We love the freedom Wi-Fi provides: once you get a taste of being able to connect to the Internet wirelessly, it’s hard to imagine going back to being tethered to a desk. But just because you’ve set up a home Wi-Fi network doesn’t mean it’s working as well as it could be.
The Lamp Test
Placing your router right next to your desktop computer may sound like a good idea, but the computer itself can actually block the router’s signal. Hiding your router behind the TV or in a cabinet can have the same effect. Wi-Fi works best when you have direct line-of-sight between your router and your connected device: anything that gets in the way can lower the strength of your signal.
Imagine your router is a lamp and its signal is the light emitted by the lamp. Any “shady” areas will probably experience worse Wi-Fi reception than those in direct light. You’ll still have a signal in those shady areas, just as you can still see in the shade, but the signal won’t be as strong.
A wall and a couch can impede Wi-Fi signals, but electrical appliances can play a more active role: one of the main contributors to poor Wi-Fi performance is electrical interference. Your home is full of possible culprits, but many of the worst offenders are the ones that, like your router, produce radio waves: baby monitors and cordless telephones. Microwaves are another common source of Wi-Fi interference — they’re capable of degrading Wi-Fi speed by as much as 50 percent.
Some of the factors that can reduce Wi-Fi performance are fairly obvious, but others might come as a surprise. For example, a fish tank: it’s harder for Wi-Fi signals to pass through water than air, so don’t put your fish between your router and a spot where you’ll frequently use your Wi-Fi. Lamps are another surprise offender: fluorescent lights can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal.
Location, Location … Elevation
Even if there’s nothing nearby to block your router’s signal, its location still matters. Placing it in one far corner of the house might be the most convenient location, but the most convenient location and the best location aren’t always the same thing. Every Wi-Fi router’s performance degrades with distance. If it’s in one corner of the house and you’re in another, your Wi-Fi may not be as fast and reliable as it could be. To get the best performance out of your Wi-Fi, place the router either in a central location, providing maximum coverage for your home, or close to where you actually use it most often.
You can also unknowingly limit the quality of your Wi-Fi network by placing your router too low. Don’t leave it on the floor, or even worse, in the basement. Instead, place it as high as you reasonably can: the higher it is, the fewer obstructions the signal will have to pass through. If you live in a multistory home, place the router on the level where you’ll use it most frequently, or consider getting a Wi-Fi extender.
Not sure if you have a problem?
If you suspect your Wi-Fi should be faster than it is, there’s an easy way to test it. First, make sure you have a relatively new Wi-Fi router and know how much speed it’s capable of. If your equipment is up to date, try connecting your computer directly to your cable or high-speed modem using the Ethernet cord. If it’s dramatically faster than your Wi-Fi, you may have an interference problem.
If your Internet is still too slow when connected via cable, maybe what you really need is a new Internet Service Provider (ISP). Enter your ZIP code below to see which ISPs offer service in your area and to compare their plans. When it comes to installing your Internet service, you have one of two options — doing it yourself or hiring a professional. While some may prefer to let professionals handle the heavy lifting, others naturally enjoy DIY projects and may want to tackle the project themselves. Self-installing your XFINITY® Internet service is simple and straightforward, but you should make sure you are comfortable with all aspects of the process before getting started.
The Pros and Cons of Self-Installation
Self-installing your own Internet can prevent a lot of hassle, but it isn’t without its challenges. Here are a few of the biggest pros and cons to consider when deciding whether or not you want to attempt it on your own.
Timely: A self-installation is flexible and fits to your own schedule. You can set the whole system up whenever you want, and you don’t have to go through with the hassle of setting up an appointment with a professional service. Once you’ve set the system up, you’re ready to go.
Cost effective: Self-installation is free, and you won’t be charged the one-time fee that comes with a professional installation.
Customizable: The equipment can be set up to your own specific preferences. You can place your equipment wherever you’d like.
Challenging to troubleshoot: The service may require troubleshooting outside the scope of the basic installation guide. Depending on how complex the issue is, you may need to hire a technician.
Technically specific: While the process is quite simple, it may be intimidating to those who are less technically inclined, as there are a couple different cables to hook up. The self-installation guide for the modem may not give details on how to set up a more advanced wireless network.
Involved: Self-Installation requires a manual activation, which can take time. It requires access to the Internet or a phone line.
