WiFi Woes

My house has a little separate building in the backyard. When we bought the house, the building was billed as an “artist’s studio”. “The studio” as we’ve instead taken to calling it, based mostly on our discomfort at indirectly referring to ourselves as “artists”, is a nice perk to the house. There are two rooms in the studio, and I use one as a home office. It’s great for this purpose, except one thing: the wifi has always sucked.

I’ve long thought of spending some time running ethernet out the studio, but that’s a project that would get me under the main house, drilling up into the walls. That’s enough of a pain-in-the-ass that I’ve never done it. I’ve had a few days off this past week and I’ve spent some of them in the studio working on personal projects. The connection finally hurt for long enough that I decided to do something about it.

First, I moved the wifi base station (an Apple Airport Extreme) to a different location in the house. (This had a side benefit of getting it close to the entertainment center, and the components there are now wired directly to it; something else I’ve been meaning to do.) I had a Time Capsule extending the network in WDS mode at the back of the house, but that hadn’t been working well enough to extend the signal out to the studio, so I tried actually moving it into the studio to see if it would be any better there.

As a quick aside, I should mention a couple of wifi measuring tips. First, there’s a “Wi-Fi Diagnostics” app built in to OS X (Lion and Mountain Lion, at least) at /System/Library/CoreServices. Command-N in that app brings up a handy set of tools including signal and noise information about wifi networks in your area. I also ended up using an app called iStumbler, which worked pretty well too. Unfortunately, all these tools told me was that moving the access points I have around wasn’t helping.

This outcome isn’t terribly surprising. As terrible as our 1920’s-era house is at keeping the weather out, it’s good at blocking wifi signals. It’s made of lath-and-plaster, and there’s a decent amount of wire behind the lath to help keep the plaster on the walls, which doesn’t help with radio signal transmission. I finally headed off to Fry’s.

Amped Wireless Pro Smart Repeater

My solution, which I’m happy to say is working well, is the Amped Wireless Pro Smart Repeater. (I’ll call it the PSR for short.) The PSR has 2 main components: a bi-directional antenna connected to a 600mW amplifier and a small Power-over-Ethernet adapter. The antenna/amplifier has brackets to mount it (including outside; it’s weatherproof) and the PoE adapter takes ethernet from the antenna. The PoE adapter has a power adapter and an ethernet port for a router or computer. I ran the included ethernet cable from the antenna to my desk, plugged the whole thing in, ran through a simple installation wizard, and POW! I was connected at decent speeds finally!

All this is to say, that if you have a long or complicated haul for a wifi signal, this gizmo did the trick for me, so give it a shot.