Eight ways to improve the Wi-Fi signal and performance for your devices.
Wi-Fi is an essential tool for connecting your devices to the web at home and at work. A poor Wi-Fi signal is a common problem that can hinder you from getting a smooth internet connection, causing your browser to stutter, drop downloads midway and generally perform badly.
Fortunately, there are a number of solutions to boost your Wi-Fi connection. Here are some of the better methods for home and small office networks.
1. Change your wireless channel
Wireless routers send out their signals on a number of overlapping channels. There’s a good chance that other wireless routers in your areas – from neighbours or nearby cafes and businesses – may be running on the same channel(s) as your own.
The two main bands for carrying Wi-Fi today are 2.4GHz and 5GHz. You want you route to be one channel which is as clear of traffic as possible. You can use free software and apps such as Wireshark, Wifi Analyzer or Wifi Sonar to scan for suitable channels your area. You’ll find a short FAQ on the how to use the Wifi Analyzer here.
2. Eliminate interference from other appliances and objects
Most wireless routers operate on the 2.4GHz band, but they’re not the only devices that use that frequency. A whole host of other appliances also use it to communicate, which can lead to congestion and interference, while certain materials and objects can also interfere with the signal.
These can include any wireless device – speakers, security cameras, console controllers and music players – plus AV senders, baby monitors, Bluetooth devices, microwaves, garage door openers, old CRT televisions, building materials such as chicken wire, and even mirrors, Christmas lights and fish tanks.
Things like building materials will need a physical workaround, but for devices, you’ll need to move them further away from your router, use a different band or replace them with devices that operate on a different band.
3. Find the perfect position for your router
The physical location of your router is one of the most important things to bear in mind when it comes to wireless performance. You'll need to ensure that your Wi-Fi router isn't obscured by furniture or other appliances, and is as close as possible to the centre of the property.
It's also worth remembering that connection speed decays significantly the further your device is from the router.
4. Try a Wi-Fi booster
If you need your Wi-Fi signal to stretch just that little bit farther, it may be worth investing in a Wi-Fi repeater. Repeaters, also known as range extenders, take the signal from your existing router and re-broadcast it over a wider area.
They can be picked up reasonably cheaply, but there are a few drawbacks: first, the repeater operates on a different network to your original router, so you won't get a single, seamless network. Secondly, your connection speed will halve as it passes through each range extender.
Next: hack your router, and upgrade your router and devices
5. Hack your router
Another method to boost your signal is to manually make your router transmit more strongly. Domestic routers generally come with a transmission power of 70mW, and though you can sometimes turn this down, you can’t ordinary turn it up. Not without hacking your router, that is – by replacing your router's built-in firmware with the free, open-source DD-WRT.
On supported routers, this software unlocks a host of additional security and transmission settings that aren't offered by manufacturers, including the ability to crank up your signal strength to 250mW.
6. Upgrade your devices
All the top-end networking hardware in the world isn't going to make much of a difference if your laptop or phone can't take advantage of it. The wireless antenna technology used in older devices means that they may not be able to get more than a certain speed, even if your wireless connection is capable of going faster.
If your router is relatively capable but your laptop is ancient, it's likely that that's the biggest bottleneck.
7. Upgrade your Wi-Fi router
If you've exhausted all other options, it may be time to bite the bullet and upgrade your networking hardware itself. If you've got an ageing router that can't take advantages of new technologies and faster connection speeds, it could be holding your Wi-Fi back.
This is especially true if you're still using the default router supplied by your ISP. Newer models are slightly more capable, but older versions are likely to hamper your internet experience significantly.
8. Upgrade to a mesh Wi-Fi network
If you've got a particularly large property, or one with especially thick walls, you might be best off investing in a mesh Wi-Fi network. A fairly recent technological development, mesh Wi-Fi uses multiple interconnected nodes to create one large, seamless network, with the idea being that your device automatically connects to the nearest node as you move around.
Mesh Wi-Fi equipment is generally more expensive than traditional routers, but consumer-grade mesh Wi-Fi products like the Linksys Velop mean you no longer need an advanced engineering degree to set it up.