How to Install Your Own Internet Service
If you’ve decided to go the self-installation route, you may be wondering how to get started. The process is easier than it seems — you won’t need any special tools, and you can install the entire system without leaving your living room. Here is an outline of the whole procedure.
Order your XFINITY services.
Go online to select the Internet service that meets your needs. When ordering your XFINITY service online, you can opt to have a self-installation kit sent directly to your home.
Receive your equipment.
Wait to receive your kit by mail. If you’re especially eager to get things moving, you can call your nearest service center to see if they have kits in stock.
Install your equipment.
Your kit will come packaged with an installation guide, which outlines how the different components should be wired together. It should also come with either a modem or Wireless Gateway — depending on the kit you chose — as well as all necessary cables and accessories. The self-installation process itself is quite simple:
Connect your modem or Wireless Gateway to the cable wall outlet with a coaxial cable. The wall outlet should connect to the device’s “Cable/RF in” socket. If you are also using a cable TV set top box, you may need to use the coax cable splitter.
Connect your modem or Wireless Gateway to your network devices.
For a modem setup, use the included Ethernet cable to connect your modem to your computer. The cable should run from your modem’s Ethernet port.
For a Wireless Gateway setup that will include a Voice connection, run a telephone cable from the Tel 1 connection to your home phone.
Connect your modem or Wireless Gateway to a wall outlet using the power cord. If your device has a power button, switch it on.
Wait for the online connection light on the front side of your device to stop flashing and remain steadily lit. This can take up to 10 minutes.
Your cable modem or Wireless Gateway should now be up and running. Before you can connect to the Internet, however, you’ll need to activate your service.
Activate your equipment.
Self-installed equipment needs to be activated manually in order to be fully functional. There are two simple ways to activate your setup:
Online — Online installation requires a computer with Internet access.
Visit xfinity.com/activate. Note that some customers may be automatically redirected to that activation page upon opening a new browser after connecting your connection device.
That activation page will ask you to verify your identity with your account and phone numbers.
Once you have accessed your account, the site will walk you through the rest of the activation process.
By Phone — Activate your modem by calling XFINITY’s automated phone system at 1-855-OK-BEGIN (1-855-652-3446). Make sure you have all necessary account and device information with you — including your account phone number, the last four digits of your device’s serial number, and the equipment location — before you call the line. Once you’re connected to the system, it will walk you through the activation process.
After activation, your Internet service should be up and running. You can now connect to the Internet. If your XFINITY modem is Wi-Fi capable, you can also configure your home Wi-Fi system.
Configure your home Wi-Fi (if applicable).
At this point, if you are using an XFINITY modem, your computer should be connected to the Internet. However, if you’re setting up a Wireless Gateway, you’ll need to configure the equipment create a wireless network for your Wi-Fi enabled devices. You can find a Quick-Start guide in your self-installation kit that will be tailored to your specific Wireless Gateway. The guide will walk you through setting up your home network by using the network name and password on the side of the device.
Note: If any of these steps fall outside of your abilities, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional for assistance.
Self-installation can save you a great deal of hassle and money. If you’re looking to get connected, buy an XFINITY Internet self-installation kit and you’ll have your network up and running in no time.
*Instructions are accurate as of publication and are subject to change with changes in equipment. Imagine you’re at a hotel or convention center for a business conference. You have to download some files from your server back at the office, so you turn on your Wi-Fi hot spot. For some reason, it won’t work and you can’t troubleshoot the problem. So you inquire about accessing the convention center’s Wi-Fi network. Of course you can get access, they say. It’s only $80 per day. That price is obscene, but if you need those files, what would you do? It’s a decision you shouldn’t — and don’t — have to make.
No Need to Imagine
In August, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined Smart City Holdings $750,000 for blocking mobile Wi-Fi hot spots at its convention centers in at least four states so that it could charge guests for use of their network. The company issued a press release that said, in essence, “We didn’t know we couldn’t do that, and besides, everyone else is doing it, too.”
Being forced to pay for access is especially frustrating when network performance is poor, as is often the case with hotel Wi-Fi. Your mobile hot spot can probably outperform most hotel networks, and you can buy a mobile hot spot or pay for a month’s worth of access for less than Smart City Holdings was charging for a single day.
A Federal Case
As annoying as it would be to have your Wi-Fi hot spot blocked, some people might argue that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in such a case: if you don’t like it, book the convention somewhere else. Their convention center, their rules, right?
