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.” Wireless signals won’t penetrate these dead zones, so wireless devices won’t receive a Wi-Fi signal within them.
Wireless dead zones are easy to locate if you stroll around your house, apartment, or office. Once you’ve found them, you can experiment with a variety of solutions and fix whatever is causing the problem.
What is a Wireless Dead Zone?
A dead zone is simply an area within your house, apartment, office, or any other area that’s supposed to be covered by Wi-Fi; but it doesn’t work there — devices aren’t able to connect to the network. If you take a device into a dead zone — maybe you’re using a smartphone or tablet and walk into a room where there’s a dead zone — the Wi-Fi will stop working and you won’t receive a signal.
What Causes Wireless Dead Zones?
Anything that interferes with Wi-Fi radio waves can produce a dead zone. If you have a large house or office and have your wireless router in one corner of the building, there may be a dead zone in the opposite corner of the building where the Wi-Fi signal can’t reach.
Most houses were built before Wi-Fi was developed, so they may be constructed in ways that interfere with Wi-Fi. Old houses may have thick plaster walls that contain chicken wire for support, and this metal wiring can block Wi-Fi signals. Large metal objects like file cabinets or metal walls may also block Wi-Fi signals.
Other devices may also interfere with Wi-Fi signals — we’ve seen old cordless phones interfere with Wi-Fi signals when used and a microwave oven block Wi-Fi signals when running. Baby monitors, wireless security systems, wireless sound systems — these are all types of devices that have been known to cause problems.
If you’re in an area dense with wireless networks, such as an apartment block where every unit has its own wireless router, your Wi-Fi coverage may also be hurt by interference. If your nearby neighbors have their Wi-Fi networks configured on the same wireless channel as yours, this may result in interference, reducing your network’s signal strength, possibly producing dead zones.
How to Detect Wireless Dead Zones
Let’s be honest: You don’t really need fancy software to identify dead zones. Just pick up your smartphone or another wireless device, connect to your wireless network, and walk around your house, apartment, or office. Pay attention to the Wi-Fi signal indicator on your smartphone. If signal strength drops to zero, you’ve found a dead zone. If it drops to a very low level, that may also be a concern — unreliable signal strength may result in lower speeds and some devices may not be able to connect on the fringes of your Wi-Fi network. Different devices have different tolerances for low signal strength.
Remember that the Wi-Fi indicator doesn’t update immediately, so don’t sprint while holding your phone. Walk slowly and pause in areas where you might conceivably use Wi-Fi.
Of course, you can also use software to help detect wireless dead zones. On Android, the free Wifi Analyzer app will show you more detailed information about the strength of your Wi-Fi signal. Open the app, select the Signal meter screen, and pick your Wi-Fi network. Walk around with the app open and you’ll see the signal strength change as you move from location to location.
Apple doesn’t allow third-party apps to access this information on iOS, so iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch users can’t use an app for more detailed information — they’ll have to pay attention to their device’s standard Wi-Fi indicator.
If you have a Windows or Mac laptop, you could also use inSSIDer to measure your Wi-fi signal strength, but be careful while walking around with your laptop and staring at its screen the whole time.
How to Fix Wireless Dead Zones
Now that you’ve figured out exactly where your wireless dead zones are, you’ll probably want to eliminate them. Here are some tips for patching up your Wi-Fi coverage.
- Reposition Your Router: If your router is in one corner of your house, apartment, or office and there’s a dead zone in the opposite corner of your building, try moving the router to a more central location in the middle of your house, apartment, or office.
- Adjust Your Router’s Antenna: Ensure your wireless router’s antenna is up and pointing vertically. If it’s pointing horizontally, you won’t get the same amount of coverage.
- Identify and Reposition Obstructions: If your Wi-Fi router is sitting next to a metal file cabinet, that’s going to reduce your signal strength. Try rearranging your place for ideal signal strength. If there’s a metal file cabinet, microwave oven, aquarium, or anything else that seems to be obstructing the signal from your router and producing a dead zone, move the obstruction (or your router) and see if that eliminates the dead zone.
- Switch to the Least-Congested Wireless Channel: Use a tool like Wifi Analyzer for Android or inSSIDer for Windows or Mac to identify the least congested wireless channel for your Wi-Fi network, then change the setting on your router to reduce interference from other wireless networks.
- Set Up a Wireless Repeater: If none of the above tips help, you could set up a wireless repeater to extend your coverage over a larger area. This may be essential in large houses or offices.
- Use a Wired Connection: You could also consider setting up wired Ethernet cables. For example, let’s say you have good wireless coverage throughout most of your house, but you can’t seem to get a Wi-Fi signal in your bedroom — maybe you have that metal chicken wire in your walls. You could run an Ethernet cable from your router to your bedroom, or use a pair of powerline adapters if you’re not so keen on seeing stray cables in the corridor (a good choice is the $65 TP-LINK TL-PA511 KIT AV500 Powerline Gigabit Adapter Starter Kit), then set up another wireless router in the room. You’d then have wireless internet access in the previously barren room.
Whether or not you have wireless dead zones will depend on your router, its positioning, your neighbors, what your building’s walls are made out of, the size of your coverage area, the types of electronic devices you have, and where everything is positioned. There’s a lot that can cause problems, but trial and error can help you pin down the culprit.
Have you dealt with Wi-Fi dead zones in the past? What was causing the problem, and how did you fix it? Leave a comment with any tips you have!