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Does your wireless connection suck? You could suffer from Wi-Fi congestion. Congestion problems are common in apartment complexes or high population density neighborhoods. Fortunately, the problem isn’t hard to fix.

What Causes Wi-Fi Congestion?

Picture a radio station tower. In any region there may exist dozens of stations. Each radio tower shoots an invisible wave of radiation, known as a frequency, from the tower to your radio. Adjusting the radio’s dial changes the channel. But what if two stations broadcast on the same channel?

radio-towers

Fortunately, they don’t. The government regulates radios the same way they regulate wireless internet frequencies. If each radio station transmitter used the same frequency, you’d hear a cacophony of distorted sounds — it’s like trying to isolate a single voice at a very crowded party.

Just like radio, Wi-Fi is a form of invisible radiation. Like all forms of radiation, Wi-Fi’s physical shape, or frequency, looks a lot like a wave. It’s also not limited to a single shape — there are multiple kinds of Wi-Fi frequencies used by computers, namely 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. While government regulators exert tight control over how devices connect to each frequency, there are inherent limitations in 2.4 GHz technology.

2.4 GHz offers an underwhelming 3 non-overlapping channels. 5 GHz offers 23 non-overlapping channels — and its shorter range means fewer overlapping radio signals.channel width for wireless n and g standard

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The problem with 2.4 GHz: Most consumer technologies, including Bluetooth and several Wi-Fi technologies, use the same frequency and 2.4 GHz only has three non-overlapping channels. On top of that, 2.4 GHz possesses a long range, which leads to many different Wi-Fi signals trampling over one another.

The solution is simple: Identify which channels aren’t congested and switch your device over to it. If that doesn’t work, think about changing your router to a 5 GHz model (why dual-band routers work 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 .) Keep in mind that lots of gimmicky routers offer tri-band Are Tri-Band Wireless-AC Routers Actually Faster? Are Tri-Band Wireless-AC Routers Actually Faster? When it comes to home networking questions, what we're really looking for are two things: faster speeds and better reliability. Read More and other features. The best option is always a dual-band device.

Tools for Solving Wi-Fi Congestion

First, you must identify which Wi-Fi channel offers reliability and speed. Second (and last,) you must change your router’s channel. That means using a Wi-Fi analyzing tool and changing a setting on your router.

On Windows, a tremendous number of tools can identify crowded out channels. One of the best options comes from the Windows Store: WiFi Analyzer.

If you don’t have access to the Windows Store, we recommend NirSoft’s WifiInfoView.

Using WiFi Analyzer

Using WiFi Anlyzer is dead simple. Just install and run the app. After installation, you can launch it by going to Windows Search (Windows key + Q), type WiFi Analyzer, and select the Store result; you might have to install the app before you can proceed to launching it.

launch wifi analyzer

The tool should detect your Wi-Fi signal strength, which ranges from -0 to -100 decibel milliwatt (dBm), the lower the better. At -0 dBm you are right next to the transmitter. At -100 dBm your connection won’t work. A number lower (technically a negative is lower) than -70 means a solid connection. -80 dBm or higher means a poor connection.

decibel detection wifi analyzer

Next, click on Analyze in the top menu bar. WiFi Analyzer displays a visualization of the different overlapping Wi-Fi networks in your vicinity. If two networks broadcast on the same channel, you’ll notice that they’ll overlap. Each channel is a number between 1 and 161.

It also recommends the most reliable (but not always the fastest) channel on your network. Make note of that number.

wifi analyzer recommended networks

Here’s what it looks like when two networks overlap:

WiFi Analyzer shows overlapping networks

The WiFi Analyzer app doesn’t recommend the fastest channel. It only recommends the channel with the most reliable connection. Generally speaking, the higher the channel number, the fastest it is.

If you don’t own Windows 8 or newer, you might want to try’s NirSoft’s WifiInfoView, which offers similar features as WiFi Analyzer.

Change Router Channel

Now that you know what Wi-Fi channel works best, you’ll need to change your router’s settings. Accessing your router’s settings requires a browser, like Chrome or Microsoft Edge. Accessing its settings, unfortuantely, varies between different models of router, but some general rules apply.

  • NetGear routers: In your browser, navigate to http://routerlogin.net.
  • TP-Link routers: In your browser, navigate to http://tplinklogin.net
  • Linksys routers: In your browser, navigate to 192.168.1.1.