In this case, wrong. The federal government has the power to regulate interstate commerce, and the FCC is specifically tasked with regulating wireless communications across the country. So when any private entity attempts to block FCC-approved wireless communications, they’re in the FCC’s house, and the FCC makes the rules.
Fight for Your Right to Wi-Fi
The first step in preventing such a problem from happening to you is to know your rights. According to a January press release from the FCC:
“No hotel, convention center, or other commercial establishment or the network operator providing services at such establishments may intentionally block or disrupt personal Wi-Fi hot spots on such premises, including as part of an effort to force consumers to purchase access to the property owner’s Wi-Fi network.”
It might be worth bookmarking that press release on your smartphone or laptop just in case you wind up at a conference center that isn’t as up on the law as it should be.
Not an Isolated Incident
Smart City Holdings isn’t the first company to violate the prohibition against Wi-Fi blocking — and they most likely won’t be the last. Last year, the FCC fined Marriott Hotel Services, Inc., $600,000 for blocking Wi-Fi access at their Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.
The FCC calls the complaints it has received regarding Wi-Fi blocking “a disturbing trend,” and urges anyone who feels they’ve been the victim of such blocking to report the incident to them at fcc.gov/complaints or call 1-888-CALL-FCC. A new study from research firm Parks Associates, working on behalf of the Multimedia Over Coax Alliance (MOCA), shows that if you’ve been having problems with your home wireless network, you’re not alone. Titled “Consumer Interest in Wired solutions to Wireless Home Networking Problems: Quantitative Findings,” the report sure doesn’t sound like a page-turner. But the results from a 1,000 home survey, specifically homes with wireless broadband networks, contains information that other such households will find interesting and relevant regarding wireless network performance and reliability.
The study found that, overall, 40 percent of U.S. homes with wireless broadband routers have experienced problems with their wireless networks. Among those reporting problems, the most common complaint was a lack of signal or a slow signal in certain areas of the home, reported by 87 percent of respondents. More than 60 percent of those reporting this problem have been unable to fully resolve it. The report says that, extrapolated for the full U.S., this data means that 15 million U.S. homes experience these problems.
We can’t contradict the data, but we can’t help but notice that it does benefit the wired network providers that commissioned the study. Ultimately, you shouldn’t be afraid of trying a home Wi-Fi network, but you shouldn’t be surprised by some degree of problems.
The Bigger the House, the Bigger the Problem
The size of your home is a contributing factor to wireless network reliability. Those with homes over 3,000 square feet are nearly four times as likely to experience problems as those with 2,000 square foot homes. And that fact makes sense, as Wi-Fi transmitters have a limited range, and homes are full of wiring and electronics that can interfere with Wi-Fi signals. It’s possible to strengthen your signal using a second router as an extender or repeater, but if you don’t have a second one lying around, your cost of connectivity will obviously go up.
Buying or renting more equipment isn’t a guarantee of better performance. The report says that 79 percent of those who purchased additional networking equipment specifically for this purpose have considered using a wired solution. So attempting to boost the strength of the Wi-Fi signal obviously hasn’t worked for everyone.
It’s considerations like these that may affect your decision on whether to buy or rent your connection equipment. If rented equipment is to blame for network problems, your ISP should replace that equipment free of charge. But if you bought that equipment, you’ll be on the hook to replace it yourself. It’s also possible that some ISPs won’t offer as much tech support for certain brands you’ve bought yourself, as they will for their own supplied equipment.
We Need More Speed
More than a quarter of those surveyed, 27 percent, say their problems are at least partially due to too many connected devices and not enough bandwidth. That’s going to be more of a problem as Internet of Things (IoT)-connected devices take up more home bandwidth, and as data-heavy activities like video streaming increase in popularity and quality.
Fortunately, the solution to speed and bandwidth problems is more straightforward than that of solving other networking problems. If you’re not getting enough speed or bandwidth from your current connection, there might be other high-speed Internet providers that can help, and searching for the plan that’s right for you has never been easier. Late last year, we reported on an effort to solve the logistical problem of burying fiber for high-speed networks by using lasers to transmit data across long distances. Now a group of researchers from the University of Edinburgh think that lasers might be the answer to improving current Wi-Fi speeds. They’re thinking smaller but faster, as a localized wireless solution rather than a citywide network.
Wi-Fi? More Like “Why-Bother-Fi.”
Current Wi-Fi technology uses portions of the radio broadcast spectrum to transmit data and the current Wi-Fi 802.11ad standard has the theoretical potential to deliver 7 Gbps. In practice, it doesn’t, of course. A 7-gig network would be seven times as fast as our country’s fastest current fiber networks.
