Ones and Zeroes and the air.
December 29, 2008 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand wireless. I have an aluminum iMac, a unibody Macbook, and an iPhone 3G.

So I do not seem to understand WiFi in the slightest.

Here's what I'd like:

- For my Macbook to be able to connect to the internet when I'm home.

- For my iPhone to be able to do iPhone things without using my phone company (Fido, in Canada, if that matters) as I have no data plan. For instance, I'd like to be able to view Google Maps on my iPhone when I'm at home without fear of it connecting to the internet without the use of my iMac.

- For all of my items to be able to talk to one another regardless of the internet (for instance, can I copy files between the iMac and the Macbook without involving the internet?).

Whenever I try and connect the computers, I end up with a very weak signal on my Macbook that is less than 20 feet from the iMac with no walls between.

When trying to choose a network, I can see all my neighbors' signals with stronger signals than my own computer even though there are heavy brick walls and greater distance between us--however, they're all password protected. How do they all have such strong signals?

What, exactly, do I have to do to achieve the above?
posted by Manhasset to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have a wireless access point? Like an Airport Extreme? Or is your iMac currently plugged directly with a wire into your router/DSL modem/cable modem/whatever?

Basically WiFi devices need an access point to connect to. It doesn't sound like you have one.
posted by GuyZero at 5:02 PM on December 29, 2008

Don't have my mac with me right now, but here goes:
Go to System Preferences - > Sharing on the iMac, and then the Internet Sharing tab. You should be able to choose what internet connection you want to share (Your LAN cable, most likely) and what you want to share it over (AirPort). It should be pretty straightforward.

Then you'll have a wireless network that your Macbook and your iPhone can connect to.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:04 PM on December 29, 2008

You need a wireless router. The router will be between your iMac and your modem, and will connect wirelessly to your Macbook and iPhone. This will serve as all three device's access point. Currently, it sounds as though you're using the iMac as an access point which will result in the weak signal compared to a much more powerful router.

If you have a friend who can do it, ask them to set it up for you. Even if you have to pay them, they'll do it for cheaper than, say, the Geek Squad, and will do a better job.

As for the iPhone, I don't have one, so hopefully someone else has an idea.
posted by papayaninja at 5:04 PM on December 29, 2008

I should have read the question more carefully- i see you've already tried using the iMac as a wireless hub. Sorry about that.

If the iPhone is anything like an iPod Touch, you can go to Preferences - > Wi-Fi and select the network from there, though.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:13 PM on December 29, 2008

Yeah, I just read the relevant parts of the manual, and the iPhone will use wi-fi over the data network whenever there is a network present.
posted by papayaninja at 5:16 PM on December 29, 2008

And by "over the data network," I mean, "before it tries to connect to the data network." Not that it will actually connect using the data network. Poor word choice...
posted by papayaninja at 5:18 PM on December 29, 2008

Go here and decide which wireless router you want. The Airport Express is cheaper and does a little less, while the Airport Extreme is more expensive, but can handle both wired and wireless computers. Either is worth every penny. You can get a cheaper routers, but Apple's routers are much easier to configure, especially if you're unfamiliar with wireless.

You'll need a cable modem or other high speed access (such as DSL). The cable modem will plug into the router and be the main connection point for all the wireless devices. Yes, you'll be able to copy things between computers without involving the Internet, as long as you turn on sharing on the macs.

I have an iPod Touch and as long as I have a Wifi connection, I can use Google Maps just fine. I believe the iPhone is designed to prefer using a wifi connection over the cell network when wifi is available, can an iPhone user verify?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:28 PM on December 29, 2008

Response by poster: Sorry, I forgot to mention that my iMac is connected to the internet with a 2Wire 2700HG-B, which is a wireless access point. Yes?
posted by Manhasset at 5:39 PM on December 29, 2008

Where have you placed your wireless access point? Does the signal get any better if you elevate your access point? Some ways to improve your signal strength. Simply changing the placement and orientation of your access point can do wonders for signal strength.
posted by strangecargo at 6:29 PM on December 29, 2008

This won't help with signal strength, but Go to "Settings" on our iPhone/Touch and make sure "Ask to join Networks" is "Off." Otherwise you'll have to look for your home network every time you wander out of, and then back into, your local WiFi area.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:52 PM on December 29, 2008

Call up Fido and ask them to disable data on the phone. I've done this, and the iPhone only uses WiFi.
posted by typography at 7:05 PM on December 29, 2008

Sharing files between your macs is not a wifi issue, it's a LAN issue (wired or wireless). To get this working, go into your Sharing preference pane on each mac and turn on file sharing.

You should then go into the Finder be able to discover the other Mac on your network, and connect to it. If you connect using the login of the target machine (regardless of the login you've set up on the machine you're sitting at, which might be the same), you'll have complete access to its hard drive.

There are apps for the iPhone (airsharing, etc) that let you copy files between mac and iPhone, but they don't give you access to the kinds of files managed through iTunes (media, contacts, calendars, etc).
posted by adamrice at 7:29 PM on December 29, 2008

For the iPhone, I would also recommend having auto-checking of email off (you probably have this off anyway if you're using it without a data plan, but just in case). Brandon is correct; the iPhone will prefer to use wifi networks over the cellular network, but you don't want to get caught in a situation where your phone downloads a ton of email overnight because something burped and it couldn't see the wifi network.

(As an aside, I believe if you jailbreak your iPhone you can even turn cellular data off entirely--in a stock version of the iPhone software, you can turn 3G off, but never EDGE--so you won't have to worry about it, but I've never jailbroken so I don't know how it works. You can also use the iPhone in airplane mode and continue to use wifi, but you won't receive calls that way.)

It sounds like your wireless access point is just weak, if you're seeing your neighbors' signals as a lot stronger than yours... if changing placement doesn't work, I would suggest calling your DSL provider (I assume they gave the 2Wire WAP to you, since the Amazon page indicates that that model also doubles as a modem?) and asking them if that kind of behavior is normal... you could have a bad unit. Make sure that the firmware for the unit is current, too... check with the manufacturer's website.
posted by Kosh at 8:01 PM on December 29, 2008

There are a few things you can do to help with wireless reception:

1. Change the channel on your wireless router. There are three non-overlapping channels in wifi: 1, 6, and 11. So if you are on 6 then try 11.

2. Move your router to a more central and high location. If its under the couch or in a room with thick walls then move it on top of a bookcase in a different room.

3. Unplug your cordless phone from the wall to see if thats causing problems.

Signal strength indicators are not accurate. Your neighbors signal may seem strong but you probably wouldnt be able to connect to it. Just try to get the best signal you can and dont worry about your neighbors so much.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:01 PM on December 29, 2008

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