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While plugging in always delivers the most consistent speeds, there’s no beating the convenience that is wireless networking.

Although more convenient, wireless connections are prone to signal degradation, dead zones What Is A Wireless "Dead Zone" And How To Eliminate It? What Is A Wireless "Dead Zone" And How To Eliminate It? We take Wi-Fi for granted, but it's not magic -- it's radio waves. These radio waves can be interfered with or obstructed, producing wireless "dead zones" or "dead spots." Read More , and moderate to severe speed loss between the router and your device. It’s not ideal, but it is convenient.

Here are a few simple router tweaks that could make a world of difference on your home Wi-Fi network.

Automate a Reboot Schedule

netgear-router-glowing

Most newer routers don’t need to be rebooted all that often, but if you’ve ever run into a dead Internet connection for no apparent reason, I’m sure you’ve discovered that rebooting your router is often all it takes to get you back up and running. In fact, when you call your ISP or tech support 5 Tricks To Get Your IT Department To Help You Faster 5 Tricks To Get Your IT Department To Help You Faster How many I.T. techs does it take to change a lightbulb? None, you didn't submit a help desk ticket for it. Read More for your router manufacturer, this is often the first thing they’ll have you do How To Fix 99% Of All Computer Problems How To Fix 99% Of All Computer Problems Computer problems. Even the most experienced users have to deal with computer issues occasionally. Sometimes the most trivial things will cause a computer to malfunction. Different problems require different solutions; but it mostly boils down... Read More .

If you find yourself rebooting the router with any regularity, the DD-WRT and Tomato firmware options both have timed reboot options. Set it to reboot once a day, while you’re sleeping and you’ll never even notice the down time while it powers off and starts back up.

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Get a Better Antenna

The antenna (or antennas) on most consumer grade routers is flat out awful. An amplified aftermarket antenna is a great fix and a simple way to improve signal quality without the need for a new router. Powered and amplified aftermarket options start at around $10 to $15 and range all the way up into the low $100s.

Plug-in range extenders are a bit more expensive, but they act as a sort of powered antenna and wireless repeater in one (read Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Read More ). While my experience with these has been less than perfect, I’ve read that these sometimes offer a significant improvement to homes with dead zones or signal degradation. Your mileage may vary.

Disable Older Wireless Protocols

Newer routers on the 802.11ac protocol Should You Buy A Wireless 802.11ac Router? Should You Buy A Wireless 802.11ac Router? 802.11ac promises blistering speeds, but many consumers are just now getting around to upgrading to 802.11n, leaving many to wonder if the new version is worthwhile. Read More offer capabilities far exceeding many ISPs service offerings. While the router might be fast, many of your devices are probably using older protocols – such as 802.11g – which slows the entire network down as soon as this device connects. To fix the problem, you’ll log in to your router and change the 802.11 mode to only allow newer protocols.

In case you’re wondering, the fastest protocols, in order of fastest to slowest, are:

  • ac
  • n
  • g
  • b

Try to remove any device using the “b” or “g” protocol.

Change the Channel Width

Routers typically come with two channel width settings, 20MHz and 40MHz, the latter being primarily for newer routers which require using wider wireless channels. This, however, has detrimental affects for devices on older protocols as it often leads to interference due to the wider channel setting. This adjustment won’t change how fast you’re capable of browsing the web, but it will increase the speed of streaming or transferring files between machines on your network.

Keep Your Router Updated

Much like everything other electronic device, routers are subject to regular firmware updates by the manufacturer. These updates are often security fixes and won’t have much (or any) impact on speed, but that doesn’t mean you won’t squeeze incremental value out of them – especially if you haven’t updated the firmware in a while.

wireless-router-ports

Experiment With Location

The location of your router Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception Setting up a Wi-Fi network should be an easy prospect, shouldn't it? I mean, a house is a closed-in box, and you'd think when you place a device that transmits wireless signals in all directions... Read More is everything. Since the router competes with every other 2.4GHz and/or 5GHz device in your area, subtle movements often make a world of difference. Additionally, the structure and building material of your house might interfere with the wireless signal. My house, for example, is about 90 percent concrete with rebar reinforcement which makes it difficult for the wireless signal to penetrate walls and provide complete coverage.

The best plan of attack is typically creating a heat map of your home to help you discover both dead zones, and areas of above average signal degradation. Once you create the heat map Cover Your Home: How To Find and Remove Wireless Blind Spots   Cover Your Home: How To Find and Remove Wireless Blind Spots   Here's how to find - and eliminate - these wireless dead zones. Read More , move your router around to different areas of the home in order to see if it improves signal to your dead areas. Having done this myself, I can tell you that it’s a lenghty process, but you will notice a significant improvement in your signal once you know the best location within your home to place your router.

