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Deceptive Wifi Advertising

Often you will see advertising for routers that include wifi coverage.

Here is a recent example that landed in my email:

Linksys Hydra 6:
Range: 2000 Sq. Ft.

First, the advertising hype is confusing range with coverage area.

Range is distance from the access point in the router.

Coverage is typcially the square feet.

Your house may be 2000 square feet, but that does not mean a router that advertises 2000 square feet will work. Why?

Marketing hype will NEVER overcome the laws of physics.

Wifi is radio. Radio signals are affected by all kinds of things, including metal, reinforced concrete, metal studs in walls, other wifi signals.

Additionally, coverage claims are what the router can do, NOT what your computer or phone or tablet can do. Yes, the router might have good reach, but your handheld device might now have the same power or efficient antenna.

Let’s dig into this.

Wireless Coverage Explained

Coverage is a measure of how large an area — not distance — a wireless transmitter can service. Coverage is dependent on distance or range.

Coverage Is Bi-Directional

Wi-Fi radio communication is a two-way affair! The signals from your PC, phone, or tablet must be able to reach back to the access point in the router to have real coverage.

This is important to remember because wireless devices, especially smartphones and other smaller devices, almost always send weaker signals than the wireless access points that they connect with.

Two Frequency Bands, Two Ranges

Wi- Fi connections operate on two different frequency bands: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz.

2.4 GHz: Better Range, Poor Capacity

Older equipment typically only works on the the 2.4 GHz band. Additionally, some devices, like Wi-Fi thermostats, may only work on the 2.4 Ghz band.

Signals on the 2.4 Ghz band can reach relatively far, which also means that they can also create interference for other networks — and vice versa. Devices using 2.4 Ghz connections are also more susceptible to interference from others, such as neighboring networks and Bluetooth equipment.

If your router and devices only support 2.4 GHz, you are more likely to experience uneven speed and unreliable coverage, unless your home or apartment is nearly isolated from other wireless networks.

5 GHz: Shorter Range, Good Capacity

Signals in the 5 Ghz band are far less susceptible to interference and also create less interference for other networks because the signals have a shorter range.

Make Sure the Best Band is Being Used

Most new wireless equipment supports both the 5 and 2.4 GHz bands.

Be sure all devices connect where they get the best possible performance depending on the band.

Coverage Shape

Coverage indoors with external and internal antenna

How coverage around a wireless access point is created depends on how it’s designed, usually the type and number of antennas used.

A simple wireless router with two or more external antennas typically create a doughnut-shaped coverage area surrounding it. Directly above and below the router may end up inside the doughnut hole and therefore have poor or no coverage even though the router has a strong signal.

An access point with built-in antennas along all the sides will most likely produce a spherical coverage area, which basically reaches equally far in all directions.

Detriments to Coverage

Coverage is absolutely not just related to the equipment. Radio signals operate under the laws of physics. The best or most expensive equipment cannot over the laws of physics. Nearly all Wi-Fi signals, whether the “doughnut” or the “sphere” described above, will encounter blocks. The exception to this is if your device has line of sight to the access point.

First, physical obstacles such as reinforced concrete in walls, floors, and ceilings, or heated floors, or metal studs in walls, or metal filing cabinets degrade Wi-Fi signals. Wi-Fi signals For example, signals are unlikely to get through a fireplace in the center of your home.

Second, coverage is affected by interference from other wireless signals. These signals can be Wi-Fi from neighbors, a baby monitor, and even a  a microwave oven.

Measuring Coverage

If you want to know what the coverage is throughout your house, running a speed test or two is not sufficient. The best tool is a heatmapper application on your PC or phone to perform multiple measurements and that will assemble them into a heat map to show how the signals vary in your home.

Measure twice; one for each frequency band.

Improve Your Coverage for Free

Place all routers, repeaters or other wireless access points as high up and as free of physical obstacles as possible.

Eliminate as many obstacles as you can.

Be wary of Wi-Fi repeaters or extenders

Wi-Fi repeaters, also known as extenders, are often advertised as the solution for W-Fi woes. They may work in some cases, but they may actually make conditions worse unless the setup is stragetically done.

The Best Way For Best Coverage

If you want full coverage throughout your home there are a couple options.