One technology already proven faster than Wi-Fi is Li-Fi. This technology uses rapidly-pulsing light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to transmit data and offers the potential for 15 Gbps. Theoretically, Li-Fi networks could use the same LED light bulbs that are starting to replace traditional halogen and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs in homes and automotive applications. While doing so wouldn’t be necessary, it’s a pretty cool use of technology, though it does make you wonder if the network would be working after you turn off the lights.
Harald Haas, a member of the Ultra-Parallel Visible Light Communications Project, is also Chair of Mobile Communications at the University of Edinburgh. Researchers at that school have already been working on Li-Fi technology for some time, and in recent experiments, they replaced LED Li-Fi transmitters with laser diodes. Lasers are more efficient than LEDs, and in a paper published in the academic journal “Optics Express,” Haas and his team claimed the laser transmitters enabled wireless data transmission rates of 100 Gbps. Whether using lasers or sheep-based networks, the U.K. is on top of wireless broadband.
Implementation Won’t Be as Fast as Transmission
Don’t go scrapping your current Wi-Fi network just yet, though. Haas notes that there are a few obstacles to implementing this technology: the first is the fact that radio-based Wi-Fi is already in widespread use, with new networks constantly being created. Many network providers are going to be hesitant to change over to abandon current technology after spending the money to put it in place.
And money itself is a factor. LED lighting is more expensive than current halogen or CFL bulbs, but LED flashlights and even home lighting is already available at your nearest home improvement store. Not so for laser lighting. Haas points out that the headlights on the BMW I8 use this laser technology, but those headlights cost more than $10,000. However, LED headlights were unheard of once as well. Now, that cost and technology has trickled down to use on Subaru’s. It takes time, but the price of technology always falls.
It’s Great, but Not a Reality Yet
Here we are again, teasing you with another example of awesome future technology that you can’t have yet. Sorry about that, but we can at least offer to help you find a better, faster Internet plan than the one you currently have.
Photo Credit: Andrea Pacell/Flikr You may one day be able to send a tweet from the Moon. Researchers have found a way to establish a Wi-Fi connection on the Moon by transmitting data through lasers.
The Optical Society is reporting that researchers from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, with help from NASA, were able to transmit high-definition video streaming and large data transfers from a facility in White Sands, New Mexico.
Researchers had been struggling to find ways to establish a laser-communication uplink that could withstand both the distance and turbulence between the Earth and the Moon, but were recently able to successfully transmit data at a rate much higher than anything previously achieved.
“Communicating at high data rates from Earth to the Moon with laser beams is challenging because of the 400,000-kilometer distance spreading out the light beam,” Mark Stevens of the MIT laboratory says. “It’s doubly difficult going through the atmosphere, because turbulence can bend light—causing rapid fading or dropouts of the signal at the receiver.”
Last October they were able to transmit data from the Earth to the Moon, through their Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, at a download rate of 19.44 megabits per second. Data sent in reverse, from the Moon to the Earth, was transmitted at a download rate of 622Mbps, which is faster than any radio frequency system on Earth.
By comparison the standard transmission rate in the U.S. for the average user is only 7.4 Mbps. In a large city, such as San Francisco, they can reach upwards of 75 Mbps.
To achieve this high transfer rate, researchers set up four separate lasers that could send an uplink signal to the Moon by sending information as pulses of invisible infrared light.
The megabits per second they calculated were around five times faster than the normal speed that NASA achieves through the use of radio waves.
NASA is using the research to create more efficient laser-based communication relays to replace those currently in use. The research has far-reaching impacts, and could potentially be used to increase data transmission speeds during missions to places as far away as Mars.
Spacecraft would be capable of transmitting data at far greater speeds through the use of lasers than radio waves, as well sending images at much higher resolutions from deep space than is currently possible.
The LLCD is a prototype for a more advanced project coming in 2017. MIT, along with NASA, plans to launch the Laser Communication Relay Demonstration to further study the implications of data transmission from the Earth to the Moon and hopes to establish a system to beam data more efficiently throughout the solar system.
By researching more effective ways to transmit data across long distances, scientists hope to one day use their findings to increase the capacity and speed at which we transmit data through simple technology like television and phones.
Even though we’re probably light years away from living on the Moon, the technology capable of being developed through researching it are clearly coming much sooner.
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