Change the Channel

wireless-scan

As a Mac user, I enjoy the semi-hidden functionality of being able to scan the airwaves for the channel that offers the least interference. To do this:

  1. Option click on the Wi-Fi icon in the menubar.
  2. Select “Open Wireless Diagnostics…”
  3. Ignore the popup and instead click the “Window” link in the menubar.
  4. Select “Scan”
  5. Press the “Scan Now” button

If you’re a Windows user, you won’t have this functionality built in, but there are some great options to download, such as Acrylic Wi-Fi (Free).

From there you’d simply log in to your router and change to the recommended channel When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your Router When Defaults Are Bad: How To Pick a Unique Wireless Channel For Your Router Wired ethernet will always be better than wireless connections, but sometimes you don’t have a choice - all manner of mobile devices need wifi. There is however one very basic step you can take which... Read More . This typically leads to improved speeds if interference is the main issue.

Switch to a Different Band

A typical home is loaded with wireless devices. Televisions, tablets, phones, computers, and even your Kindle are all competing for space in a limited frequency range on your network. Luckily, with a dual- or tri-band router How Dual-Band Routers Can Solve Your Wireless Woes How Dual-Band Routers Can Solve Your Wireless Woes Using a router that supports the dual-band standard can significantly boost your Wi-Fi speeds in many circumstances. Read More , you’ll have the capability of separating them in order to maximize speeds.

Essentially what you’re doing here is opening up another lane for network traffic. While a one-lane road will ultimately get you there, two (or three) is better for everyone involved. Instead of all your devices competing for space in the 2.4GHz band, you could assign some to the additional (and typically less crowded) 5GHz band. If you have a tri-band router, you may assign network traffic to a 2.4GHz band and two 5GHz bands. Moving forward, you can pick and choose the least crowded band, or segment your devices on to separate bands for increased network efficiency down the road.

Lock Down Your Router From Thieves and Hackers

hacker-typing-keyboard

An unfathomably high number of otherwise tech-savvy people still use the default username and password on their router. Intermediate hackers are capable of hacking even relatively secure networks with non-default passwords. If you’re still using the defaults, you’re just inviting hackers into your network to use it however they like.

The Wi-Fi password is equally important. While you might do a great job of splitting your devices up into separate bands, updating your firmware, and switching channels during high traffic periods, it’s all an exercise in futility if your neighbors are piggybacking your Wi-Fi and using it to torrent movies all day.

Apart from a strong password, encryption is just as (or even more) important. Always avoid WEP, and instead, opt for the stronger WPA2 WPA2, WEP, And Friends: What's The Best Way To Encrypt Your Wi-Fi? WPA2, WEP, And Friends: What's The Best Way To Encrypt Your Wi-Fi? When setting up wireless encryption on your router, you'll come across a variety of confusing terms -- WPA2, WPA, WEP, WPA-Personal, and WPA-Enterprise. Read More setting with AES encryption (if you have the option) when locking down your router. Check out a few additional tips for securing your router Why Your Router Is A Security Risk & How To Fix It Why Your Router Is A Security Risk & How To Fix It Read More .

Install New Firmware

tomato-firmware

Many routers keep the settings relatively dummy-proof so that you don’t screw anything up. While this is great for most users, sometimes you just want to dive in and hack the settings until you’re running a router that far exceeds its price tag.

If this is you, you’re in luck.

There are several open source firmware The Top 6 Alternative Firmwares for Your Router The Top 6 Alternative Firmwares for Your Router Alternative firmwares offer more features and better functionality than stock firmwares. Here are some of the best ones to use. Read More options for some of the most popular routers. While not every router is supported, there are no shortage of great options, and yours could be on the list of those that will support these new firmware options.

Some of the most popular are DD-WRT What Is DD-WRT And How It Can Make Your Router Into A Super-Router What Is DD-WRT And How It Can Make Your Router Into A Super-Router In this article, I'm going to show you some of the coolest features of DD-WRT which, if you decide to make use of, will allow you to transform your own router into the super-router of... Read More , OpenWRT What Is OpenWrt And Why Should I Use It For My Router? What Is OpenWrt And Why Should I Use It For My Router? OpenWrt is a Linux distribution for your router. Like other Linux distributions, it offers a built-in package manager that allows you to install packages from a software repository. It can be used for anything that... Read More and Tomato. Each of these has their pros and cons, but all of them are (probably) light years ahead of the firmware you’re currently running. Out of these, my personal favorite is Tomato due to its lightweight nature and its real-time bandwidth and connection monitoring. It’s also – in my opinion – the most user-friendly interface and it’s really quite intuitive once you dive in.

If you’ve had speed or signal quality issues in the past, let us know what has worked for you in the comments below.