Run Ethernet Cable to Dead Zones

Running an ethernet cable to a dead zone and connecting a Wi-Fi access point or another router with a built-in access point will almost always solve the problem in the most reliable way.

Even better, if the ethernet cable can be connected to a computer Wi-Fi woes are completely eliminated.

Use Mesh Equipment

A mesh network with multiple wireless access points is probably the safest, but not the least expensive solution. Get mesh units that can operate as a mesh even if each unit is connected to ethernet. Units that have three bands are more expensive and better. The third band is used for coordination of the unites and even data transfer, freeing the 2.4 Ghz and 5.0 Ghz bands to handle only data from the various devices around the house.

Why You May Want A Home VPN Server

You’ve probably seen ads on TV and on the Internet for VPN services. VPN is short for Virtual Private Network. Nearly all these ads stress privacy and protection. Nord VPN is one example of a well-advertised VPN service.

Typically, these services claim privacy and protection by hiding your home IP address. The IP address is a number like this:

If you go to you can see your IP address. Once you connect to a VPN service like Nord VPN you will see a different IP address. The VPN connection will hide your home IP address.

There are times, however, when you may want to reverse the well-advertised benefits of VPN services. There may be reasons when you are away from home that you want to appear as though you are at home.

Here are some real-life reasons:

Traveling outside the United States

My friend John was stuck in Ireland with COVID. He coud not fly back to the US until he tested negative. His employer allowed him to work remotely. However, he could not work remotely from Ireland because his work servers were configured to block European IP numbers. I set up an account on my existing home VPN server. After he connected to it, he was able to connect to his work servers. I helped him set up his own home VPN server just in case.

Another acquaintance is a luxury travel agent who works from home. She has had problems getting into Sabre while traveling. A home VPN server allows her to connect to Sabre as though she is home.

Arthur is another acquaintance who travels internationally nearly full-time. All of his banking is with US-based banks. He has had many problems connecting to his banks while outside the US, even when using commercial VPN services like Nord VPN. He solved this problem by setting up home VPN servers in various friends’ houses.

Arthur’s experiences bring up two important problems.

1. Some banks may lock you out of your account because they will assume that access from an IP address outside the US is nefarious. This has happened to me.

2. Even if you could log into your account from a non-US IP address the financial institution may eventually think you are no longer a US resident, which may be a requirement to keep the account.

Beating the Blackouts

Sports broadcasts are frequently blacked out during home games, such as in Seattle. When I use a remote VPN home server (outside WA State) my IP number is not in WW State. This allows me to watch the Seattle home baseball games on MLB TV. thinks I’m outside the Seattle market area.

Appearing from a home IP Address

Some remote database connections require IP addresses to be added to a list of permitted IP addresses. If your home IP address is on the list, then a connection to your home VPN server will allow the remote connection to the database.

Many streaming services are getting sharp to VPN services and block connections from VPN services like Nord VPN. Being able to connect to your home VPN server will allow you to connect to the streaming service as though you were sitting at home. This is important because streaming services are now detecting whether you are connecting from a residential IP address. If not, no streaming.

Comcast — now known as Xfinity — also allows streaming of its content through an Xfinity TV account. However, some content is not available when you are streaming from outside your house because your IP address is not associated with the Xfinity account. I’ve successfully devised a system to overcome those restrictions by using a home VPN server.

There are several ways to set up your own VPN server at home.

Option 1: Use a VPN router

The easiest way to create your own home VPN server is to buy a router with built-in VPN server features.

These routers are not hugely expensive, from about $100 on up.

Before you buy a router, make sure it supports the VPN protocol your remote devices will use. Your remote device might be a phone, an iPad, a computer, or another router working as a VPN client.

I prefer the WireGuard protocol because of its speed is often better than OpenVPN. Additionally, routers with WireGuard VPN server built-in are very easy to set up.

Option 2: Flash Your Current router

I don’t recommend this, so I’m not going to take much space on this. It can be done, but it is much more complicated than buying a router with built-in abilities. Flashing a router with different firmware can be time-consuming and frustrating.

Option 3: Use Other Devices as VPN Servers

You can create a VPN server on a computer, but that can be complex, too, like flashing a router with different firmware.

