Virtually everyone has experienced a dreaded “dead-spot” in their wireless network. We’ve all been there. We all know the frustration of being interrupted during a stream so the video can buffer or waiting patiently for a webpage to load only to be confronted with the T-Rex in Chrome. You could chalk it up to being one of those “first world” problems that you simply have to deal with. However, since you’re reading this, putting up a shoddy WiFi signal probably isn’t in the cards. Luckily, there are a number of things that you can do to extend WiFi coverage and improve your WiFi signal.
Change the channel
Were you aware that routers have channels? Use a tool like inSSIDer (which comes at a price) or the free WifiInfoView to see which channel your router is currently operating on. These tools will present you with a lot of intimidating info, but you only need to focus on the one labelled “channel.” Find your router and make note of which channel it is currently operating on. All of the other routers listed are ones in your general area. Have a look and see which channels these other routers are on. If there are a bunch working on the same channel as yours, you might want to change to one that isn’t as crowded.
Without getting too technical, routers operating on the same channel are inadvertently interfering with one another. This can result in diminished performance. To change the channel your router operates on, log in to your router’s Web interface and move it to one that’s less used.
2.4 GHz or 5 GHz?
Most modern routers are classified as “dual band.” This means that they operate on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequencies. The biggest difference between the two bands is speed. The 2.4 GHz band supports 450 to 600 Mbps, whereas the 5 GHz band supports 1300 Mbps. Which band to use may seem like a no-brainer; however, it isn’t that cut and dry.
The 2.4 GHz band has a longer range and is better at passing through obstructions. That being said, many devices, like cordless phones, use the 2.4 GHz frequency. More devices using the same band means more congestion on that frequency. If you’ve ever been in a traffic jam, then you can probably see where this is going. 2.4 GHz has an advantage in range and overcoming potential obstacles; however, it is much more susceptible to dropouts and slower speeds.
The 5 GHz band is less congested, meaning that it generally provides a speedier, more stable connection. While this seems attractive, just remember it doesn’t have the same range and can be finicky when presented with physical interference. Generally speaking, apartments and smaller homes should benefit from 5 GHz, whereas larger homes might be better with 2.4 GHz. If you have a dual band router that supports both 2.4 and 5 GHz, experiment with both to see which gets you better results.
Move the router
A wireless signal has to travel from its point of origin (the router) to your device. Take a moment to think about all of the things that signal has to pass through before it can reach you. Walls, doors, furniture and other physical obstructions can have a negative impact on your WiFi signal. As a wireless signal passes through solid objects, it becomes weaker. This is why your device will show fewer reception bars as you move further away from your router.
When you throw a rock into a body of water, the water ripples in all directions. Your router works exactly the same way. It evenly distributes your WiFi signal in all directions. If you place your router at one end of your house and are having trouble picking up the signal at the other end, it may be beneficial to move the router to a more central location. This will blanket your entire house with the WiFi signal as opposed to sending half of it outside.
Unable to move your router to a central location? There are still things you can try to improve WiFi throughout the house. If your router has external antennas like the one pictured above, you can position the antenna towards your weak spots. With internal antennas you can’t move, try to position the router higher up. Moving it higher might alleviate interference from physical obstructions like furniture.
Repeaters and Powerline Adapters
If you suspect that obstructions or interference from other electronic equipment might be the culprit of a weak signal, consider a WiFi repeater. A repeater (also known as an extender) essentially picks up the signal transmitted from your router and throws it further. As an added plus, a repeater is very noob-friendly as it doesn’t require any wires. Simply plug the repeater into a wall socket (about halfway between your router and the problem area), and you’re good to go. Results can be hit or miss. Try placing the repeater in different spots around the house. And make sure you hang on to the receipt.
A better, but more costly, alternative to repeaters are powerline adapters. These use the existing electrical wiring in your home or office to extend your network. Plug one of the adapters into a wall socket near your router and run an Ethernet cable between the two. Plug in the other powerline adapter somewhere else in the house, and connect a device like a computer or game console via Ethernet. Powerline adapters generally boast good performance, as it is similar to running a really long Ethernet cable to your problem area. Just make sure that your house or office all runs on the same electrical circuit.
Buy a new router
Wireless Internet is designated as 802.11. Since then it has undergone various improvements, designated by a letter tacked to the end of 802.11 (e.g. 802.11B). With each improvement, a new letter has been added as a suffix in order to differentiate. Follow this guide to get the best router for your house.
Newer 802.11 standards have improved range and superior speed. In addition, the newer standards tend to be more secure and significantly more stable than the older ones. Have a look at your current router and see which wireless standard it is operating on. If it’s one of the old “B” or “G” varieties, it’s probably time to invest in a new router. Whether you choose “N” or “AC” depends on your current situation. “N” has superior range, but “AC” boasts better speeds. Fortunately, a lot of routers today are being manufactured with both, allowing you to choose whichever suits you best.
What tips and tricks do you use to improve your WiFi range? Let us know in the comments!