Photo credit: Wireless router by Sean MacEntee via Flickr, Hacker using laptop via Shutterstock, Netgear router glowing by Matt J Newman via Flickr

  1. Pardington Dehwa
    July 4, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    THE GOOD THING IS
    THE WIFI SIGNAL WILL COVER A LOT OF DISTANCES
    THE BAD THING IS
    IT MAY GET STOLEN OR WEATHER DAMAGED.

    By placing your WiFi router close to the window is best thing to do if want that full bar signal into your house or half a signal to your neighbors place.

  2. HKC VIETNAM
    July 3, 2015 at 1:50 am

    Oh So good to know.
    Thanks for your share.

  3. Tim French
    June 25, 2015 at 2:16 am

    You mention the channel usage is crowded and you are trying to use HT40... If there is even 1 more fairly strong network nearby, HT40 is not going to be a stable option. Drop back to HT20. If you REALLY need higher speeds, your best bet is to look to 5GHz band. HT20 will also always give you significantly better range compared to HT40. HT40 might give you better speeds for clients that support it but it will reduce the range for ALL clients.

    If nearby networks are primarily using channels 1,6,11 - stick with 1 of those. Don't pick something in between or it will cause even more interference for yourself and them. Choose the channel with the weakest neighbouring signal. Aim to keep at least 2 (preferably 3) unused channels in between each network. If neighbouring networks are using silly channels like 2,3,7,8,9,12... Then not much you can do except pick one with least overlapping and weakest signals. InSSIDer is good at visualising channel usage and overlapping and coexisting networks. Check for other HT40 networks - they will be sucking up either channels 1&6 or 6&11. Realistically using channels 1-11, there is only room for 1 HT40 network and 1 HT20, or 3 HT20's. There is not room for 2 HT40's. To be a good WiFi neighbour, people really should not use HT40 at all unless they are a long distance from anyone else. If you REALLY need higher speeds, you need to move to 5GHz which has a lot more channels compared to 2.4GHz.

    Adjust your Sensitivity range. Realistically, how far do you need it to reach? 2500 will optimise it to reach 1250 meters from the router (2500/2). That's a long way and I doubt you would even see the signal from that distance. If the furthest point in your house from the router is say 250m, try setting it to 500 (250*2). Default I believe is 2000 and even this is usually too much for most home routers.

    Try increasing the Tx power if it has any effect on the output power (some routers will have a hardware limit that DDWRT can't exceed). Measure the signal dB power at the furthest point you want to use it from. If it is weak (below -72 dB) and you can't increase the power any more, then repositioning or an extender/repeater/2nd network may be the only choice. If the signal power is quite strong, other factors may be at play such as interference, channel selection, other router settings.

  4. gmnelson2009
    June 16, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    another free program to discover how crowded the WiFi spectrum is and to help decide the best channel to use is 'inSSIDer'.
    as for the best location for the router generally it should be near the center of the home and above head height in a single floor home and in a 2 story home near the ceiling of the first floor or near the floor of the second floor (not near the roof, you are getting too far away from the lower floor).

  5. Mark Wheeler
    June 16, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    I tried the TP-Link RE200 AC750 WiFi range extender repeater. Within a day I could no longer use WiFi calling on my cell phone, I didn't connect that It could be this repeater. After a week I thought to unplug it and everything was back in business. I sent it back to Amazon. One has to be careful don't believe everything you read. Most routers are supplied by ATT and the cable companies and you can only tinker in very small ways. Document any changes you make on paper, so you can put the settings back later. If you don't you will incur the cost of the repairman from the internet company and its no fun.

  6. Dale Mentzer
    June 16, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Have read when using a dual band router that disabling the lower speed band ( b and g ) and using an older router for the slower protocols makes the newer router work better...is that so? How do you make 2 wireless routers work together? Thanks

  7. Matthew Day
    June 15, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    When assigning a channel, remember that there are NOT 11 (USA and often default) or 13 (EU) usable channels.

    Being 1 channel away from a signal that is not trivially low, is worse than being on the same channel - on the same channel, collision avoidance occurs, while on a close channel, interference results.

    Perfectly clear means 4 away, 3 is an acceptable compromise, but 1 or 2 is inadvisable.

    The problem in the 13 channel EU is that most devices default to 1, 6 or 11 instead of the more sensible 1, 5, 9, 13 (which also gives space for TWO 40MHz pairs - assuming some twit doesn't use 5+9).

    If you have strong adjacent signals on 11, 13 may not be far enough away to be an improvement.

    Another issue is video senders, which use the same band and will not be detected in a wifi scan - they typically identify channels as A, B, C, D which would roughly align with 1, 5, 9, 13

    • Bryan Clark
      June 16, 2015 at 12:08 am

      Good to know. Thanks for taking the time to explain that to us!

  8. Satyan Bajaj
    June 15, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Done all of the above and still no improvement. Except the antenna.
    Netgear WNDR 3700v1 DD-WRT FW v24sp2 build 27240
    Obviously cannot attach antennas.

