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WiFi is everywhere and, for most readers, that it includes your home. While desktop computers still frequently use Ethernet, the majority of laptops, tablets and smartphones use WiFi; indeed, the latter two often can’t connect to anything but a wireless network, be it your home router or a carrier’s cellular data.

In an ideal world, this reliance on WiFi would be only an advantage, but in truth the technology isn’t perfect. Though more reliable than ever, many homes and businesses still struggle with “blind spots” with low or no coverage. Here’s how to find – and eliminate – these wireless dead zones.

Setting Up A WiFi Analyzer

Before you resolve any problems with your WiFi network’s coverage you need to determine where they exist. If you’re reading this article because you want to resolve a blind spot you already know about, you might be able to skip this step, but gathering more detailed information on the size and severity of the WiFi dead zone can be useful.

A WiFi analyzer is just a conventional computing device (laptop, tablet or smartphone) with software installed that lets you take a closer look at wireless networks in your area. In my opinion an Android device is the best choice Improve Your Wi-Fi Signal At Home & Outside With These 2 Free Android Apps Improve Your Wi-Fi Signal At Home & Outside With These 2 Free Android Apps When you use an Android phone (or any smartphone for that matter), Wi-Fi becomes an essential way to get online.With the help of this article, I’ll be showing you two different apps designed to make... Read More because there’s a high-quality analytic app, WiFi Analyzer, available for free. This app can tell you not only the signal strength of your network but also provide information about the strength and operating channel/frequency of other networks in the area. That’s key data because a blind spot can sometimes occur when two networks interfere with each other.

wifianalyzerandroid

The second-best choice is a Windows notebook. Laptops running this operating system are popular and there are several software tools available including inSSIDer, Wi-Fi Inspector and NetStumbler. These tools provide the basic signal strength information you need as well as some additional details. The latter two are free, but inSSIDer costs $9.99 per month. In exchange, it provides the most robust feature set and arguably the best interface. InSSIDer also works on Mac.

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Linux laptops are not common, but if you have one you can try LinSSID, a free Wi-Fi analyzer available on Sourceforge. It is similar to inSSIDer as it’s developed with that program as its role model.

networkmultimeter

Users on iOS have few options. The best choice I can come up with is Network Multimeter, but many users complain it is unreliable. Even on my network, which doesn’t have any blind spots, the multimeter can swing wildly for no apparent reason. You could potentially use this for diagnosing complete dead zones but the app lacks the logging, graphing and precise signal strength data it needs.

Once you have decided on the device you’ll use to gauge WiFi strength, you must walk around your home or business using the analytic tool of your choice to read signal strength. I recommend organizing the data with a spreadsheet, categorized by room, listing the strength of WiFi in each corner of the room and in the center. If you’d like a quicker approach, you can focus only on areas you normally sit down to use a laptop or tablet.

Solving Blind Spots For Free

Now you know where your problems lie – but what do you do about them? There are a few free options that may work.

First, have a look at the channel your WiFi network is using and see if it overlaps with other nearby networks. The best analytic tools, like WiFi Analyzer for Android, can provide this information. Networks that use the same channel may interfere with each other. In a urban area it’s not uncommon to see three or four networks trying to use the same air space. Fortunately, you can resolve this by forcing your router to use a different 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 .

routersettingschannel

Channel interference isn’t the most common cause of a blind spot, however. That honor goes to the construction of your home or business. WiFi can be blocked by thick concrete walls, plumbing or the earth itself. Any dense object in a direct line between the router and a device can interfere. Redesigning the interior of your home isn’t practical, of course, but changing the location of your router can have the same effect by changing the line between your router and your device. Even moving the router a few feet can have a positive impact, though it may create a new blind spot somewhere else.

Owners of desktops and laptops might also try to build their own do-it-yourself signal booster. This generally consists of a sheet of metallic material, like tin foil or an old soda can, that’s cut in a U-shape around a system’s WiFi antenna How To Make A WiFi Antenna Out of A Pringles Can How To Make A WiFi Antenna Out of A Pringles Can Read More . This can improve a signal enough to make it usable, but it only works well with systems that already have an external antenna.

Solving Blind Spots With Money

The tips above might resolve your problem but they aren’t magic. There are situations where no amount of tinkering will get rid of a blind spot. What you really need is a way to strengthen and extend your wireless signal.

