All my router-y neighbors are jamming my internets!
October 29, 2010 1:15 PM   Subscribe

How can I reduce/eliminate interference from other wireless routers in my apartment building? I have a Belkin Wireless N+ router connected to a Linksys modem with Comcast cable internet.

I live in an 8-story apartment building. I was gone for the summer, and ever since I got back I have been having trouble keeping my various wireless devices connected to the internet. My setup is the same as it was before I left, but whereas in May I would see maybe 3 or 4 other wireless networks, now I'm seeing anywhere from 12-16!

Specifically, my problem is that my devices, most usually my Macbook Pro and my iPad seem to regularly loose connection to the internet, although Airport will still display full bars. I will be happily surfing along, when all of a sudden no web pages will load, and Mail can't get messages. If I turn Airport off and then back on, usually the problem will correct itself (or on the iPad turning wireless off/on), but only for a little while. I sometimes have to turn it off and on 2-3 times an hour. I did not have this problem before I left for the summer.

I have noticed that if I am doing something like streaming audio or video I don't have the problem while I'm streaming, so for example I could listen to 2 hours of Pandora on the iPad with no interruption, and usually I don't have any interruptions while streaming Netflix on my Roku (also connected wirelessly), although sometimes the Roku loses the connection to my network in between sessions.

My googling leads me to the conclusion that this could be caused by interference from the other networks in my building, but I have had no luck in figuring out how to fix the problem. My router channel is currently set to "Auto."

This is seriously driving me insane. Please hope me AskMeFites!
posted by DiscourseMarker to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Try changing the router channel.

Try 1 and if that doesn't work try 11.
posted by zephyr_words at 1:18 PM on October 29, 2010

Seconding changing the channel. I was knocked almost totally offline by my neighbors at one point- I picked a new channel at random and then everything worked perfectly.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:20 PM on October 29, 2010

We have this problem in our office building. We spent a couple of hundred bucks on a wireless router and installed a repeater in the office. Having more power seems to be helping for now, at least until somebody else in the building buys an even more powerful router.
posted by COD at 1:29 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is a free program called inSSIDer that will show you the other wireless networks in range and what channels they operate on. You'll want to change your channel so that it is as far away from the other channels as you can as there is some overlap in the frequencies sequential channels use.
posted by VTX at 1:40 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

If changing channels doesn't work, you may need to move to 5GHz 802.11n. The MacBook Pro and iPad both support 5GHz, and so does the Roku XD|S (the others don't). The 5GHz band is way, way less crowded than the 2.4GHz band. You'll need a router that supports the 5GHz band, of course. Not all Wireless-N routers support 5GHz, especially the cheap ones. They're usually marketed as "dual band."
posted by zsazsa at 2:17 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So System Profiler also shows me the list of networks and channels. Currently my router is on channel 1. The rest are as follows:
Ch. 2=1 network
Ch. 1= 3 networks (plus mine)
Ch. 6=8 networks
Ch. 11= 3 networks
Ch. 9=1 network

So given that, which is the best option. Are there other channels than these?
posted by DiscourseMarker at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2010

Best answer: Try this Wifi stumbler which should show you not only which channels are occupied, but which ones exist at all. However, be aware that the frequency bands used by adjacent wifi channels overlap. From the setup your System Profiler is showing, I'd stay as far away from Ch. 6 as I can.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:43 PM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: Hmm, so the Wifi stumbler link shows me something like 30 other wireless networks. Ugh. Ch. 6 is definitely super-popular, followed by 11 and 1. Since all the frequencies overlap, is it best to pick a channel with the least number of users? Based on shakespeherian's second link there's no channel that doesn't overlap at least a bit with either 1, 6, or 11.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 3:12 PM on October 29, 2010

Best answer: There's approximately 3 dozen networks visible from my neighborhood. I eventually bought an Airport Extreme which will use the still-nearly-vacant 5Ghz band in addition to the usual 2.4Ghz. I haven't had any connection problems so far.