    Wireless mode AP
    Wireless Network Mode Mixed (Since BG-NG or N only gives problems)
    Channel Width Wide HT40 20+20 MHz
    Channel 13(2472MHz) which is the least crowded
    Tx Power 22dBm
    Antenna gain 0dBi
    Tx & Rx Chains 1+2
    Sensitivity Range (ACK Timing) 2500

    Planning to get an Asus router cum extender

    Still face low speed and connection drops

    • Bryan Clark
      June 16, 2015 at 12:09 am

      There's a lot of factors at play and if none of these helped you then it could be an issue with the ISP, or you may have a router problem. Not sure... way too much to consider.

  9. prittman
    June 13, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    OK I'll update the firmware when I get home. Then I'll look at boosting signal strength.

    As far as overheating, I just mentioned that to save anyone the time from asking.

    It was overheating a few years ago, but raising it up off the ground got rid of that problem.

  10. prittman
    June 12, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    OK Let's do a "Router Speed for Dummies" session. I use OpenDNS, have set up a WPA2 password, and have placed my router several inches above the ground, where it rarely overheats.

    Which step would be the most likely thing to increase speed? I've never even thought of the different letters for different wireless protocols. I've heard about open source router firmware but have never had a problem with the native client.

    Given that I don't have a problem ATM, I'd rather not spend a few hours in a wild goose chase. Is there one extra tweak that would be most likely to give me a boost?

    • Lard Taco
      June 13, 2015 at 5:37 am

      If your router is overheating at all, then that's an issue for both sustainability and slows any router down. I'd make sure your router is well ventilated and functioning properly. (The latter will take more effort.) Electronics likes to be cool. Raising your router up higher will likely be the easiest thing to do to improve it's performance with regards to speed. Mine, along with the cable modem is in the middle of the house, inside the HVAC cupboard which is well ventilated and on the highest shelf. If I lived in a 2 story home, it would be on the 2nd story at it's highest point and so on.

      • Bryan Clark
        June 13, 2015 at 8:02 am

        Great tips, but raising it higher isn't always the answer. It's a good general tip, but there's far too many variables to know for sure if that's going to help.

        • Lard Taco
          June 15, 2015 at 8:30 pm

          I've found two things that always tend to help, either height, or power, and of course both. Either, or both will further the reach of the router. A better way to put it is more ways to provide access for the remote devices and vice versa. (The obvious reason why Cell towers and radio stations put their antennae up high.) With the information given, including the router was "several inches above the ground", the question was one quick tweak, the first easy obvious thing is raising the router, which should help anyone that has their equipment lower than it could be. I tried to include info regarding it overheating, as you did. Hopefully this person will heed our warnings.

    • Bryan Clark
      June 13, 2015 at 8:00 am

      All of these tips are helpful, and could help you to increase speed. The only one that's actually time consuming would be heatmapping your house, so you are obviously free to skip that.

      It's really impossible to answer without knowing the particulars. Nearly every tip on here takes a few minutes at most, so you should give a few a try, or go through the whole list.

      -But- if I'm forced to answer without knowing any specifics of your setup, I can tell you that uploading your firmware and tweaking the settings a bit (particularly, boosting the signal strength) is probably the best "bang for your buck" quick fix for added speeds. That said, it really depends on a lot of factors, and I'm not aware of all the particulars, so your mileage may vary.

    • Bryan Clark
      June 13, 2015 at 8:01 am

      Also, it's important to note that if your router is overheating, it's causing efficiency issues and probably needs replaced. I'd start there.

  11. fcd76218
    June 12, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    "Disable Older Wireless Protocols"
    Doesn't that force you to get new wireless cards for your PCs?

    • Lard Taco
      June 13, 2015 at 5:50 am

      The 'B' protocol is the oldest and slowest of all. Unless you have some really old equipment, by that I mean approximately10 years or older, then you can probably drop that one. The 'G' protocol is also older and some of your equipment, or printers, etc. may still use that. Many routers have where you can select which protocols to use in combinations, such as choosing 'AC, N and G' will allow only devices with those protocols, B would be dropped, or selecting 'AC and N' only would drop G and B protocols. That way you can choose to drop only what you don't need. Same works for routers such as N routers and so forth. Easy enough to check with your model numbers of your equipment online to see what protocol each device is uses. That way you shouldn't need to change any actual hardware until you're ready. If you miss something, it's easy enough to add back any, or all of the protocols. Test it and find out, you can always put it back. :)

    • Bryan Clark
      June 13, 2015 at 8:06 am

      If your PC uses a wireless card that still uses (for example) "B," then it should be well past the point of replacement anyway. It shouldn't cause any issues, but it's worth looking at because even occasionally connecting old devices (say, those that use "G") can slow down your entire network. It's better to just disable them.

      Like Laird says, if you find that you really need it, you can always add it back in your router settings.

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