Get online in the garden

Taking the wireless into the garden to enjoy some music used to mean the radio, but now you can watch live TV and stream music over wireless internet using a tablet or smartphone.

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With music services such as Spotify and video streaming apps like iPlayer, wireless streaming is great for parties or just for relaxing on a lazy summer’s afternoon. However, if your wireless set-up isn’t up to scratch it can be more trouble than it’s worth.

Here’s a look at how to make sure everything is set up properly for some al fresco broadband.

Range roving

I was trying to stream from Netflix in my back garden at the weekend, and while it played seamlessly when I had a wi-fi connection, I must have been on the very edge of my router’s wireless range, because I kept losing my connection and my streaming was interrupted.

With the average wireless router you can get a connection for up to 100metres (300ft) if there are no obstacles in the way. When a router has doors, walls and windows to contend with however, that range shrinks to around 35metres (115ft) or less.

The obstacles and distance between you and the router will also affect the strength of your wireless signal – with weaker signals causing more streaming problems.

My router had to send information through an interior wall, the exterior wall of the house and the 30ft between itself and me – which was obviously proving a bit much for it.

But unless you have a vast estate, there’s plenty you can do to make sure that your router’s signal stands the best chance of reaching your smartphone or tablet for consistent streaming.

Clear a path

The first thing you should do is remove as many physical obstacles between yourself and the router as possible.

This could mean opening interior doors and windows, moving the router higher or from behind other objects and moving other devices which use radio waves – such as cordless telephones – away from the router.

In my case it was a simple as opening the window beside the router and lifting it up onto a higher shelf.

Note though that if you do open windows to improve your wi-fi signal, you should only ever do so if the window will remain clearly in sight at all times, as an open, unattended window will be a magnet for thieves who tend to be more active in the summer months.

Tweak your settings

If you’re comfortable getting a bit more technical, you can alter the actual settings of your router to get a bit of a boost. Have a look at your router’s manual for more details on how to log in.

Most modern wireless routers support both the 802.11b and 802.11g wireless protocols. You don’t need to know precisely what these things are, suffice to say that the former allows you to transmit data at up to 11 Megabits per second (Mbps) while the latter is much faster, supporting transfers of up to 54Mbps.

As long as your tablet or smartphone supports 802.11g connectivity (most do, though Apple devices seem to have occasional problems with exclusively 802.11g connections) you should benefit by turning off the 802.11b, because it will eliminate the bottleneck it creates.

Once logged in, you could also change the wireless channel you’re broadcasting on. Out of the box, most routers are set up to automatically choose the best channel – but this could mean your router is competing for airspace with cordless phones, Bluetooth devices and so on – so it may be worth changing it to a quieter channel. Channels 1, 6 and 11 tend to have the best performance.

A low-tech solution

If that’s all a bit technical and you don’t want to fiddle with your router’s settings, there’s a much lower-tech solution you can try to get a simple signal boost. For this, you’re going to need some tin foil, card, scissors and some glue.

It sounds like something straight out of Blue Peter, but you can make a simple parabolic reflector to boost your signal. You can find a template and instructions to make your own here. It should only take half an hour and anecdotal evidence says it could give your signal a decent boost.

You can do the same with an empty aluminium drinks can (see here). Simply aim the reflector in the direction of your garden and enjoy a better signal and uninterrupted streaming.

A high-tech solution

Finally, if you’re not having much success, or you want to stray further from your router, it may be time to buy a wi-fi repeater, which will boost your router’s range.

You plug the repeater into a power socket somewhere between your router and where you want to use your wireless devices, and the repeater acts as a relay for the information being sent between your router and wireless devices.

A repeater can cost as little as £15 and set up shouldn’t involve much more than plugging it into a socket, but you should check if it’s compatible with your router before you buy.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing
 

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