Channel switching never helped.
posted by chairface at 3:16 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you or someone you know have an Android phone, there's a nice app for working out a good channel to run your WiFi router on.
posted by robertc at 6:01 PM on October 29, 2010

As pointed out above, channels overlap. Channels 1, 6 and 11 are most popular because they are the farthest apart and unlikely to interfere with each other. On the other hand, most microwave ovens are in the middle of channel 9 which partially overlaps channels 6 and 11. Therefore channel 1 by default becomes the most popular for wifi and consequently is usually the most crowded.
posted by JackFlash at 7:32 PM on October 29, 2010

This reminds me of CB radio days, and all the crazy modding that went on to find a clear space to talk.
posted by mecran01 at 8:14 PM on October 29, 2010

Really excellent advice for channel management, but it can't overcome the fact that 2.4Ghz is a cesspool in densely populated areas. Competing with microwaves, baby monitors, cordless phones, and anything older than a couple of years ago that uses wireless is a loosing proposition.

1) Nthing 5GHz. If you can't do 5GHz 11n, look at 5GHz 11a. 11a is not as fast as 11n, and doesn't propagate as far, but it's still faster than your Comcast connection, which is usually the limiting factor anyway.

2) Look for a more powerful AP. I confess no idea what transmitter strength yours has, but if you can find one with more power, you'll in theory see more reliable connections.

3) Don't use wireless. Sure, it's uglier and less cool, but wired will always be immune to this problem and will for the long-term foreseeable future will be vastly faster. Even if it's just to put your wireless AP closer to where you actually use your wireless devices, it will improve things.

4) As an alternative to pure wired connections, Netgear has some powerline networking setups, newly standards ratified, that claim 300-500Mbps. They aren't that expensive, far faster than wireless, but I have zero experience with them so really can't tell you how well they work in practice. Sounds good though.
posted by kjs3 at 8:33 PM on October 29, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, sounds like your 2.4GHz wifi band is locally overpopulated. I agree with kjs3's suggestions: buying more powerful 2.4GHz equipment (or adding directional antennas) might help a bit, but for major relief consider moving to the 5GHz band, switching over to ethernet cables, or looking to a different technology entirely.
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:44 PM on October 29, 2010

Aside from other routers, there are also cordless telephones which will trash (polite word) your signal quality. For example, the occasional random cheap cordless phone will have Digital Spread Spectrum as a "feature", which means that it jumps from channel to channel rapidly. *#)!#&&! My solution was to replace my grandmother's phone, but that's obviously non-feasible in a large building.

If you absolutely can't switch technology, the only thing you can do is give each channel a week long test and keep notes...
posted by anaelith at 8:41 AM on October 30, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help, everyone! So I have switched my router to 11n only (which now means I can't use the wireless on my iPhone or my printer, but oh well), and I will see if that helps at all. I did have to turn my airport on/off on the MBP once just a few minutes ago, so I guess I just need to wait and see if the problem gets better.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:57 AM on October 30, 2010

Response by poster: Grr. Never mind. Further poking through the Belkin website reveals that my router does not have dual-band capabilities after all. Poop.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:12 AM on October 30, 2010

Best answer: If channel overlap considerations lead someone to chose to share 1,6 or 11with other nearby wireless networks, when other channels remain unoccupied, then they are doing it wrong.

So, yes, probably best to choose a channel with the lowest number of competing networks. Actually, signal strength and degree of channel overlap should probably be part of the calculation, but I don't know how to best combine those factors. You are probably best off just ignoring faint networks and then finding a free slot. I don't know of system profiler ignores networks that don't broadcast an ID, or whether it just doesn't try as hard to find marginal signals as a specialized tool. Assuming the latter, then I'd suggest trying 3, 4 and 5, in that order.
posted by Good Brain at 5:09 PM on October 30, 2010

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