Understanding Wireless

Wireless (also known as “WiFi”) is a medium of connection that requires no cables and allows several computers to talk to each other using radio transmitters to connect and share information over a digital network. Much like a Radio Station broadcasts FM radio to your car stereo.

The primary advantage to wireless is that it allows users to be completely mobile while not limited to being tethered by a traditional Ethernet (networking) cable.

However, there are variations to this as wireless can be defined into two popular categories:

  • Fixed Wireless Broadband
  • Mobile Wireless Broadband

A Fixed Wireless connection is generally a modem and/or router which connects to a fixed non-wireless service such as ADSL, Cable, Satellite or Fibre-based services such as the nbn™.

Fig 1.

On the other hand, a Mobile Wireless connection typically requires a device such as a Smart Phone, Tablet, or a Mobile Internet Modem containing a SIM card which can provide Internet access to the user/s wherever there is adequate coverage by means of cell tower.

This type of connection is referred to by a few names which you would recognise as 2G, 3G, 4G and LTE.

Fig 2.

As you can see, each one has their own limitations but ultimately deliver on the concept of mobility.

Fixed Broadband + Wireless

Fixed Broadband + Wireless is perfect for the home, and in addition, large and small businesses operations.

By attaching a high-speed service behind a wireless capable modem (see fig.1) you can, in some cases, achieve significantly higher speeds than Mobile Broadband may allow.

Mobility is confined to the premises but, in exchange, there is greater control over the coverage of the wireless as well as the security and setup of the wireless network. Data allowances for fixed broadband services are also significantly higher when compared to the mobile plans offered by the major telcos.

Fixed services are commonly available across the country and come in various flavours with ADSL being the most common. Those who cannot get a fixed service will generally move to a mobile broadband service instead.

Find out what type of fixed broadband service OntheNet can provide.

 

Mobile Broadband

Mobile Broadband (see fig.2) is excellent for people who lead an active/busy lifestyle and can’t be tethered to a desktop, particularly if they are in a metropolitan area.

It allows mobility and connectivity whether you are heading to work, going out with friends, or travelling and in most cases requires no additional equipment.

Those who live in remote areas where fixed services can be difficult to obtain may be able to take advantage of mobile broadband.

OntheNet does not offer mobile broadband services.

Choosing the right hardware is just as important as choosing the right plan as there are factors that need to be considered before making your purchase.

Can the modem support my fixed service?

ADSL and Cable have been the primary technologies commonly used across Australia. With the national broadband network being built – the hardware requirements have slightly changed and therefore it is important to make sure that the modem is compatible with your current or future fixed-line service. Find out about nbn™ hardware requirements.

If you require advice on device compatibility please contact Technical Support.

Can the modem support my devices?

Many modern modems now come with a number of features which have become standard in the industry. It’s important to be sure that your devices (computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets) are compatible with the modem you choose and that it will support the number of devices you wish to connect with.

Common Standard Features:

  • Four 10/100 Ethernet ports (used for physically connecting devices). Some newer models come with 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet.
  • Wireless supporting industry standards 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac.
  • 2.4Ghz  wireless transmitter. Newer modems may support Dual-Band technology (multiple wireless networks intended for basic and bandwidth intensive tasks).
  • Software features: NAT Firewall, MAC and IP filtering, Quality of Service (QoS), parental controls, port forwarding and Voice over IP (VoIP).

While many of these features are quite popular, not every modem is built the same therefore it is strongly suggested to work out your needs and plan ahead to ensure your requirements are met.

Best Practices

When setting up a wireless network it’s important to consider the placement of your wireless modem/router because signal strength is partially based on distance. Much like traditional two-way radios or “walkie talkies”.

Here are some tips:

  1. Try to place the modem in a central location and as high as possible so that the signal is dispersed through as much of the home as possible.
  2. Do not place the modem in a cupboard, box or any form of containment that might block the signal. Bricks, tiles, mirrors, metal plates, chicken wire, and concrete walls are all major issues for wireless.
  3. If you live in a multi-story premises, do not assume the signal will penetrate the building structure and reach the top floor. You may need to consider using repeaters or extenders to boost the signal.
  4. You should try and minimise the amount of walls that the signal must pass through to reach your devices. Fewer walls should increase signal strength.
  5. Avoid placing the modem near RF and Electromagnetic (EM) signal emitting devices. This includes: electrical wiring, cordless phones, microwaves, TVs, etc. Devices that broadcast on the 2.4Ghz frequency or give off EM Interference, which is very common in households, can severely impact WiFi performance.
  6. Don’t overlook the use of Ethernet cabling such as Cat6 and technologies like Power over Ethernet. Regardless of the popularity of wireless, Ethernet still continues to be a champion on every metric except mobility and it is great for areas where wireless simply may not be possible.