Owners of 802.11g (or older) routers should consider upgrading to a new 802.11n or 802.11ac router and upgrading any old 802.11g devices to a 802.11n or 802.11ac antenna. These new standards add a 5 GHz band to the existing 2.4 GHz band, boosting range and penetrating objects that normally block 802.11g WiFi signal. Be careful to read the specifications of any new router or antenna, however, because these new standards only dictate potential support for the 5 GHz band; cheap models often do not include it.

wifirepeater

If you already have at least an 802.11n router, but still have trouble, you might instead look at installing a WiFi repeater, extender or bridge Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Wireless Networking Simplified: The Terms You Should Know Read More . These can pick up the signal from another router and repeat it, extending network range and providing a way around dense obstacles. There’s a variety of options available for $20 to $30 and many routers can be set up in repeater and/or bridge mode How to Turn an Old Router Into a Wireless Bridge How to Turn an Old Router Into a Wireless Bridge Not sure what to do with your old router? Try turning it into a wireless bridge! The process is surprisingly straightforward. Read More . That’s a great choice if you own a second router that you no longer use.

Another option available to desktop and laptop computers is an external antenna, if one’s not already in use. An antenna doesn’t remove a dead spot, but it can work around it by making your computer’s WiFi antenna easy to position in a location with maximum reception. Many antennas come with a cord between three to six feet long and USB models can have their physical range improved further with a USB extension cord.

Conclusion

Blind spots can be frustrating, but they’re not difficult to tackle if you have the right tools and are willing to spend money on a repeater. Even large homes can get by with no more than a WiFi repeater or bridge, especially if you’re using new 802.11n or 802.11ac equipment. Only businesses will see need for multiple repeaters or bridges.

Have you had trouble with blind spots, and if so, what steps did you take to fix it? Share your experience in the comments!

Image Credit: Flickr/Scott Maentz

  1. John Williams
    August 28, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Anyone know when "White Space" Wifi is coming?
    The UK and many other countries have now had Digital Terrestrial TV and Radio for many years. What has happpened? - or is happening with all that bandwidth?

    When UHF TV was set up in the UK, The 3, later 5 national channels used huge transmitters with big "white spaces" between them to reduce interference. The TV channel frequencies were chosen for their ability to be easily recieved.

    UHF TV could be received with a bent coat hanger or a piece of wet string as an antenna in any room with a window. When is this huge amount of lower frequency bandwidth going to be used?

    2.4 and 5GHz were a compromise in a very crowded radio spectrum. At these frequencies ot will always struggle to work inside a building.

    Don't forget though, that the router your ISP "gives" you with your Broadband package is worth about 20 quid. A good quality brick outhouse router like a Netgear or Linksys is over a 100 quid.

    You pays your money and you gets your wifi - even in the victorian water closet at the end of your garden.

    Seriously - if you must have broadband outside your house it is one of the easiest places to run a reall Ethernet cable to. Just go out through the same wall or windowframe your phone line came in on. Buy some good quality outdoor grade Ethernet CAT 5 and use the outside wall to route it.

  2. Keith B
    August 27, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    A couple of notes:

    1) Switching your channel isn't necessarily going to fix bandwidth issues and generally is going to exacerbate them. It is better to use the SAME channel as your neighbors.
    2) Change the location of your router and DECREASE the range. If you have a big space, try having two or three cheap routers, versus having one big router.

    • Jason Swartz
      July 27, 2016 at 6:01 pm

      @Keith B,

      Sorry Keith, your information is just wrong. Multiple routers using the same channels causes interference, and congestion with overlapping signals.

      Place your router as high above all electronic devices to reduce electronic interference.

      Use a modern "NEW" router with 5 GHZ signal, or Wireless N, these have more channels to use (23 non-overlapping channels)

      Older 2.4 GHZ routers - those only have ( up to 11 channels ).

      Upgrade older devices that use Wireless b, which will slow down all other devices on your LAN.

      Last try a wireless repeater or range extender to cover dead spots.

  3. John
    August 27, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Matt, I'm gonna say you live somewhere in Tennessee based on how the background in your picture looks.

    • Matt S
      August 29, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Hah! Actually, I used a CC licensed photo from Flickr for the header image (credited at the bottom). Sorry to disappoint you!

