The range of a WiFi network will determine the signal strength that the systems connected to it will get. It will also determine how far the signal is transmitted for other devices to connect to it.
Signal strength is what devices use to determine which network to connect to. Most people think that a WiFi network, and its subsequent range is determined by just the one router. That isn’t the case. While a router’s range does matter, it can be enhanced by adding additional access points. Home users rarely use access points because a standard router can extend the range of a WiFi network sufficiently enough to meet domestic needs. Businesses on the other hand occupy more space and often more than one floor. In this case, a standard router isn’t enough and wireless access points have to be added.
The wireless access points together form a wireless local area network (WLAN). The range of such a network, and the access points are determined by;
- The physical location of the access point, and how far it is from devices that are trying to connect to it.
- Obstructions between the access point and a device. A simple door won’t make much of a difference but metal will. It can even obstruct the signal.
- The 802.11 protocol that is in use. Apple for example uses 802.11n which is faster than the standard 802.11 protocol.
Frequencies & Channels
Another factor to consider when determining the range of a WiFi Network is which channel it uses. The right channel can give you faster speeds while the wrong one can limit it.
Routers and access points transmit a signal at a certain frequency. The frequencies generally used under the 802.11 protocols are 5GHz, 2.4 GHz. Other frequencies are used on other 802.11 protocols e.g. 802.11ad can use frequencies of upto 60GHz.
Most routers use the 802.11 protocol protocol which is why the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz frequencies are what users are generally concerned with. Under the 2.4GHz frequency, there are about fourteen channels. Of these fourteen channels, 1, 6, and 11 are the only non-overlapping ones. Under the 5GHz frequency, there are 24 non-overlapping channels however this frequency is effected by physical objects and something as mundane as house plant can obstruct it.
Overlapping channels are channels that share the frequency spectrum and thus interfere with one another. Non-overlapping channels are spaced far apart and don’t have to share the spectrum thus making them faster.
Of course, the router and the access points are one aspect of the WiFi network range. The other aspect is the device that connects to it. Each device that connects to a WiFi network does so via its own, built-in network card or radio. The card itself has a certain range outside of which it cannot detect a WiFi network’s signal. Most devices can scan at 300 meter radius for a WiFi connection.
It’s a good idea to get routers that support different 802.11 protocols. For example, the Netgear WNR2500-100NAS IEEE 802.11n 450 Mbps router supports the 802.11n protocol and will let you download large files (movies) much faster. If you’re buying a router, it’s a good idea to look at what 802.11 protocol it supports. This information is included in a router’s specifications and can be found on the product page.