Wifi Over-Population

Okay, this is sad. I live in an apartment building, in a city with a total population of well under 100,000 people. However, we somehow have managed to become over-populated, at least from an electronic standpoint.

In our small apartment I have setup two routers with the custom firmware: DD-WRT, in a WDS network. What that means isn't terribly important. What is relevant however, is that I've boosted the radio signal on both to 10dB above factory defaults and my wife and son still keep losing connection. That's ridiculous. No computer is ever more than 15 feet from a router and yet, they can't maintain a connection. Before you ask, no, it's not the routers and no, it's not the Internet connection. Both are rock solid, stable. The problem, is simply that there are too many wifi networks in our building. Imagine what all those radio waves are doing to our physical health. I shudder to think of it.

With DD-WRT there's plenty of things I can do that can help improve my network, such as increase the transmit strength, change channel widths and even use the European channels 12-14, in order to get out of the commonly used spectrum. This last option however, requires specialized drivers and probably some Registry hacks.

So, before I do that, I brought a spectrum analyzer home from work to check out what's going on. What I found was quite surprising. First of all, we've gone from half a dozen wireless networks a year ago, to well over a dozen this year. That certainly explains a lot. I also found that the signals are overlapping and cover so much of the spectrum that there's barely any room left.

Originally, I had my router set to channel 10. That wasn't working, so after using the program inSSIDer, I was able to determine that channels 7-9 have fewer networks on them. I tried those, however, with the help of the spectrum analyzer I was able to see that despite there being more networks in the lower channels, they're all far enough away from my apartment, so as to have very little impact. I've therefore moved my routers down to channel 1 and I'm leaving them at 80dB signal strength. That should help stabilize our network, for the time being. It's sad that we've created such an incredible mess of things with wireless routers, in such a short time. I bet these problems are exponentially worse in larger cities.

The images show my findings. Even if you don't know anything about radio frequencies, the images should be fairly self-explanatory. The top of this image shows all the networks visible to my wireless card, with the bottom half of the graph showing each network and how they overlap.


Below we see various representations of the radio signals, as they've broadcast over a period of about 1 hour. The red and yellow areas represent my network, since it's the closest. The bar graph below that represents the amount of data seen by my wireless card on each of the channels. I'm using channel 1 now, which was the least used channel until I moved there. Finally, the bottom two graphs show how the radio broadcasts or "noise floor" looks to electronic devices, across all the channels. Looking at the blue sections, you can see that there's quite a bit of "talking" on every channel, which means we constantly being bombarded by wifi signals, all day, every day. Wild.



Created: 09 Nov 2010 13:53


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