget what the base station’s box says about getting a range of 150 feet. Unless you live in a tiny, empty apartment, the walls, floors, and appliances in your home will dramatically cut that distance. Luckily, fixing these problems � your I.T. staff isn’t likely to pay you a house call � isn’t hard. A couple of gizmos, like repeaters and extended antennae, easily cure most reception problems. Sometimes, doing something as simple as moving furniture and appliances around can boost wireless connections, too. Microwave ovens and cordless phones can also interfere with wireless networks. While microwave ovens operate in the same part of the radio spectrum � 2.4 GHz � as the most common types of wireless networks (known as 802.11b and 802.11g wireless), only older ovens, with their less-effective shielding, actually interfere with wireless signals. And the interference won’t break wireless signals, but just slow them down. Cordless phones can cause problems, too, but only those that use the 2.4-GHz frequency. Older phones that operate at 900 MHz and newer ones that work at 5.8 GHz won’t give you problems. Simply move the computer and base station away from the oven and phone. Changing the channel that the wireless network operates on may help, too. Believe it or not, fish tanks (water sops up radio waves) and baby monitors can also interfere with wireless signals. So can that big metal filing cabinet sitting next to the base station (or, indeed, any large metal object near your wireless gear). With a little trial and error, all of these items can be repositioned so that they don’t hinder the WiFi network. Walls are tougher. Wireless signals would never make it out of Alcatraz: They might work through two or three walls before calling it quits, which is why that 150-foot range often seems more like 50. Construction materials play a role here, too. Homes and offices built from Sheetrock and wood are more wireless-friendly than those constructed out of steel and concrete. But strategic placement of wireless equipment can mitigate bad effects. “You want to place your wireless access point [base station] in a central location, and then put it somewhere high, such as on a desk,” says David Useloff, a technology consultant in Boston. “You’ll get better range than if you leave it on the floor.” Even after a little redecorating, the wireless signal may not travel as far as advertised � especially in the summer, when it’s awfully tempting to surf the Web from your backyard. If this is the case, consider buying a small, inexpensive device called a repeater. These products, which are available at most computer and electronics stores for under $100, take a weakening wireless signal, strengthen it, and send it back on its way; in effect, taking a signal in mid-transit and starting over again. By placing a repeater at a point where the signal is still fairly decent, with a strength level of, say, 40 percent, you can boost and bounce your signal to the far reaches of your home or backyard. (Check signal levels by walking around with a laptop running your router’s diagnostic utility or open to the wireless network control panel in Microsoft Windows.) Repeaters are available from the big WiFi networking manufacturers, including Linksys and D-Link; sometimes they go by the name “range extender.” Repeaters, however, have a nasty habit of being difficult to configure. Take a look at the user reviews on Amazon .com; there’s more frustration there than among Lost fans waiting six weeks for a new episode. There are compatibility issues, too: Not all repeaters work with all routers and wireless access points. Repeaters do have an excellent reputation once you get them set up, and can easily boost a signal into your patio, garage, or basement. Another option to increase wireless range is to add an antenna. Linksys, for example, sells a pair of enhanced antennae � at a cost of $60 � that screw onto its routers (after screwing off the existing antennae) to boost their signal. Hobbyists (and hackers) have long built their own antennae � one of the most popular designs is made from a Pringles can and called, appropriately, a “cantenna” � attaching them to their laptops to pick up far-off signals. There are all sorts of designs and construction tips posted on the Web. But before you hunker down in your home workshop, note that the Federal Communications Commission frowns on antennae it hasn’t approved. Finally, you can take the Spinal Tap approach: If there isn’t enough power on ten, crank it up to 11. Typical wireless base stations generate 100 milliwatts of power, which is what limits their range to a disappointing (yet often mythical) couple of hundred feet. Manufacturers keep power at this level because more powerful routers would generally be more expensive. Yet the FCC allows manufacturers to go up to 1,000 milliwatts. One vendor, a Utah company called Bountiful WiFi, has decided that there is a market for souped-up, and priced-up, routers. In July it introduced its Bountiful Router, which touts a signal range of 1,200 feet. The device generates ten times the power of a typical router for roughly ten times the price (selling for $625). Designed for businesses that need to WiFi an entire building, the Bountiful Router can also be installed on a home network. “We’ve put it in a 56,000-square-foot facility, but it’s been installed in large homes as well,” boasts David Egbert, the company’s president and CEO. Just be sure to activate the router’s security. All that signal means all that access, and not just for you, either. If you want to be a good neighbor, invite the block to your barbecue � not onto your network. Alan Cohen is a New York � based freelance writer who writes regularly about legal issues and technology.

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