The solution for weak wireless signals upstairs: A USB WiFi adaptor with a 6-inch antenna

This device has worked much better than mesh networks and repeaters.

|

In my home, the router is located on the north side of the first floor. The signal on the south side of the second floor is very inconsistent. Zoom calls are tricky, because at random intervals, the signal drops. I've tried different approaches to fix it.

Xfinity, my ISP, sells XFi pods. You plug these pods throughout the house to create something of a mesh network. You are supposed to be able to seamlessly move throughout the network without losing a signal. But these devices created other glitches. Consistently, my phone would connect to one pod, disconnect to another, and then reconnect. It was a constant struggle. I got rid of them.

Then I bought a WiFi range extender. I placed it on the south side of the first floor. The signal became stronger on the second floor, but intermittently cut out. I suspect there is some interference with neighboring networks. (There are about a dozen in my immediate area).

My most recent solution seems to have done the trick: an external USB adapter with a six-inch antenna. Now I can connect a laptop upstairs to the router downstairs. So far, the signal has not dropped. This device is not practicable for smart phones or tablets, but it works well for a laptop. I keep it plugged into the USB hub, so I can automatically connect to the network when I plug in. This device is also much cheaper than everything else I've tried. The adaptor is only $17.

Consistently, students complain about weak wifi signals in different part of their homes. This cheap device may provide a solution.

NEXT: Originalism in the Lower Courts in Sixth Circuit Abortion Case

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Ever since I got an Orbi several years ago, I haven’t dealt with poor/dropped signals at home. I don’t have a huge house, but I think that type of mesh router system works well. 10 years ago, I used a powerline adapter to extend my traditional router through the electrical outlets. Worked ok, but not as well as my Orbi now. I have a hard time believing a USB antenna works better than an Orbi or Eros or whatever they’re called. (FWIW, my cable Internet produces consistent download speeds in the 180Mbps range.)

    1. Hi, Josh. Very useful suggestion for a work environment.

  2. Can you run ethernet to that area? If so, Ubiquiti makes access points and routers that work seamlessly across 6,000 sq. ft. Over two buildings with never a dropped connection.

    1. This is what i would also reccomend. Ubiquity access points are cheap and work well. I have 5 of them setup and it works seamlesy between the house, pool, inlaw house and workshop which is about 100 yards down a hill. Bite the bullet and get a few ethernet drops in the house.

    2. New house was wired for both coax and Ethernet. Ended up hooking up a couple dual frequency WiFi routers in bridge mode to a 2 WAN input router (that provided DHCP address assignment to the WiFi routers) via Gigabit Ethernet. Works pretty well. Have both Cox and CenturyLink as the two WAN inputs, so I have Internet even when one of them fails. That means that I should have over an hour of Internet WiFi after losing house power, if the computer upstairs is turned off. Maybe. My guess over the Cox line, since the downstairs UPS powers the box that converts between fiber and Ethernet. We shall see.

      That’s the advantage of having a house fully wired for Ethernet (and coax) – about a dozen cables of each – terminating and identifying that many cables was a definite pain. But we are heading to our summer house soon, and it has no Ethernet whatsoever. Currently running a three node mesh network, and at last initially expect to add another node or so, to cover the garage I have been building in the lot next door. Probably run Ethernet and coax, when I bring water and electricity down to the garage from the house, and maybe run some WiFi routers in bridge mode in the garage. Don’t have the drywall up yet, so running Ethernet (and coax) is trivial. Indeed, the coax there is for Dish, and we will probably end up moving the satellite dish to the top of the garage. Still don’t expect my network there to be anywhere near as slick as the one I have here ibour winter house.

      1. The mesh network I am running in MT (at our summer house) is from AmpliFi. Works fairly well. Trivially easy to set up. It came with a master (plugged via Ethernet to the Internet modem) and two slaves. Friend with master and four slaves, for about 5 acres, thinks it works great for him. I don’t like that I can’t fully configure DHCP, etc.

        Keep in mind that the way that mesh networks work is that you typically have a master node, hooked to the Internet, and slave nodes that communicate with it using WiFi signals. In a broadly distributed network, signals to some of the slave nodes may transit other slave nodes to reach the master node. All this WiFi traffic slows everything down. Connecting the slave nodes (or “access points”) via gigabit Ethernet is much faster.

    3. My house came with a mix of coax and ethernet. My access points are all on a wired network but setting it up required some networking experience. The house has two RJ45 jacks which only connect to each other. Most of the rooms have coax but you need to go to the basement to connect the right cables to each other (ignoring the lying labels), and you need to know that the ISP supports MoCA so a certain kind of coax-to-socket adapter is needed. And not this other adapter with better specs because it doesn’t do the spanning tree protocol right. If you like networking, great. Otherwise, hire a college student who does.

      1. Do not let the college student out of the building until you do a cold reboot and everything comes back online properly *and works.*

        A lot of them exist by trial and error and really don’t know what they are doing.

    4. This.

      Also, if you CAN run ethernet, you can plug in for meetings and the like, to ensure no chance of lost connection.

  3. Company’s office in Melbourne went from being literally the only building in the area to being surrounded by 200+ apartments and associated WiFi networks. And suffered similar issues with drop outs.

    Ended up getting the most powerful Ruckus WiFi units I could find and putting them in. Now all the surrounding apartments have issues, but we never do. As the first occupants of the area I feel no shame in crowding them out.