Note: Most routers use “admin” as the login and “password” as the password. The login details may also be printed on the back of the router or in the instruction manual that came with it. If you cannot access your router, try searching the internet for your individual router’s access method.

For my own NetGear router, changing the Wi-Fi channel didn’t prove difficult. I navigated to http://routerlogin.net and entered my login and password. The splash screen shows several options in the left-pane. Channel is a wireless property, so it’s certainly located there. The channel changer is located under the name of the network.

netgear router settings change channel

I then changed the network channel to the option which offered good connection and a higher channel number (which means a higher frequency). After changing the channel, I suffered from some connection issues, which were solved by power-cycling the router.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

Ultimately, the best way to tell if you’ve improved your network speeds is through testing. I recommend using SpeedTest.net (our review of SpeedTest Do an Internet Speed Test with SpeedTest Do an Internet Speed Test with SpeedTest Read More .) It’s a good way of determining which Wi-Fi channels yield the optimum combination of speed and reliability. If that doesn’t work, you might want to try out some other methods for improving router performance 10 Ways To Improve The Speed of Your Current Router 10 Ways To Improve The Speed of Your Current Router Here are a few simple router tweaks that could make a world of difference on your home Wi-Fi network. Read More .

Do you have more tips on improving network performance? Please share with fellow readers!

Image Credit: Wireless Channel Width via Wikipedia

  1. james
    June 20, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Is there a wifi analyzer for the Mac?

  2. JM
    June 15, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    For Linux users there is LinSSID by wseverin. For Android users there is Wifi Analyzer by farproc :)

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 18, 2016 at 7:10 pm

      Thanks JM!

  3. fcd76218
    June 15, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    No love for Linux users, Kannon? :-)

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 15, 2016 at 10:21 pm

      For Linux users, you can install a mobile WiFi analyzer on a smartphone or tablet and use it as a WiFi gauge. There's a lot of WiFi Analyzers out there (you can just type that term into your favorite app store). Try using the open source app WiFi Analyzer for Android devices. It did a great job for me.

  4. Peter Fitzsimmons
    June 15, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    I could write a book on how bad wifi and internet connections.

    Having performed similar tasks to whats written above (most of which DO work) I have had issue with phone line being the problem as well.

    I work from home and have a residential line and separate business phone line. Both have recently become unusable for different reasons and have effected my internet connectivity.

    Sometimes it's worth remembering that phone lines can become worn out and may be an issue with drop connection or loss of signal.

    I have now had both lines replaced which has made a huge boost to my internet speed both for leisure and for work.

  5. jshaw
    June 15, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    I would love to use WiFi Analyzer. But, when I call it up, it says I am not connected. I know I am connected because I am able to read and write here. I am hardwired to my PC. And, I can use Speedtest. What am I missing?

    • likefun butnot
      June 15, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      @jshaw,

      You need to be connected to a wireless network or at least have 802.11 hardware in your device in order to examine wireless signal quality. There is also a Wifi Analyzer for Android and many laptops have some sort of signal analyzer as well, which might be available for computers running older versions of Windows (e.g. Lenovo Access Connections). 802.11 hardware is not standard on desktop PCs, or it might be turned off on a notebook that is wired into a network.

      This article does not address issues with Wireless ISP connectivity (802.16, LTE et al).

      I realize that for many users, "wireless" is the same as ISP connectivity, but this is simply not the case. You can have an absolutely marvelous connection to your ISP and a crummy 802.11 ("wifi") signal or vice versa. Since many home users are allergic to using network cables even when it is entirely appropriate, everything gets lumped together into one issue.

      Consumers should also be aware that not all 802.11 client devices and antenna implementations are created equal. My Thinkpad has a vastly more sensitive hardware configuration than my Dell Venue or Surface Pro and in fact can connect to my wireless network at around 40% greater distance from my most powerful access point. Similarly, my Kindle Fire HDX is better able to connect than my nVidia Shield or my roommate's iPad. If you have a $200 AirPort Extreme on an uncrowded frequency and your $300 laptop still can't reliably connect, the problem might not be the 802.11 signal.

    • Kannon Yamada
      June 15, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      If both WiFi Analyzer and Nirsoft's tool don't work for you, you might want to try a mobile application. The advantage of a mobile app is that you can use it as a portable WiFi meter. Just search for, and install, one of the many WiFi analyzer applications available in the Google Play Store or the Apple Store. Can I ask what smartphone or tablet have?

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