The IT guy remembers the service call well. His clients’ wireless computer network was suffering slow Internet transmission speeds, lumbering downloads and uploads, and recurring outages. The wireless network was several years old, a fact made worse by the client’s two-story home’s concrete block construction. Thick walls and distance taxed the unit’s transmissions. Moreover, the use of several cordless phones in the 2.4 GHz frequency interfered with the wireless network’s signal. When it was installed several years ago, the technology was leading edge with peripheral hardware and services like digital cameras, online gaming and music downloads. Several years later, their network was stretched way beyond its means. The remedy: Upgrade the network and replace the cordless phones with those in the 5.8 GHz range. As a result, transmission speeds increased and the connections were reliable throughout the home and everyone in the house was pleased.
This family’s situation was a “poster child for reasons why an upgrade of a wi-fi router was necessary,” said the IT Guy. Companies or consumers who installed a wireless network when the technology emerged in the early 2000s were on the leading edge of wireless connectivity. Today, though, that same hardware can lag significantly behind the current technology, leaving users with service outages, slow throughput and lost productivity.
The average lifespan for wireless hardware is three to four years, said David Henry, director of product marketing for consumer products for NetGear Inc., a provider of wireless products. Yet, with advances in wireless devices, “they usually become obsolete before they die,” he said.
In the early 2000s, most consumers and businesses bought leading-edge 802.11b wireless routers so two computers could share the same broadband connection. Today, with file-sharing, network storage devices, large document or graphic downloads, even online music and gaming demands, the “throughput” or amount of data traveling across the network saps the “B” system’s capacity, range and stability, Henry says. Some business or home networks that started with two PCs may now have a half-dozen or more, some of which could be on the other side of concrete walls.
“The application they got it for three years ago isn’t what they need today,” he says. “Older devices can have a hard time dealing with multitasking. You don’t want your router to be the bottleneck, because you’re paying for [broadband] speed that you’re not getting.”
Even the microwave oven and Bluetooth devices can degrade the signal. The proliferation of consumer wireless networks doesn’t help. Dense urban markets can have more than two dozen wireless networks showing up on a network search list.
Solutions to remedy seemingly unstable routers could be an upgrade of the software running the device, or the “firmware,” or switching the router to a less-used frequency. The solution for many today is replacing older devices with an 802.11g or 802.11n wireless router. Once the IT guy installed an 802.11n router, and replaced the 2.4 GHz phones with the 5.8 GHz phones, the client’s problem seemed solved. What had been a nightmare was easily resolved.
Since the ’80s, Jeff Zbar has been a writer, speaker and spokesman on all facets of working from home and entrepreneurship. His columns and blogs have appeared via Entrepreneur, Success Magazine, Home Office Computing and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and he has been a small business expert on national television and radio. Learn more at www.chiefhomeofficer.com.