Help me Macguyver better WiFi reception at work
May 21, 2010 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to pick up the new WiFi network at work with my laptop but the reception at my desk is just not quite there.

This is a network over a large campus and I don't have the option of saying to the people 'hey, fix my WiFi reception' because it isn't essential for my job but they don't care if I do manage to get on the network but I am on my own doing it.
I tried setting up a router in a spot with reception and then configuring it to 'extend a wireless network' but it said 'this network cannot be extended'.
My laptop is a MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo (before the uni-body redesign) and I was thinking maybe an option is an ExpressCard WiFi antenna that specializes in picking up weak signals (that Pringles can mod comes to mind) because I know the aluminum body on my laptop is not the best for WiFi reception. As it is right now it is the kind of reception where sometimes I have 2 bars and sometimes I have nothing, but even the 2 bars isn't enough to get a connection. I have to take my laptop to a spot with full bars to get on the network. If I can just boost my reception or find a way to repeat the signal from a spot with better reception. Any ideas?
posted by dino terror to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
You could try a USB or ExpressCard adapter, sure; especially one that can take an external antenna. It'd be better to borrow one of these setups if you know someone with one, they can be expensive just to find out that you still don't have signal.

Try to use a program like Netstumbler to find the best spot in your office, the place with the highest signal, and maybe try the router extension idea with the router in that spot.

If you manage to get an external antenna that's plugged into an adapter, and there's still no signal, a simple directional antenna like that pringles thing can be successful, I've used it to concentrate the wireless signal from the router into one direction and get online. But they're tricky and annoying, so best of luck!
posted by geodave at 3:45 PM on May 21, 2010

By the sounds of the error message you're using an Apple Airport router to extend the primary network. From my understanding, this will only work if the primary wireless network you have extended is allowing bridged connections.

Is it possible to get a hard-wired connection for the airport router? Then you should have no problem sharing out the wired connection.

I'm not sure on this, but I think if you use a dd-wrt firmware distribution on a compatible router, you may not need the primary wireless network to allow bridged connections. Again, I'm not sure of this. You could try posting the problem in the dd-wrt forums and see if anyone's had luck with a similar situation.
posted by pahool at 4:01 PM on May 21, 2010

Since you said you tried to setup at router in a spot with reception, I assume your work doesn't' care about you randomly installing network equipment. I would go with that route and set it to extend (repeater) the network. You are on the right track, you are just having issues with it, so don't give up. What model router?
posted by sygyzy at 4:02 PM on May 21, 2010

What model router?

pahool was correct: it is an Airport Extreme Base Station. I can't get wired input to the Base Station. I could wire the output from it, but I'm not sure that gets around not being able to extend the network or not.
posted by dino terror at 4:22 PM on May 21, 2010

You are right that the aluminum is not the best for Wifi reception. The first step is to use a program like iStumbler or Kismac to find exactly where the signal is. Once you have a better picture of its strength and location, you can then get a better idea of what kind of solution would be best.
My first inclination would be to go with a USB wifi adapter on the end of (if necessary) the longest USB cable you can find. This would enable you to put it in a place, such as a window, which gets good signal. These crazy people have come up with wonderful solutions which use parabolic noodle strainers as signal amplifiers. That might be just the thing to work. This might be the cheapest, easiest solution. You just need to find out which USB adapters are mac compatible- I know we've used D-link in the past on Macs, and I seem to recall Hawking and Linksys make some as well. I remember the Kismac people have a page on hardware compatibility.
I've had to support long range wifi here, and we did find the Pringle's can antenna ("Cantenna" is a premade brand) does work well, but it is highly directional, so you need to find out where the signal is, carefully aim it and fix it so it won't move. If you're technically inclined, you can make one and save yourself the $50, but the measurements need to be quite precise.
posted by MacChimpman at 10:07 AM on May 22, 2010

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