02. Jul 2013 06:07
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Increase Wifi Signal Strength

OpenWrt Router WR1043ND and a Raspberry Pi
OpenWrt Router WR1043ND and a Raspberry Pi

Many people already asked me "how can I increase my Wifi signal strength?". There are several different methods ranging from a Wifi repeater up to improved and active wifi antennas. All these solutions have one thing in common: they do not improve the actual signal strength, but the range of the signal.

Today I want to explain to you on how to increase the actual signal strength entirely for free with a wifi signal strength and range that you can't reach with any other method. With this method I was able to increase my wifi range to 1,640 feet (500 metres) even with a wall in between.

How does the increase of the signal strength work?

In the different countries worldwide there are different regulations on what signal power or signal strength is allowed to be used with wifi. In Germany, France and the U.K. you're only allowed to use 100mW on the 2.4Ghz band. In the USA it's 10-times the power with 1 Watt. Now you can imagine that each vendor of access points and routers does not produce and extra access point for each country, for economic reasons. The vendors have put a small bit into the memory of the routers and access points in which the country and the maximum allowances are defined and for which country the device will be shipped. It does not make too much sense as an American who travels to the different countries in the EU does not change his chipset (simply as he can't), but then also does not comply with the local regulations when using his 1 Watt wifi-adapter.

Recap: Most of the router chips allow higher signal strengths. The TP-Link TL-WR1043ND for example allows a maximum signal strength of up to 27dBm which equals 500mW. This is 5-times the allowed strength in the EU countries. Within Linux you can simply check your signal strength by using the comannd "iwconfig" in the console. The result shows the actual signal strength.

All you now need is a way to tell the router that he should operate the wifi on 27 dBm. Before you do that you should check whether you're allowed to operate such signal strengths in your country and what consequences it has. Also you need to check whether you router is capable of changing the signal strength.

How does the increase of the signal strength work?

It is recommend to use a router with the Linux-based OpenWrt operating system, which with its current version allows you to change the region in which the chip will operate. The wifi signal strength increase is a relatively simple task. Within the configuration file "/etc/config/wireless" in the section "config wifi-device radio0" you add the line "option country US" and reboot the OpenWrt router. After reboot you will notice that the result of "iwconfig" shows that the configuration "Tx-Power" increased from 20 to 27 dBm.

If you already operate a router that has OpenWrt installed, it is recommend to take a look into the Bug-Tracking from OpenWrt and make sure your version already has Patch #4675 on Board.

Should you not already have a router with the required antennas and capacities, then the TP-Link TL-WR1043ND is highly recommended. It can reach high signal strengths, the manufacturer supports OpenWrt (Thanks to our chinese friends!) and it even comes with USB.

What alternatives to this method do exist?

The only alternative is at the same time the worst, but also the most used: the use of a so called repeater. With this method another device - the repeater - is connected to the to the wifi and repeats its signal using the signal strength allowed in your country and complying with the local laws. This does not improve the overall signal strength, but the range of the existing signal.

Not just does a repeater such as the AVM Fritz!WLAN NG cost almost twice as much as a normal router, it also just repeats the signal and requires further power which increases your overall power bill. Also this device does not help the signal get through materials like steel or brick walls. With this you would be required to place a repeater in almost every room or corner of your house or flat to get the same results as with the TP-Link WR1043ND with OpenWrt.

Books about the topic „Wifi“

The following books are all about the topic "Wifi" and are highly recommended. I have not read all of these books, but a good number of them and some of them I used for my research as well.

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