  4. Brian B
    August 27, 2014 at 4:04 am

    I've used Ekahau Heat Mapper with great success. Its free and if you have an image of your home layout, you can import that and make the map fit reality. Its downside is that it only keeps the most recent 15 minutes of mapping and you cannot export it other than a screen shot. For my needs it is very nice. You can find it at ekahau.com/wifidesign/ekahau-heatmapper

  5. Isidoro Lopez
    August 26, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    In home, I have 1 TV in the first floor and another in the second, I used to watch Netflix in both of them with the Wii, but sometimes in the second floor the signal is not good enough, so I buyed a starter kit DHP-309AV of Dlink, plugged one of these to the modem and the other to the Router and move the router to another location where I have a better signal in the second floor.

    dlink.com/es/es/home-solutions/connect/powerline/dhp-309av-powerline-av-mini-adapter-starter-kit

  6. Herve
    August 26, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    For Mac there is also Net Spot: netspotapp.com/

  7. Michael Bates
    August 26, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    To John Z and Matt Smith: it seems that the second bridge or relay router has to be connected by wire to a second computer. I have a second router, almost new, works fine--but I can't just take it upstairs, plug it in somewhere, and have it start repeating. It has to be wired to a computer, which would be my laptop, which is precisely the machine that I want to be untethered and mobile.

    Right?

    • Keith B
      August 27, 2014 at 4:35 pm

      As long as you name your network the same, you shouldn't need to connect it to another computer, and all you need to do is connect the two routers to the same internal network. You can use the adapters that will let you use your home electrical wiring as a network as well.

  8. John Z
    August 26, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Any wireless router you have old or new can be used as a second broadcast point. Just setup the additional routers with a different name and IP address, turn-off the DHCP and set the default route pointing to the primary router. I live in a spread out 2 story house and I have been using 3 routers for years. Tell your phone or laptop about all the routers and it will normally select the one with the best signal strength. Sometimes you may to do it manually if you change locations.

  9. David Darr
    August 26, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    FYI for other Linux users, another great Wifi Analyzer is called Wifi Radar.

  10. Oswald
    August 26, 2014 at 1:11 am

    Easy to make your own signal boosting DIY wifi antennas at wireless.binarywolf.com

  11. Glenn
    August 25, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    I've had good experiences with a powerline setup for people with dead spots. One end wired to the router and the other where the dead zone is.

    • Matt S
      August 26, 2014 at 11:59 pm

      Yes! I actually use this in my apartment. I've written about the topic on MakeUseOf in the past.

    • Jim sanuk
      August 27, 2014 at 2:22 pm

      Yes I use a Netgear PowerLine set up too. It was hooked up to an older router and never got the speed at the other end. Then got a new user router that Timewarner installed . It is rated at 30 down and 5 Mbs up. And I now get the same speeds at the wifi end of the Netgear. So I am happy happy. No new wires to install. SO POWERADE WIFI IS THE WAY TO GO.

    • Glenn
      August 27, 2014 at 9:53 pm

      Jim I got the TrendNet 500 mbps adapters with Wi-Fi and they have excellent throughput. If I get them for my own condo I'll get gigabit adapters. Good deal on sale lately.

  12. Electronic Engineer
    August 25, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    Great article, very well written and helpful.

    I have just one small note: the 5GHz band does not have greater signal amplitude, just frequency, so it's attenuation and ability to penetrate objects is actually significantly *less* than the 2.4GHz band. The benefit of 5GHz is that its greater frequency results in much higher overall throughput.

    So in other words, 5GHz is faster, but has less range (through air _and_ objects).

    It's good for smaller spaces, or when close to the router. Most routers dual cast though, so there's no need to choose one or the other, instead you can use both and assign them the same SSID, and you should seamlessly switch when in range.

    • Matt S
      August 26, 2014 at 11:59 pm

      Interesting. I've been told repeatedly that 5 GHz has better range. But now that I think of it, it's always been WiFi router companies telling me that...and I suppose they have an interest and selling new 5 GHz routers.

  13. retired trebor
    August 25, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks for the article. I have a slightly different problem. The building in which my wireless router is located is a metal building, roofing and siding. I want the wireless signal outside. Currently I get a weak signal if I am within 10 ft of the building. Any further away, no signal. Looking for a repeater, or another router, that has a removable antenna, in order to move the antenna outside, but leave the electronics in the temp controlled, dry building.

  14. Scott M
    August 25, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    This is one of those articles that should be included in the sale of a WiFi router. It is also an indicator of why I tell all my friends to stay wired whenever possible, heh.

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