    1. You may or may not run into trouble with your local version of the FCC doing that. I’ve seen the local fire department bring in a Motorola rep to chase down interference the FD has, and cell phone companies do likewise.

      In the US, broadcasting is licensed, while anyone can receive.
      Ans if you read the fine print, you’re not allowed to interfere with anyone else.

    2. In your device’s firmware is a table listing legal channels and power limits by region. If your laws are like mine you should not be able to buy anything more powerful than consumer grade. You can buy directional antennas. I think they are legal in the bands we’re talking about, but in some other bands you are not allowed to increase range that way.

      1. My reading of the FCC regs is that consumer grade stuff is a conditional license – as long as you do not interfere with anything else. IANAL, but neither are the FCC guys…

  4. So you plus this into your PC/laptop or do you plug into the WiFi router?

    1. If it is what I think it is, it has to be plugged into the PC or laptop because it replaces the internal WiFi antenna. Even if it is not powered (and I suspect it is), you will get much better reception outside of the device because signal strength decreases with the square of the distance — interference from the innards of the computer is a factor of distance more than signal strength.

      Now perhaps he could give the specifics of the model he bought.

      1. There’s a link right near the end of his post.

  5. You could solve that problem with a bit of cardboard and aluminum foil, and get extra geek creds for constructing a parabolic dish pointed at your router, and focused on the phone. Just sayin.

  6. I just ordered one. My office is on the second floor located approximately 70 feet from the router and 3 rooms away.

  7. If you think you’re having issues with neighboring WiFi overlaps, download an app to detect all of the WiFi that see your place. You can find out what channel they are broadcast on and then change your router settings to broadcast in a less crowded channel.

    1. With Windows 10, you don’t even need an app for the first part – you can find a list of available wifi and their relative signal strengths on your setting menu — go to network/internet and then status.

      Other forms of interference won’t show up and remember that signal strength decreases with the SQUARE of the distance, so it can be something really close rather than really strong. Anything drawing power (even the wires to it) can do it. And sometimes it is a funky natural thing that no one can understand.

      Switching channels is a good idea — always worth trying, but write everything down before you start.

  8. These have been around for a long time but for some reason I’ve never thought about it. Amazing what can be done with USB. Thanks

  9. Overcompensating for something? Does anyone really need tactical WiFi antennas with a barrel shroud?

    1. I need 6,000 packets per second with one click of the mouse.

    2. Antennas ideally are a multiple (or fraction) of the wavelength for a bunch of physics reasons that I sorta understand but not well enough to explain. You may find that the barrel shroud isn’t a phallic reference but more likely is a base loading (like with CB antennas that aren’t 101 inches long) or something similar, possibly relating to signal amplification.

  10. Publish or perish. Publish prolific and prosper.
    This old man in NC admires your prodigious publishing, all very readable.

  11. I thought I was on Tom’s hardware or something for a minute.

    Best to use a powerful technology called the ethernet cable.

    1. Ethernet cable (in days of COAX)
      Unseen poor connection
      DAYS of frustration….

  12. For reference the maximum speed of USB 1.1 is 12Mbps (“T1” equivalent), USB 2.0 is 480Mbps, and USB 3.0 is 5Gbps. A 2.5GHz 802.11g wireless network has a real-world speed of 10 to 29 Mbps [that is, greater than that of a USB 1.1 port] while a 2.5Ghz 802.11n wireless network has a real-world speed of up to 150Mbps and a theoretical speed of 300Mbps [which will strain most consumer-grade USB 2.0 ports]. Wired Ethernet generally operates at advertised half-duplex speeds of 10Mbps, 100Mbps, or 1000Mbps.

    I mention this because USB and Ethernet chipset performance can often be a bottleneck: if at all possible, avoid making a wired or wireless network connection through a USB 1.x/2.x port, a slow/sub-standard Ethernet chipset, or a pseudo-chipset simulated within the CPU. If wireless signal strength is generally good (lots of “bars”), it is usually helpful to explore other elements within the network path.

  13. ” If wireless signal strength is generally good (lots of “bars”)”

    That’s received — not what you are transmitting back. Unless you also measure what the computer is transmitting, you are just guessing. (Probably correctly, but I thought this needed mention.)

    As an aside, this is a big issue with cell phones on the ocean where you can have five bars because you are direct line-of-sight to a tower on the horizon but still no service because your 1/3-1/4 watt signal isn’t enough to reach back to the distant tower.

  14. Sounds like a good idea, but I won’t be buying from Amazon, because I don’t believe in subsidizing censorship. Useful idiots are always willing to sell the rope, however.

  15. If your house is wired with at least one coax (TV) cable outlet on each floor, try using MOCA adapters. It’s a not very well known technology, but essentially is a way of sending internet signals over your internal coax cables rather than ethernet/Cat5 wires or any of the typical boosters. Works well in townhouses with brick walls. I use it between two buildings.

    See: https://www.actiontec.com/moca/

  16. Hi, Thank you for the great article.
    Although, there is another simple solution for this problem. I am using a tplinkrepeater to get WIFI in bedroom and it works great. I bought it in Dec 2019 and it’s been working since then without any issues.

  17. Hi, Thank you for the informative article.
    I enjoyed very much with this video here. Really it is an amazing video. I hope it will help a lot for all. Thank you so much for these amazing videos and please keep an update at https://tplink-repeater.com/.

Please to post comments