How secure is wireless? The answer is “not very secure at all”. However, there are ways that you can reduce the chances of a neighbor stumbling into your network or someone breaking in.

Many modern modems now default to an industry accepted standard of password encryption called “WPA” or “WPA2” which simply jumbles your password into incomprehensible jibberish making it much more difficult (but not impossible!) to break into your connection.

However, many people make poor choices when it comes to the password they use for their wireless and this is a major factor in many illegal wireless break-ins.

Should someone break into your wireless they will have complete access to your computer system including personal information which can be damaging in the wrong hands. Therefore it is important to be very mindful of your security.

Tips for securing your wireless network:

  1. Change the default SSID (Network Name) to something else.
    Avoid referencing the modem brand and model and/or any personally identifiable information.
  2. Ensure the Security Type is WPA2-PSK / WPA2-PSK Personal
  3. Choose Encryption Type: AES
  4. Disable WPS
  5. Choose a strong password between 8 and 32 alphanumeric characters including symbols and upper/lower case letters. Avoid using simple words, personally identifiable information, and repeating or jumbled words.

Read more about passwords and internet security.

In the wireless world there are currently two frequencies that are used by your modem to talk to your devices. These are known as 2.4Ghz & 5Ghz.

Since the late 90s the 2.4Ghz frequency has been the most popular used for home internet applications. Unfortunately, this frequency is also very popular as a “junk spectrum” which means that devices such as your modem, garage door remotes, bluetooth and cordless handsets all operate on the same frequency and often pollute the airways causing interference. Think of a room full of people all talking over each other to be heard. Replace those people with modems and the situation is quite similar.

In order to alleviate this problem a new spectrum has recently become popular and is known as 5Ghz. The differences between the two are listed below.

2.4Ghz5Ghz
SuitabilitySuitable for long-range, low bandwidth applications such as email and browsing.Suitable for short-range, high bandwidth applications such as HD streaming.
Wireless Mode802.11 b/g/n mixed (recommended for devices that do not support 802.11ac)
802.11n only (recommended if all devices support 802.11n)
802.11 a/n/ac mixed
802.11 ac/n mixed (recommended for devices that support AC & N)
802.11 ac only (recommended if all devices support 802.11ac)
Channel 1-14 (recommended: 1,6 and 11)36-48, and 149-165
Channel Width20Hz & 40Hz (recommended: 20Hz)20Hz, 40Hz and 80Hz (recommended: 40Hz)
  • Channels listed above are approved for Australian use.
  • Individual circumstances may vary and these recommendations may not suit all customer networks.
  • Smartphone apps are useful for scanning the WiFi in your area to determine best configuration.

In the 21st century we have become so accustomed to wireless technology that we typically take it for granted. Everyone has laptops, smartphones and tablets.

At some point we all will experience problems with range or performance of our wireless connection. This is due to the increasing popularity of wireless and the differing individual needs we all have.

While there is no fool-proof method to getting the most out of your WiFi, there are some tricks you can try which might help.

  • If you are often getting 3 bars or less of signal reception on your device, check your distance from the modem and observe any environmental factors which might impact the quality of your signal. See: Best Practices.
  • Using a smartphone wireless analyser app, determine if your channel or frequency is congested and overcrowded. Too many people in a small vicinity using the same or overlapping channels will more than likely cause problems.
    If you are on 2.4Ghz try changing to a channel not occupied. If the entire 2.4Ghz is too crowded and you are not far away from the modem try changing to 5Ghz (if your modem supports it).
    Additionally, you should also ensure that you are not hogging the airways. To do this, you should make sure that your 2.4Ghz network is configured for a channel width of 20Hz as 40Hz occupies too much space.
  • Not every home/office is built the same. In some cases you may find that your home is too big, has too many stories, and/or the walls and floors are too thick or reflective for signals to pass through.
    If this is the case, you may consider using a hybrid of technologies. For example: Those who live or work in a multi-level building may consider having the modem on one floor, a wireless router/repeater/extender on the other and an ethernet cable linking the 2 along the skirting board or inside the walls.
  • If your modem allows for it, you may be able to upgrade or change the antennae on your modem which can sometimes be underpowered. Check with the manufacturer of the hardware for compatibility.