Wireless Network Flakiness

As I mentioned a few months ago, after returning from the U.S.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

As I mentioned a few months ago, after returning from the U.S. with my new Fujitsu Lifebook S6510, this laptop has Wireless-N networking. So, I purchased a new Wireless-N router (Linksys WRT350N), and with a little bit of effort I was up and running with a 130 Mb wireless connection. or so I thought...

Like many people, I am guilty of not paying enough attention to something once it appears to be working. I had seen what I considered to be a few minor problems, but I didn't give them much thought. One was the difficulty getting Vista to connect consistently, but I wrote that off as a Vista problem, and since I reverted to XP Professional anyway, it didn't bother me. Another was an apparent drop-out and reconnect, which was most noticeable when my partner's computer would make some noise from time to time indicating that ooVoo was connecting, although it should have been constantly connected. But again, it didn't seem to be causing any real problems, and the wireless always seemed to work when I needed it, so I didn't think much about it.

We recently had some visitors from the Netherlands, and one of them commented that the wireless signal seemed to be fluctuating and dropping out quite a bit. Besides being a bit embarrassing (the big-time computer guy with a dodgy wireless connection?), it made me really start to wonder what was going on. Then, last week, my brother was here to visit, and his Vista laptop had exactly the same connection problems that mine had experienced.

I decided that the router might be defective, or the firmware update that Linksys had given me might be bad, so I took the router back and exchanged it for a new one. Unfortunately, that one still displayed exactly the same symptoms. Then I noticed that although the wireless connection came up right away, and said it was 130 Mb/sec, if I checked the status after just a few seconds, the speed would be down by half or more, and if I watched it over time, it would fluctuate from about 20/30 Mb to about 50/70 Mb - not good!

It doesn't seem likely to me that Linksys is selling a lot of these routers with connection problems like this, so what could be different about mine that most others don't see? The obvious candidate was the WPA2 security, which is required for Wireless-N networking. So, I changed the router back to WPA/PSK, and went around to each of the computers and other devices on the network and changed their settings. So far, it seems to have made a world of difference. All of the connections come up at 54 Mb, and they appear to stay at that speed, even on my S6510. Even though that is not as fast as the 130 Mb connection it was claiming to get before, it is a heck of a lot faster than what it was actually getting as a sustained rate, and I can tell the difference in the network performance. Also, I haven't seen (or heard) any evidence of the connection dropping and reconnecting - no more unexpected connection announcements from ooVoo. I don't have a Vista system ready to run at the moment, so I can't test that part, but I expect to have one ready again in the next few days.

Although it is nice to have the network running reliably, I'm certainly disappointed that I now have a Wireless-N router and laptop which are not able to take advantage of the higher network speeds. I'll be keeping an eye out for Linksys firmware updates, or perhaps another Wireless-N router that I could use to test and determine if this is a general problem or is specific to this router model.

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