If you have a NAS (Network Attached Storage) running at home there may be a VPN server app available. I have two different NAS devices running as I type: Synology and QNAP. Both have OpenVPN server apps available. I use these as backups to the router running the WireGuard VPN server.

Disadvantages of a Home VPN Server

If your internet connection suffers from slow upload speed, a home VPN server may not provide the benefits you want, especially if your main use is for streaming.

All VPN connections have a lot of what’s called overhead — encrypting and decrypting the data. This means more data needs to flow through the VPN connection. Remember that when you are in a remote location and using a home VPN server, your download speed at the remote location will be affected by your home’s upload speed and any overhead from the VPN protocol.

That being said, my home WireGuard VPN server has delivered up to 290 megabits down when using 1 gigabit connections on both ends. This is an excellent speed.

Home VPN servers require setup and updates. While some technical knowledge is required, it may not be overwhelming.

Remember that a home-based VPN server only provides privacy from the remote device to the home VPN server. Anyplace you go on the Internet will see your home IP number. But, as mentioned above, that is one of the main benefits of a home VPN server.

— Bruce Miller

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Why You Should Turn Off Wifi Band Steering

Not many Internet users know that the Xfinity modems they rent from Comcast some with wifi band steering turned on and how it can be a detriment to wifi devices. Modems supplied by other Internet Service Providers often have the same technology enabled by default.

What is Band Steering

Never heard of band steering? Here’s a short description.

Band steering is a method used in dual band wifi equipment that encourages more modern client devices to use the less congested 5 GHz network. When a device new to the network connects to the wifi signal, the access point will determine if the device is dual-band capable (in other words, can the device connect to the 5 GHz band). If it can, the access point will push the device to connect on 5 GHz by blocking any attempt by the device to connect to the 2.4 GHz band.

In theory this is great. In reality it seems to create problems and an endless source of confusion and frustration.

Band Steering Hides the Band

In band steering both bands will use the same SSID. Let’s say your SSID is GREATWIFI. Sometimes you may not even know which band you are connected to. If the device is connected to GREATWIFI on 5 Ghz the coverage distance will be less. Knowing you will be further away from the access point would suggest using the 2.4 Ghz band.

Band Steering Nightmare

A senior citizen who was nearly pulling his hair out (what little was left) and going crazy trying to get his wifi thermostat connected to his home wifi so he could control the thermostat from the couch or the restaurant. He had spent hours messing with the thermostat and the app. The thermostat would see his wifi SSID but never connect well and he could never control from the phone app.

I got the call for help. I went over there and discovered that his modem rented from Xfinity had band steering turned on. I suspected this was the problem because his thermostat would only work on the 2.4 Ghz band. We called Comcast to get it turned off and for each band to have its own unique SSID.

Once we got band steering turned off and each wifi band assigned a unique SSID we started the process again of connecting the thermostat to the wifi. The thermostat, like many IoT devices, only works on the 2.4 Ghz band. So, with GREATWIFI changed to GREATWIFI24 and GREATWIFI50 we got the thermostat connected to GREATWIFI24. Once that was done the thermostat connected to its server and the app was able to see and control the thermostat remotely through the Internet.

I’ve encountered similar problems with other devices. Once band steering was turned off, the problems disappeared.

The concept of band steering makes sense. However, I’ve seen it create more problems than it solves. This is why I think band steering should be turned off and unique SSIDs created for each band.

Isolating Internet Of Things From Your LAN

The explosion of devices that can connect to the Internet has created a new phrase: Internet of Things, or IoT.

IoT can include smart speakers like Alexa, wifi thermostats, smart plugs like Kasa Smart plugs, light bulbs, even refrigerators.

Most of these devices should be on their own network, or at the minimum on their own wifi network, separate from your computers. Isolating the IoT devices on their own network prevents IoT devices from affecting computers and vice versa.

Even the FBI advocates IoT isolation.

To do this you will need a router with wifi or a wifi access point capable of at least two features:

1.  Multiple SSIDS. The SSID is the network name that shows up in your list of available wifi signals.

2. The ability to configure via software in the router or access point a setting that isolates the IoT SSID to be isolated from the local area network (LAN).

Converting a bunch of IoT devices over to a new wifi network can be a pain and time consuming. But, doing so should give you a greater sense of security.