Improving Small Office and Home Networks

By Samuel Wilson

Often times, the network infrastructure that our devices connect to, is overlooked. In order to optimize the connectivity between the devices on a network, it’s a good idea to make sure the proper equipment is being used. Things such as network attached storage (NAS) devices, PC’s, laptops, smartphones, etc. depend on either Wi-Fi or wired connectivity in order for all these devices to communicate or “talk to” one another and to the internet.  There’s no point in having high end peripherals and devices, if the network they’re on, can’t handle the workload or can’t deliver a strong wireless signal.

If outdated or inadequate equipment is being used, the user may experience “slow internet/network” speeds, lack of signal, or dropped connectivity. There’s a few things right of the bat, that need to be examined before purchasing any equipment for an upgrade. Things such as: router placement, how many devices need to be able to connect to the network at once, is it possible to setup all the PC’s and devices (such as a NAS), to a “wired” network connection, what wireless networking protocols are being used (for example: 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11ac), how many wired connections are available on the wireless router or switch, are the network cables fully functional and the correct type (preferably category 5e or better)? Once this is addressed, it’s much easier to upgrade the necessary hardware when you have an idea of what needs to be corrected instead of guessing.

Router placement is a big deal, due to the fact that, poor placement can cause wireless network connectivity issues. It’s best to try and move the wireless router to centralized location of the building and place it up high, if its a multi-floor building. Whenever possible, avoid large metal objects, microwaves, concrete, bricks, water pipes, all these things can obstruct the wireless signal from the wireless router.

Wireless connectivity is nice and all, but it generally will limit the amount of information that is able to be sent and received, between the various devices on the network. Whenever possible, use wired connections for PC’s and NAS devices; this will help achieve an overall faster and more reliable connection between the various devices.

A wireless router, is one of those devices, that will be utilized by everyone on the network, on daily basis. Even though, its a behind the scenes device, it’s still a very important piece of equipment and it’s not a good a idea to skimp on this device. After all, nobody likes slow and unreliable internet and/or network connectivity.

It’s important to purchase a router that is capable of outputting a signal on multiple bands. An example of this, is a dual-band router, which operates on the 2.4GHz frequency band and the 5GHz band or a tri-band router, that provides three different wireless signals (one on the 2.4GHz frequency band and two on the 5GHz band).

Dual band routers are generally less expense than tri-band routers. For typical web browsing, checking email, and social media browsing a single band router should be sufficient. On the other hand, if there are multiple devices on the network, that are going to be transferring lots of data, and/or streaming movies, shows, online gaming, etc. a multi-band router should definitely be considered.  If you just need to increase wireless network coverage, a Wi-Fi range extender can be purchased.

The Wi-Fi protocol, 802.11n, is the one that most users will encounter; it offers speeds up to 600Mbps and can operate on the 2.4GHz frequency band and 5 GHz bands. One piece of technology being implemented here is: Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO).

Newer wireless routers, use the Wi-Fi protocol, 802.11ac, this improves on the previous generations of Wi-Fi technology. Improvements such as beam-forming, that allows Wi-Fi signals to be sent differently to the device/client instead of broadcasting the signal all around.  Also The 802.11ac, Wi-Fi protocol features technology such as: Multi User-Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO). This allows multiple devices to receive bandwidth at the same time instead of “waiting in line” to receive data.  A product like the NETGEAR R8500 Nighthawk X8 Wireless AC5300 Tri-Band Quad-Stream MU-MIMO Gigabit Router utilizes this new Wi-Fi technology (

The NETGEAR R8500 has six Gigabit LAN ports, supports the AC5300 standard, with speeds up to 2,166Mbps (4 active antennas and 4 internal antennas to amplify and maximize range), and features a 1.4GHz Router Dual Core Processor. This is a device that is ahead of the curve, not all routers support the AC5300 standard yet and more and more devices are starting to support this new technology, which is a good thing. When the market fully embraces the AC5300 standard, users of the NETGEAR R8500 will already be in a position to take advantage of this technology (this router is backwards compatible with previous Wi-Fi protocols).

If more wired devices need to be connected and there aren’t available ports on the router, consider picking up a gigabit switch instead of a hub.  Make sure the specifications say 10/100/1000, not 10/100. A great affordable gigabit switch is the NETGEAR ProSAFE 8-Port Gigabit Web Managed Click Switch.

Servers and NAS devices should always be on wired connections whenever possible. This will help to make sure the hardware has access to sufficient bandwidth, so the performance of these devices isn’t degraded. Generally, this type of hardware allows for multiple simultaneous LAN connections in order to increase bandwidth that’s available to the unit. This is another reason why having additional Gigabit LAN ports is a great thing.

If you don’t want to or can’t run network cables to an area of the building, powerline adapters may be a good choice. These devices essentially transmit your network connection through the wall power outlets in the house. One part of the unit, gets plugged directly into the wall outlet, preferably near the router, and then a network cable goes from the powerline adapter to the router.  Next, the receiver gets plugged in a wall outlet elsewhere in the house, where a “wired connection” is needed. If this sounds like a piece of hardware you’re interested in, the Netgear PLP1200-100PAS HomePlug AV2 MIMO AV1200 Powerline Gigabit Ethernet Adapter Kit, is a great powerline adapter that allows speeds up to 1200Mbps. Using a powerline adapter, is also a great option if a wireless connection can’t be used because of a bad signal or if one would prefer not to go wireless because of bandwidth concerns.

All in all, there are several ways to improve the network performance in a given environment. With a little bit of planning, it’s possible to completely overhaul your network infrastructure and end up with great high speed and efficient small office or home network. For more information visit

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