Friday, October 27, 2006

Another try at Wi-Fi

I usually post about my Wi-Fi troubles at This Old PC, but the focus of my tests of late have been the iBook G4, which is actually getting almost to the age at which it could be considered "old."

Bottom line, I'd like the wireless router to be able to hit both the iBook and This Old PC, which is in The Back Room, about 50 to 60 feet away. Sounds easy? But it's not. I think that This Old House's lath-and-plaster walls are made with some kind of metal grating that acts as a Faraday shield of sorts, keeping RF from getting into the house if it's too weak. At least that's the case with TV channels 2 and 4, which we have a hell of a time getting (no, we don't have cable).

And I don't want to have a wireless router kicking out 2.4 GHz RF, even at a tenth of a watt, a foot from my head all night. It just doesn't sound like a good idea. So there's one phone jack near the aforementioned head, another in the kitchen at the "telephone table" (this is a late-'40s house where the idea of a telephone nook must've been fashionable.) Well, even though it is only about 20 feet from the iBook, the signal was intermittent. And This Old PC couldn't get it at all.

So after a few months off of trying, I plugged in the router near the front door, probably 5 to 10 feet farther from the iBook, and the signal is virtually perfect. I checked in The Back Room, and This Old PC gets it pretty well (but the Wi-Fi card back there is more forgiving that the Airport Extreme in the iBook, so a weaker signal does better out there -- and since we use the iBook about 20 times as much, it has to be solid in This Old House).

I took it a step further, and now the router is in the coat closet near the front door. The perfect place for it to rest. If only there was a phone line and electrical plug in the closet. Not the kind of thing that 1940s houses are famous for.

But there's a light on the ceiling. It doesn't work -- I think the pull cord broke the first year we lived here. I've got a couple of spares somewhere in my shed (don't know why, but I've got them). And there are those thingies you can screw into a light socket to turn it into a two-pronged electrical socket. Almost none of this house is wired with three-prong electrical sockets anyway, so I'm used to not having them.

Anyway, if the light-socket-to-electrical-socket thing works, I can bring a phone line in through the floor and move the router and DSL modem in there permanently -- and the Wi-Fi that comes in to the bedroom will be super solid in the living room/dining room -- about 10 feet from the router.

I still have to check The Back Room to see how the signal is doing back there. I'm hopeful that it's good. Next would be a full test -- actually getting the modem itself up there (120V currently being supplied by a long extension cord) to do a couple of speed tests to make sure the connection is good.

And if that pans out, I'm gonna go wild and spend $19.99 on a refurbished Netgear 802.11g router (to replace the free 802.11b I'm running the tests with). Man, that's livin'.

Before anything more gets done, time to paint the house.

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